Students, Basic People, and the Revolution Club Mix It Up About “Why Are We Still Fighting for Justice in 2015”—Watching and Wrangling Over Excerpts of Revolution and Religion; A Dialogue Between Cornel West and Bob Avakian

March 16, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

I attended a recent screening of a clip from the upcoming film, REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion: A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST & BOB AVAKIAN, at an elite university. It was an intimate gathering (15 people), but the wrangling unleashed was extremely rich. 

First we watched the trailer for the film. In the dark, we began to get to know each other just by our reactions—laughter, vocal appreciation, applause. Next, we watched the excerpt called, "Why are we still fighting for justice in 2015?" which has been released as a YouTube and is a key way momentum is being built towards the Launch of the film on March 28 as well as #ShutDownA14 against police murder. In this excerpt, audience members pose questions about the police raids in Harlem that had recently swept up dozens of youth and someone from Ferguson, Missouri asked why we are still—after all these years—having to fight for justice.

Bearing Witness to Police Brutality

A Black woman from an oppressed community who had been invited by the Revolution Club had been clapping and vocally affirming much of what Cornel West and Bob Avakian had exposed about the brutality of the police. She had been especially emphatic when BA had passionately insisted that we must not allow the police to get away with this any longer. As soon as the lights came up, she dove in, saying it was true what we had just heard. She went on, with deep emotion, about her first hand experience as a nurse, treating the body of a Black teenager who had been killed by police. The students listened intently as she described the anguish of the kid's family and the murderous callousness of the cops. She described the pain in her heart at what all Black parents have to go through, fearing for their children—both for their lives and for the indignities they all are forced to suffer by the police.

Bearing witness to this racist state-backed brutality became a theme throughout the night, uncorked by the powerful truth spoken by CW and BA. The woman's two children—ages 17 and 22—both spoke up repeatedly about the police abuse they and their friends have been forced to suffer. A bit later, two Black graduate students added in their experiences being racially profiled and arrested for no reason other than the color of their skin. 

Music and Culture

Another theme emerged around the question of music and culture, which is also broached in this excerpt. People very much appreciated the way West and Avakian exposed the role of the power structure for promoting music that turns people against each other and several reflected on the messed up content of the music that they listen to.

A young woman expressed how moved she was to hear West talk about the need for “tenderness” and to hear BA say, “It is not weak to love.” People bounced off the wrangling BA and CW had done over the relationship between building the struggle for a different world and bringing forward a culture that uplifts the oppressed and raises people's sights, how each of these elements need and can strengthen each other.

What Revolution Actually Means

A young white teacher posed that while we certainly owe a big debt to the fighters of the 1960s, we shouldn't romanticize them. Things have changed so much, she argued, noting that all her students came of age in a post-911 world. “They've never known what it is like to exist outside a surveillance and security state, with that level of anxiety. They've never given a hug to someone at an airport gate, they don't even know we used to do that.” This touched off more discussion.

A young woman from the Revolution Club spoke. The point is that we need a revolution and we are watching people who have answers. Think what it means, she argued, that people have to struggle so hard just to survive, just for the most basic survival in this world. And to hear Bob Avakian and Cornel West talk about what it could be like, and the point is to bring into being a world where—like they said—we don't have to be gathering 50 years from now confronting the same situation. No more police murder, no more women raped, no more of any of this.

Two Black grad students who are also teachers talked about changing the way kids are taught and providing re-entry programs to help people coming out of prisons. They agreed the problem was “systemic” but identified education as the key institution that needed changing. Another member of the Revolution Club posed again, “Why do we have to accept that the best we can do is help a few people while this whole set up grinds on?” She argued that anyone who doesn't think an actual revolution is possible should consider why the rulers have so much surveillance and repression in place, what are they so afraid of. She said the Black liberation struggle rocked this system on its heels in the 1960s and this could happen again, and we need to fight for it to go all the way this time.

People wrestled with real obstacles in their own lives, and in their attempts to change society. The teachers shared brutal inequalities in the public high school system as well as small-scale successes they have seen. They invited the revolutionaries into their classes. One thing that never surfaced openly, but was striking, was that the revolutionaries were clearly starting from the conditions of the masses as a whole, whereas the teachers had a strong tendency to talk about the conditions necessary for the success of oppressed individuals and then extrapolate out from that.

At a certain point, a revolutionary spoke up and argued more explicitly for the importance of Bob Avakian's leadership. The point in digging into the lessons of the '60s is that even with the inspiring upheavals and tremendous accomplishments of that period—like BA said, the same system still rules over us, with all its devastating consequences for the masses of people all over the world. The movements of the '60s, even the most advanced sections of it like the Black Panther Party, not only didn't bring this system down, they didn't yet develop even a correct approach to doing so. BA never gave up on that and worked for decades to develop an approach for how that could be done – the strategy to win an actual revolution and the vision of the new society that would be worth winning. She vividly pointed people to the statement on strategy and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.

As it became clearer what the revolutionaries meant when they said “revolution” and what is so significant about BA, a young student interrupted and blurted out, “That's what I want to hear about!”

Building Towards the Film Premiere and April 14

We got more into the strategy of “Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution,” and the incredible need right now for people to take responsibility for the nationwide shut down against police murder on April 14, returning to BA's insistence that we must not allow the police to get away with what they do any longer. People need to fight back in a massive way against the grinding genocide this system is carrying out, expose its utter illegitimacy and build up the strength and unity of the masses of people of all different kinds in struggle against it—this has everything to do with STOPPING the outrages CW and BA were speaking of, and with opening up further the possibility of a world without oppression.

We also talked about the importance of making the Dialogue film premiere on March 28 a very big deal, opening up the kind of thinking going on in the room on a much grander scale. This is necessary to raising people's sights to a world that is completely free of oppression in any form, the kind of revolution needed to make that, and the strategy to bring that world into being for real.

As we broke up, small knots of people got into deeper discussion and planning. Two young Black women picked up Bob Avakian's AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World and began reading excerpts of it. The kind of visceral sharing of experiences of oppression and the deep questions that were opened up reveal much about the potential of this Dialogue, and needs to be built upon and spread much further.

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