Mass Debate Over the U.S. Flag at Cleveland State University

September 26, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


Cleveland State University, outside the student centerCleveland State University: Standing on the rag. (Photo: Special to

We received the following from one of the RNC 16, who are facing serious charges from an outrageous police attack on a protest outside the Republican National Convention in July when Joey Johnson, supported by the Revolution Club, burned the U.S. flag.

What a scene today at Cleveland State University! A few of us went to the plaza right outside the student center, put a U.S. rag—I mean flag—on the ground, and then one of us sat on it while the other two passed out the message from the RCP Central Committee, "Time To Get Organized for an ACTUAL Revolution," and cards about Bob Avakian's THE NEW COMMUNISM. We had the graphic from about Colin Kaepernick: "Sit with Colin—No respect for that genocidal rag"—and an enlargement of the cover of Revolution newspaper with the image of Joey Johnson burning the flag at the Republican National Convention, with the message "America Was NEVER Great! We Need to OVERTHROW This System!"

As soon as we started agitating on the bullhorn, a crowd gathered around. Then the crowd grew. Pretty soon it was a full-on mass debate—sometimes breaking up into many small debates and sometimes coming back together—100-200 students at the height and hundreds more over the course of the day. This went on for like four hours!

America was never great - Flag burns at RNC 2016

There were A LOT of right-wing students, overwhelmingly white. Many were organized Trump supporters, feeling very bold and shameless about putting forward their racist, fascist bullshit. Some of them would just stand around acting like arrogant frat boys smiling and making snarky comments about communism. Sometimes they would start chanting "USA, USA!" or "Build a wall!" We would respond with "1, 2, 3, 4, slavery, genocide, and war; 5, 6, 7, 8, America was never great!" Others would tell us we should leave America if we don't like it. How original! No thanks, we'd rather organize to overthrow it. Some would tell us how disrespectful we were being of the flag. Good! We're trying to be as disrespectful as we can of this bloody symbol of oppression! "If you live here, you should show some respect." By that logic, if you lived in Nazi Germany you'd be saluting the swastika! Some would tell us about the thousands that "died for the flag," and then we would tell them about the tens of millions that died because of that flag, and loudly read Bob Avakian's quote from BAsics about what the soldiers in the U.S. military are actually killing and sometimes dying for (hint: it's not freedom and democracy!).


Blatant racism kept bubbling to the surface. Someone said, "Most of the killings by police were justified." Another said, "Why are you still complaining about slavery. I didn't own any slaves." "There's no such thing as white privilege." "There were only 400,000 slaves in the U.S." "The nation [it's a continent, fool] of Africa had more slaves than the U.S." "Racism is over, you have a Black president!" etc... you get the idea. As Mark Twain said, to get along in America, you need the perfect combination of ignorance and arrogance!

Partly in agreement with what the Revolution Club was saying, and partly in response to the outrageous bullshit being put forward by the people opposing us, many dozens of students, especially Black students, came forward through the course of the day to stand on the flag and/or argue with these fools. There was a spirit of defiance and truth telling about the oppression of Black people that could not be contained. When a pro-Trump student yelled out that the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte was justified because he had a gun, a bunch of people took him on: "What video did you see?! Oh, that's right, you just believe the police's word." "You guys wanna talk about terrorism... the police are the biggest terrorists!"

Cleveland State, photo by @YoNuby
Cleveland State (Photo: Twitter/@YoNuby)

At one point, a Black student "leader" started agitating to the crowd that this white boy (one of us is white and two are Black) started all this commotion and that their revolution doesn't have to do with Black people, and people should just calm down. This did not work! People were not in a mood to calm down, and many people were open to hearing about the revolution and its leader, Bob Avakian. A number of people would say, "I think we need a revolution, but I don't know about communism." Well let's talk about what communism is, and why we need it instead of this capitalist-imperialist system. And let's talk about how Bob Avakian has developed a new communism, including a strategy for how to WIN an actual revolution.

A group of anarchists/libertarian socialists kept vacillating between going after the pro-Trump people and going after us, sometimes making petty proprietary complaints about how we are not students and shouldn't "co-opt" the struggle (ironically, all afternoon they hung around the commotion that we started with our bold action), and sometimes raising their more substantive opposition to the need for leadership, vanguard parties, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Even though they didn't raise these differences in a spirit of genuine dialogue, I used it as an opportunity to speak to the crowd about what's actually involved in a real revolution to defeat and dismantle the most brutal and oppressive state the world has ever seen, to set up a new socialist society with a new economy and a political system that 1) no longer parasitically exploits the rest of the world, but instead puts the interests of humanity and the world revolution first, 2) protects the precious ecosystems of the planet instead of plundering them, 3) actually meets the needs of the people instead of the profit of a few, and backs up the masses of people in the revolutionary transformation of society, while protecting the rights of individuals.

Making a revolution and advancing to a communist world, beyond all the economic, social, and ideological chains of this system, is complex! The idea that the masses will do it spontaneously, without leadership, is ridiculous, and no one should take anyone who puts forward that idea seriously. In this light, the crucial importance of Bob Avakian's leadership—the person who has greatly deepened our understanding of the goal, the method, the obstacles and pathways in this complex process, and is actively leading a movement now to make the revolution that humanity so desperately needs—stands out even more.

These conversations went on all afternoon, and a number of people said they would link up with the RNC 16 (the 16 Revolution Club members facing charges for burning the flag at the Republican National Convention) this coming week when we go back on the offensive to put the whole damn system on trial for the crimes against humanity they have perpetrated here and around the world, and for the illegal and outrageous attack on the Revolution Club in a (failed) attempt to silence our revolutionary message.




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