Revolution #252, December 11, 2011

Getting Out BAsics on "Black Friday"

"Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving—it's the "biggest shopping day of the year," when Americans spend billions of dollars in an obscene orgy of "shop till you drop." But this year, teams of people in different cities went up in the face of all that to create a different scene. Their mission: to get BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian into the hands of people and raise money for covering the cost of responding to hundreds of requests from prisoners for copies of the book.

This was the first "nodal point" in the year-end plans to jump-start the fundraising campaign—"BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make." BAsics, a collection of quotes and short essays that concentrates more than 30 years of Avakian's work, can not only introduce many more people to the thinking of BA—who has put communism back on the agenda as a vital and viable force—it can play a major role in bringing forward and forging a new wave of revolutionaries. And the "BA Everywhere..." campaign has the potential to effect a radical and fundamental change in the social and political atmosphere of this whole country by projecting the whole Bob Avakian vision and framework into all corners of society.

It costs $10 to send one BAsics to one prisoner, and the goal is to raise $15,000 by the end of this year to get 1,500 books into the prisons. The teams that went out raised hundreds of dollars toward this goal, as well as selling copies of the book on the spot and getting out thousands of flyers from the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF). Many of the teams made eye-catching displays with an enlarged version of the Revolution centerfold on "Black Friday" that said: "Want the alternative to capitalism? Get the BAsics!"

One thing that comes through from the different teams' experiences is the dynamic role of the book itself: "Although it was a struggle to cut through the 'shopping fog,' putting the book in people's hands and letting them look at it and letting people know the impact of this book on the prisoners—a lifeline to revolution and transforming to be emancipators of humanity—had a big impact. 'This is really some book! I've only gotten past the first two pages and it's really something!' said a man who bought it on the way into a mall. Others who bought it on the spot did so after reading one or two quotes and recognizing something of what BA and this revolution is about. People were much more willing to donate after we had an opportunity to show them some of the letters from prisoners and how their lives were changing as a result of being connected to this revolutionary leader."

Someone who took BAsics out to a church in the Black community reported, "One man, only out of prison two months, had bought the book last week after leaving the church service. The same man came by today and shook my hand. He said he'd only read the first few quotes but said, 'This is a very important book. I really want to thank you for what you're doing out here.'"

One story gave an embryonic sense of what difference it would make when "BA Everywhere..." becomes a reality. A young woman from a southern African country came across a team out at an area of New York City where there are lots of artists and students. She spent a long time looking through a copy of BAsics, and then donated to send a book to a prisoner but did not get one for herself. Later in the afternoon, the woman came back and rushed to talk to one of the team members. After making her donation earlier, she had gone to Occupy Wall Street, where she heard someone doing a reading of the quote BAsics 1:10 about "Look at all these beautiful children that are female in the world..." She was so deeply moved by the quote that she just had to come back and get a copy of the book for herself!

The following are excerpts from snapshot reports from several cities:


New York—People in our area had a mix of exciting plans for Black Friday. We went to a new Target mall in an oppressed area, largely Puerto Rican (that is now being gentrified); another neighborhood that is mainly a mix of students and artists; the Occupy Wall Street encampment in our city, which is adjacent to a shopping area; a gourmet food store in a traditionally progressive middle class area; and the bus lines where families get on the buses to visit relatives in prisons 5-10 hours or more away. We also tried some important new things—dressing up and going to the opera, having a presence outside a world famous art museum (where there was an exhibit of a well-known radical artist), and going outside (and inside) the headquarters of major law firms known for their pro bono work.

A group of five of us took the alternative to capitalism and Black Friday to the heart of Occupy Wall Street. As we were getting going, a march being led by a group of drummers coming back from Wall Street and another march to end violence against women of a couple hundred people arrived at the same time. This was really favorable conditions and right away a couple of us jumped into the rally and did a mic check and read the entire quote 1:10 from BAsics about "look at all these beautiful children that are female in the world." A lot of people thanked us for that.

We got out several hundred fliers in the park and along the outer areas, which included thousands of holiday shoppers going by. This crowd was more difficult to penetrate and there were even some backward responses. Around the park, there were folks in town for the holidays who came down to see OWS and were just thrilled to be there as well as very concerned about the police presence. These people were especially open to BAsics. One woman from California had brought her 17-year-old son down to the park to check it out and to hand out stickers she had made, "Occupy Authority." She had heard of BA and one of our crew opened up to chapter 6 on revolutionary responsibility and leadership and found a quote that spoke to the positive role of revolutionary authority as opposed to the notion of authoritarianism. She read the quote, then bought a copy for a prisoner. She also got a copy of Revolution newspaper...

The team at the upper-middle-class neighborhood (in front of the fancy food store) at first had some trouble breaking through. Summing up, they decided they wanted the first thing to jump out to people was that this was a campaign to get 1,500 copies of BAsics to prisoners—and the idea of holiday giving a gift that matters. This drew forward a different sentiment—including those with more awareness of the prison issue—including a doctor from the Bay Area who is connected with health issues in California prisons; a woman who is a child of holocaust survivors, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after WW 2 and spoke about her feelings of empathy for people who suffer imprisonment and poverty; and a Black woman who spoke about her understanding of prison issues, who also wanted a copy for herself as soon as she looked at the table of contents and read the first quote. Also a white grad student who is doing a paper related to this, and an older Black man who returned to the book table after reading through the flyer and looking at BAsics. Also, although she didn't contribute on the spot, an older Black woman spoke about her church's work with ex-offenders and said she was going to show the material to the group at her church.

