Revolution #229, April 10, 2011

What People Are Saying

Erin Aubry Kaplan, journalist and author

Revolution: Why did you decide to host the April 11 event—On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World?

Erin Aubry Kaplan: I was asked and I think of myself as a fellow traveler of Bob Avakian. So much of what he says makes sense and fills in the holes of the mainstream discussion. He's always resonated with me. I'm a mainstream journalist, I had a column for a while in the Los Angeles Times. I just always kind of felt like what the RCP and Bob Avakian were doing felt like home to me and was certainly not something I was hearing in mainstream media. It's tough for me personally [working in the mainstream media] and I really found a lot of, strange to say, comfort, in the truth. To me Bob is always hitting on the truth—and this was always a comfort even though it can be very grim. The facts are not reassuring, but the truth is clarity and clarity is where we gotta start. And it seems like most of the country is just so far from even the starting line. That I just felt like I had some really good company in people like Avakian and people who really see things for what they are. And frankly also, I need to read and hear him because it's very easy to drift away from the truth and you feel like you want to go shopping or you want to just kind of tune out because that's what the culture is, you want to tune out, you kind of want to close your eyes and cross your fingers and hope things will work out, because, hey this is a democracy and blah, blah. That stuff gets tempting. But I always get shaken awake by Avakian and that's a good thing to be awake. It's a good thing. It's not comfortable sometimes, but it's a great thing. And now more than ever we need to be really, really awake.

Revolution: I think I know what you're getting at about "now more than ever"—given the world situation. But could you talk about this some?

Kaplan: I was one of those people who was pretty heartened, I have to say, as a Black American, it felt like something good had to come of Barack Obama's election. I'm still actually quite surprised he got elected and that mere act, I thought, it's got to mean something new, not revolutionary maybe, but certainly a new direction. And I started to realize no, it was just like a Black person getting a really good job. What tends to happen, there's a price to pay for that, I see what the system does. The price of a Black person getting a good job and getting a good salary—you're sort of boxed in. You can't really do anything except be a creature of the system. That's been proven over and over again, that's not a new thing. It's just that I just hoped Obama would start to be an exception to that and he's not really. And so we live with very dangerous illusions. But of course, since he's been elected he's been called a rabid socialist and communist and it starts getting very dangerous, that level of illusion or delusion, I should say. People actually believe a very middle of the road guy like him is a communist? We really are way, way—I don't know where we are now. It's so twisted, it's like being in a funhouse or something. And so I have to argue to people, no, no, no, he's not a communist. He's not a really great guy, he's not really that effective, but he's not a communist. I'm just trying to argue people down to this very simple truth, one, that Obama is not a communist, two he was born here. Let's just get the facts straight, you know? I feel like we're so far behind the eight ball in terms of truth. And it's kind of complicated because Obama is president and there is actually a lot more confusion and hysteria. It's not his fault per se, it's just because he's a Black person in this position of power, people have really lost their minds over just bullshit, stuff that he just doesn't even do. So now we've compounded our confusion, by deciding that this tiny little bill he passed is socialism. The cost of having to clear away those cobwebs—it's like trying to pay a huge, huge bill and you're paying only the interest and you're not paying the principle, it'll take you years to get to the principle, right? So all we're doing is sort of trying to clear the interest. So it just feels like we're really behind in our truth payments. So that's why I think it's so dangerous, we are actually no clearer on a lot of things than we were before. In fact we're more confused because Obama has actually muddled things, again not his fault, just because of our history and because of our own paranoia and hysteria, which is now all coming to the surface, every bit of it. So yeah, these are dangerous times.

Revolution: So how do you see this event fitting into all that? What do you hope will come of the April 11 event?

Kaplan: Shoot, I hope he gets number one We need to get this kind of word, this kind of conversation out into—it needs to be disseminated, it needs to be in the mainstream more. We got to stop thinking that this kind of stuff just belongs at the very, very fringe of society. It's just got to be pushed more to the middle… Everyone should hear it. That's the thing, everyone should hear it, you don't have to necessarily agree with it but, my god, it needs a place at the media table. For all the instant media we have, it seems like it's more and more lopsided, it's really not democratic at all, we keep hearing the same things over and over. So I would really hope that this would somehow start some kind of Bob Avakian trend, like everybody wearing BAsics hats and t-shirts. Let's do the old American thing, of let's just saturate, let's just get people talking about what it is. I realize in America, one great thing it's given to the world is marketing, we can sell anything to anybody. Let's make it cool and popular. Hey let's all talk about revolution. I really think if you can get that message out, do it cleverly, people will at least take a look. It's tricky though with something's that intellectually challenging like this. We don't like intellectually challenging things—intellectually challenging things and pop culture don't go together. But once in a while I think that can happen, I really do. You just have to get to a certain profile, you have to get some famous people wearing it or talking about it…. I also had a fantasy that we could get his spoken word piece, "All Played Out"—which is, I think very cool with the complement with the jazz musician William Parker. I think it's really fabulous and we should make a hit single out of it, play it and do a youtube. These are my ideas, OK. Let's use what we have at our disposal to sort of generate some hits and just get people looking and thinking and talking in a different direction. I think it can can be done, I really do.

Once I was complaining to a friend of mine about, oh my god, it's so hard to change the status quo. And he said, well, the status quo is the status quo until it changes. And as we've seen in the last several months, the status quo in the Middle East has really changed, across north Africa. Things can change fast. So that's always, always possible and things that have been going on for 40 years can be undone in a month.

Revolution: That's actually a very important point.

Kaplan: It's very true though. Of course the reality is things have been built up over 40 years and it's not an overnight thing, it actually has taken time to build up. Like earthquakes, pressure builds up over time and then there's a big event. But the point is things are moving when you don't realize they're moving. And so I always have hope in that sense. Things are always in motion, unless something's actually dead. Things are actually moving, you just don't necessarily see it. I think we should be the earthquake force. This is our time.

