Art and the War for the Future

By Dread Scott

Revolutionary Worker #1029, November 7, 1999

The RW received this Open Letter to Artists from Dread Scott:

The arena of art is tremendously important in terms of influencing people one way or another--for revolution or against revolution, for the status quo or against the status quo speaking more generally. Art not only influences politics tremendously but there is also a sharp struggle in the realm of art over what will be produced, what will be supported, and there are many different ways that the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, has of controlling art.

Bob Avakian, Chairman,
Revolutionary Communist Party.

September 11, 1999 was MUMIA 911, the National Day of Art to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. On that day, artists from all over the country opened some space to carry some justice into the new millennium. Artists from NY to LA, from Honolulu to Berlin, made, displayed, and performed art which the powers didn't want to see. But in our art you could see the future.

We are in a war for the future. I don't want to live in a world where it is legally and morally OK to execute a Black man despite the systematic exclusion of Black jurors from the jury. I don't want to live in a world where it is legally and morally OK to execute a Black man even though the prosecution used his earlier political statements and associations as arguments for his death...a world where a Black journalist who had exposed police brutality against the Black community can be convicted and executed on cooked-up confessions and coerced testimony, and no court will allow the review of the "evidence" against him...a world where revolutionaries are persecuted for their beliefs. And I don't want to live in a world where raw profit and greed, embodied in the people who have stolen the life and labor of generations, determine every aspect of our existence. This is the world the powers wish to further bolt into place with their efforts to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal.

I believe that Mumia 911 made it more difficult for them to build that future. We are going to stop this execution and we are using our art to do it. I think that the art that we produce today has everything to do with the future we will live in tomorrow. The system has threatened artists that we will be punished and boycotted if we stand up for Mumia. But how could we be artists of conscience and not use our art and our voices to illuminate a case as important and historic as Mumia's?

On September 11, the exhibits, concerts, readings etc., were all crucial components in the fight to stop Mumia's execution. But 911 was also more than this. Forging connections with a broad range of artists, with diverse ideas and opinions--whose art and life has been about transforming the world we live in--was tremendously inspiring to me. We all worked together setting aside whatever secondary differences we have--for the most part checking our egos at the door--determined to stop this execution. I really hope that one of the lasting things which comes out of 911 is that the many diverse artist who worked together to make 911 happen continue to collaborate like this in the future on projects for Mumia and on other projects as well. Furthermore I hope that we can forge collaborations with even more artists.

I'd like to offer two suggestions to all artists who participated in Mumia 911 as well as to the many artists whose art challenges the status quo, but whom we couldn't connect with in time to work with on 911:

1) Let's build on today's great beginning and create a real Culture of Resistance. And let's work with the Artists' Network of Refuse & Resist! (an initiator of Mumia 911) as a means of forging this Culture of Resistance.

2) In a month-long conference of revolutionary writers and artists in Yenan, China, 1942, Mao Tsetung made the comment that "writers and artists have their literary and art work to do, but their primary task is to understand people and know them well."

For artists today I think that means learning from the sentiments of the families who have had family members killed by the police. It means learning from today's criminalized generation who are hounded by the police and warehoused in jails. It means learning from the experience of mothers on welfare who are told that, despite a trillion dollar budget surplus, there is no money to feed their children. Let's learn from revolutionary heroes like Mumia who has never sold out and who has inspired a whole new generation to question this entire system. And I think it means learning from the people all over the planet--who hate America for the bombs it drops on them, the sweatshops it enslaves them in, and the economies it "restructures."

And then let's use that knowledge to make art that more powerfully illuminates this era and helps the people to propel history forward.

Dread Scott

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