The legal/law firm team had a plan to go to law firms that have done ongoing pro bono work involving cases at Guantánamo as well as death penalty cases. We were able to go to one of these law firms first with a flyer saying we were coming back that evening when folks were going home and with a copy of the book in our hands. That evening we had buckets, a big donate sign and it was clear what we were doing, but it was dark. We came back several days later (as was printed in the initial flyer) in the morning with bigger signs and agitation which said "500 prisoners have this book BAsics and it has helped raise their political awareness and developed and trained a section of revolutionaries among them where they are changing the world and themselves in the process; 1500 more have requested this; help make this happen and DONATE. We need $15,000 to cover the costs for this."...

One young Black secretary told us she has been a supporter of the Innocence Project. Another Black woman who was just passing by told us her brother is in jail and she wants to get a copy of BAsics to him. Looking it over, she said to us: "It seems this is what he needs." A Black man, a truck driver and father of three who lives in Harlem, said he is going to support this effort and "work with you revolutionaries who are doing a mighty thing here." This struck a nerve and when people did take the time to undo their earphones connected to their iPods and took in what was asked, it made a difference and they got that they were making a difference. Interestingly, one young white guy who identified with the Occupy Wall Street movement and is a student at a college in the area donated $10. He knew and applauded that there was a beginning cross-over of sections of people coming from different places to fight against the system. He knew about stopping stop-and-frisk in New York...

Another team focused on a major crossroads in the large Black community neighborhood where we met the usual mix of students, professionals, travelers and residents. We had an anchor location at one spot and sent another team to another key intersection a few blocks away where we had some loud and effective agitation on the subject of mass incarceration. People are keenly aware of this, many know about and support the actions to STOP "Stop and Frisk." In about two hours at the second location, five holiday gift sets were sold as well as one individual sale. Back at the anchor location, which is a strategic but less busy spot, we sold five gift sets...

On Sunday at a church in the Black community, we sold two copies of BAsics that included one gift pack to a prisoner ($30). In addition we collected $57 in donations. Quite a few of these were $5 donations from people who had seen our flier either last week or earlier in the morning. We impressed people with the $500 in combined sales and donations in Harlem over the "Black Friday" weekend. One woman laughed out loud, pleased with the fact that we had gone right in the face of the ugly consumerism with this and managed to raise this much money for such a cause. She was not a churchgoer but a passerby and did not think highly of church or churchgoers. She was surprised that we were reaching out to people at this church. We talked about this in relation to building the movement for revolution...


Chicago—On Black Friday, people in the downtown area could loudly hear "Give a gift that matters; send BAsics to prisoners in U.S. hellholes"...Standing in front of a beautiful PRLF banner, two people dressed in orange jumpsuits and chained together read quotes from prisoners' letters and quotes from BAsics... A challenge went out to people: these brothers and sisters are fighting to understand why they are in the situation they are in, struggling to understand the world, fighting to transform themselves, they're depending on your humanity DONATE NOW! As a group of us spread through the crowd we carried large buckets decorated with BAsics pluggers with envelopes for the books to be shipped right away to prisoners...

A mother of a prisoner came by, listened, looked through BAsics chapter headlines and made a donation to have BAsics sent to her son who had been in prison for more than 15 years for an $80 robbery. One young woman donated in the name of Troy Davis. One older Black man who had spent time in prison stopped and helped agitate and call on people to donate...


Los Angeles—On Saturday, the campaign to get "BA Everywhere" went to a site of notorious brutality by the L.A. County Sheriffs, a place that draws oppressed people from all over the area: Men's Central Jail... Outside of Men's Central Jail, the call to donate to get BAsics to prisoners resonates deeply. At first people pass by not knowing what this scene—with displays and banners—is about. When they hear we are raising money to send a book to prisoners that has to do with revolution and the vision of a new world—many people feel this is serious and important. A few people give $10 donations right away, sponsoring one book to a prisoner. Others give what they can, small amounts they have on them. There is anger at what is happening to people in the jails and prisons. And there is an attraction to something that 1) is about revolution and fighting the system for a whole new world for all of humanity, and 2) this is connecting with prisoners, including the potential of people changing themselves as they come to be part of changing the world...


San Francisco Bay Area—Our first fundraising activity in this year's Thanksgiving weekend was attending the annual "un-thanksgiving" Indian Sunrise ceremony on Alcatraz Island, an event that started many years ago off the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. A group of us went with people to the ceremony, handing out the flyer about donating BAsics to prisoners, and then greeted people as they came off the ferries returning to the SF shore after the event. People were happy that we were there. Even though the time was short and it was raining, we sold a number of BAsics and collected some donations for books as gifts to prisoners.

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