Revolution: It's interesting what you're saying about it being intellectually challenging. I don't know if you've had a chance to read any of the prisoner letters that have been written about BAsics.

Kaplan: I did see a couple, yeah, I did.

Revolution: It's pretty amazing, these are people that the system has put away in a dungeon and thrown away the key. And they're like dealing with all these big ideas and revolutionary theory and able to be, like you said, optimistic, even though they're in a cell. So it's very inspiring.

Kaplan: That is inspiring. But in a way they should be the ones who are transformed because they need to be because they're the victims of a lot of this. That's appropriate. A lot of them are kept, even when they get out of prison, it's like they're kept down, at the margins, they can't vote in many states and things like that. They're part of the truth we should be listening to. And so I'm very glad that Bob Avakian and the RCP has such an effect on them because that's the way it should be. And the way we're turning out prisoners, hey they're more and more of a voice—because we have so many, it's not a small population. So I hope that at some point, they will have their time, they will have their say. It's only so long that you can just kind of throw people away and hope to not see or hear from them again.

Revolution: That's part of your point about the earthquake, the rumblings beneath.

Kaplan: That's exactly right. And we have to give up this illusion that we all live in these separate corners, separate classes, separate realities. It's clear that's not the case, say with the whole environmental situation, with climate change and all that. We all breathe the same air, right? And if we ignore the truth it's going to cost everybody, it's costing us now. Unfortunately I think people have a huge tolerance for deception and lies, this is not new. But there's a breaking point. There's a threshold at which people say "no," I really believe that. We haven't quite gotten there yet, but we'll get there.

Revolution: You mentioned getting BAsics out to the mainstream, and I think that's very important—and there's increasingly a lot of dissatisfaction among a broad range of people. But I'm also wondering if you have any thoughts about the significance of Bob Avakian and BAsics to the basic people.

Kaplan: The masses—I think it's something that should be in everybody's house, I mean I really do. Because that's who he is talking about, that's who he's speaking for. I don't know how this could happen, it needs to be in every neighborhood, every Black and Brown neighborhood, in big cities, he should be everywhere. I don't know how that could happen, I can't see the public school system doing something like that. He just needs to get down to the ground and again you have to get down to the level of pop culture… He should be in the consciousness of the people who are victims of everything that he talks about and what he also understands is that these folks are deliberately kept in the dark. So he's just trying to strike a match and light a light…

This needs to be brought directly to people and I think they'll really eat it up. But frankly, a lot of people he speaks of, some of them would be frightened of his ideas or not used to the truth either. We all suffer from this illusion, delusion, even folks among us who are most oppressed. And I'm sure Bob is very aware of that too and that's another complication. A lot of the masses are not necessarily ready for revolution. They're not necessarily ready to throw off what they know. A lot of say Black people are still vested in integrating into the mainstream, they're still very trained on that, that's what they want to do. But I think you just need to introduce to folks—just pass it out, maybe at the subway, on the street level. And I think BAsics is a great way to do it because it's like the quotable Bob Avakian. It's like pieces of stuff but they all add up. And like you could read a little bit at a time, you don't have to invest the time to read the entire book. But you could actually open the page at any point and get something out of it. I think it's a great format and good for popular reading. I think it's actually a really good way to disseminate everything he's about. So I think it's an important step.

Revolution: As one of the hosts, what would you say to people about why they really should be there on April 11?

Kaplan: Because they really need to hear it now. Because it's always made sense but people really need to free their minds, get over the fear—I think people are really in fear now, in a weird way, more fearful of not just speaking out against things, but hearing or receiving stuff that's not state approved or not mainstream. Psychological oppression is still with us and so it's really important—come hear something different, something truthful. But also something energetic—it's not like we're going to beat you over the head with a baseball bat and send you home depressed. It's something I think uplifting and energizing and new and really worth a listen. And it's not the same old same old, that's for sure. It's not, not that I see. And the great thing about Bob to me is that he keeps up with what's happening. He's not somebody speaking from the '60s saying the same thing he's said since then. It's really just everything—history as it unfolds. So it's very current, very now, very cutting edge, hip. That's why people should go because it's very hip. They can see some great people and they can get inspired.

It's like going to see a really popular motivational speaker—but it's got more substance to it. It's deeper than that. It's not just telling you to be more positive, feel good stuff. It's like feel good, yeah, but here's what we need to be doing, here's how we can make our world better. Here's exactly what's wrong. Here's how we, not just I, me feeling good, it's all of us. And so it's a great feel good event. I mean that in a serious way, not in a superficial kind of way. It's mind changing. And it also will confirm for a lot of people what they already believe. People already believe that things are not right, that we're in a straight jacket, we need to break out. How do we break out, what do we do, they don't know where to turn, they don't know who to listen to, there's too much crap out there. This will be a great event. Like I say, you know the truth can hit you between the eyes, but it's also really energizing. People tend to think oh, this kind of social critique is a downer, I don't want to deal with that. I want something uplifting. Well, this is really uplifting, the most uplifting stuff I've read in a long time. So I just get energized by the truth and by education and really for me, as a Black American, affirming what I already knew. But it's never spoken, it's never out there in the mainstream. You have to always say to yourself, I know this oppression is there, nobody's talking about it, but it's there right, I'm not crazy, right. And you always have to go it alone. But this is about doing it together. And what we can do about it—that's a huge one. People feel so un-empowered. It's not that they don't believe a lot of what is said here, what Bob believes. But they don't know what to do. And so since they don't know what to do, they just go home That's what I'm saying, this will motivate you and you'll find it's not as difficult to act as you think it is. I think coming to the event is a great act.

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