Revolution #269, May 20, 2012

“In the Age of Obama...Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs,
Mis-education: What Future for Our Youth?”

1300 Attend Chicago Dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix

May 7, University of Chicago. When the doors to Mandel Hall opened, it quickly filled to capacity for a dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix, “In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: WHAT FUTURE FOR OUR YOUTH?” Then the overflow crowd was directed to the student union for a live-stream broadcast and yet more people were turned away. Approximately 1300 people attended.

Around half the audience were students—of all nationalities—accompanied by an important section of faculty members. A sizeable percentage of the audience were African-Americans—students and people from the surrounding community. They were joined by others from across the city and even the suburbs.

It was a remarkable turnout given that it was only a week earlier that the university had allowed the event to go ahead. An 11th-hour effort by the university to cancel the dialogue altogether was beaten back only through the concerted efforts of students and faculty backed by a petition urging the event be held that was signed by over 500.

A large crew of student ushers set the tone by wearing hoodies as a statement on Trayvon Martin. A graduate student and activist welcomed the crowd to a pre-program featuring young people speaking about their struggles—to close an infamous juvenile detention center, to re-open a trauma center at the University of Chicago Hospital, to stop the city from closing half of its mental health facilities. Platypus Affiliated Society, the first of what became a dozen student group sponsors including the Black Law Students Association, called for a “continuation of the dialogue after the dialogue.” A young spoken word artist tore into a piece named after Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” The audience was on its feet, primed for change. The chair of the Political Science Department, Bernard Harcourt, moderated the evening and introduced the speakers to what would be the first of many rounds of applause that punctuated the evening.

What followed challenged your mind, your soul... and the potential and possibilities for radical, even revolutionary change. Carl Dix, a revolutionary communist and Cornel West, a revolutionary Christian, found considerable overlap in their views, while also delineating and exploring real differences over “what future for our youth.” Both of them spoke with great passion about the dire situation we face today and the urgent need for people to act. As if to underscore the point, Dix and West came straight from a trial the week before in NYC for protesting stop-and-frisk by the NYPD.

Dix opened with “Spin the globe and stop it with your finger. Anywhere you land, there is unspeakable horror, abject poverty, starvation, sex trafficking... That is our world.” And he argued that the cause of all these horrors is the system of capitalism-imperialism that we live under. He dug into this more deeply by focusing on the situation facing African-American people today. He drew together the threads running through the relentless police brutality against minority youth—from the massive stop-and-frisk campaign of the NYPD to the recent murder of Trayvon Martin. Dix honed in on mass incarceration and described it as a form of “slow genocide” for Black people that could easily turn into fast genocide. Many in the audience wore the sticker: “Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide.”

Dix minced no words about the revolutionary solution he was advocating to all the horrors of the world. “Yes, you heard me right. Revolutionary Communism.” And he jumped off into an explanation of what it is—including how Bob Avakian has further developed the science of communism by summing up previous revolutions and envisioning how we can do even better in the future.

Cornel West launched into a scathing critique of present-day capitalist values and culture that trained youth to be pre-occupied with themselves by bombarding them with hyper-marketing and “weapons of mass distraction.” In the face of this, West called for “fearless speech, unintimidated speech”—especially in relation to the conditions of poor and working people, who no one will even talk about today. He called on the audience to have the courage to “go against the grain.”

West then got into his view of what people are up against. “The fundamental problem today is oligarchy and greed run amok. We have to decide which side we’re on.” He argued, “It’s about finding one’s voice in the midst of cacophony, terror, and catastrophe.” He warned of the very serious danger posed by the rise of the right wing in this country, and called on people to act. “The future is open-ended and entirely unpredictable.... For better or for worse, the future depends entirely on the choices we make now.”

A period of dialogue between Dix and West followed. There is not the space here to capture its richness, but one thing that shone through was profound mutual respect that framed their—at times—sharp differences. Some of the issues included: how to evaluate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., how to sum up the first wave of communist revolutions—including Stalin, and what is the role of electoral politics today.

The question-and-answer period further enriched this process. Audience members asked about a broad array of subjects: Do you support the struggle of transgender people against police brutality? Where are the churches today in struggles of the masses and “do we need to occupy the churches to free Jesus?” How do you sum up the history of the left from the 1960s? The program ended with a request for West and Dix to speak to their visions of what a future world could be.

In future issues we will carry further coverage of the event and interviews with the audience. But the following responses by a mother and daughter give some sense of what kind of night it was.

Daughter: “I loved it. I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say. I think the thing that really struck me the most was Dr. West’s point about how we have to move beyond just hate and anger. And how that has to be channeled into something more because that isn’t sustainable long term. Love and compassion, that’s what’s going to sustain whatever it is we’re trying to do here..”

Mother: “For me, I had never heard Carl Dix before. And it really first educated me on revolutionary communism as it is now. And it gave me something to think about that in my ordinary life I never would have considered. So I was actually very pleased for that. …I guess what I liked about it was it made me want to read the books in terms of what have we learned and how it could possibly work in the future.”


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