July 14, 2013 | BA Everywhere | revcom.us

The NYC BA Everywhere Van Tour spent the evening at an outdoor screening of the digitally remastered version of the film of the Broadway musical West Side Story with live accompaniment from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The venue holds 17,000 and thousands of people come hours before the show to gather on the lawn having picnics. It was mostly an older crowd, the 60s generation and older, with some groups of youth and families. Once we got in and set up our picnic blanket, we got up and held two posters for people around us to see. One said “Ask me about the BAsics of Revolution and Communism.” The other was the front page of Revolution Newspaper with the photo of Trayvon Martin in his hoodie with the headline “Modern American Lynching.”

As one of us held up the posters the others walked through the crowd handing out palm cards saying we need Revolution—Nothing Less! to end the nightmare that humanity is forced to suffer under this system. We talked beforehand about being clear and conveying to people that we weren't protesting there, that we were planting a pole around what's needed to end all these horrors. We were there to extend an invitation and a challenge for people who want to see these horrors ended to engage with the leadership we have, with real answers and a real way out of all this.

Many people took palm cards and said “Thank you.” A group of white high school students looked at the poster, but then didn't want to take a palm card, so we challenged them that there is a death sentence hanging over the heads of Black and Latino youth. We said this is about what kind of future we're going to have and a couple of them did take cards. Several people asked if the verdict of George Zimmerman had come in yet and were watching and waiting to see what happened and wanted to see some kind of justice for Trayvon Martin and for Black people. Then suddenly an older man came up in a very irate state, "Excuse me! You can't do that here. You can't bring politics into this, this doesn't belong here. This isn't allowed. This is music. This is not the place for this, especially not you with your communism!" We posed that there's a relationship between politics and music and that we are opening up an engagement around the big questions in the world today and inviting people to find out about this and if he didn't like it he didn't have to engage it. We said: "Did you think that Trayvon Martin asked for it!" "No! Did Black and Latino youth ask to have a death sentence hanging over their heads, to be incarcerated in massive numbers. Did Black people ask for slavery?! Hell No!” He stormed off and more people came up to us and told us what they thought about the murder of Trayvon Martin and told us what they thought about the importance of there being justice and took palm cards for the film. Soon after that, we were asked to stop handing out palm cards by the security. This also prompted more people to take palm cards, to tell us they would be sure to find out more about this, and say things like "keep up the good work." When people said this, as much as we could, we would challenge them to be part of doing this work too, to find out what this is all about and contribute funds.

People sitting nearby started asking us if the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case had come in, and during the film the area where we were sitting became a small community of people waiting for the verdict: checking the news on their smartphones, talking about what the outcome might be and why, and where the situation comes from that Black and Latino youth have a death sentence hanging over their heads. During the intermission, the woman in her 60’s sitting behind us yelled out, "Not Guilty! I can't believe it." She read the news article out loud to her three friends and to us. "Well I can believe it," her friend replied. "But it’s outrageous." We let the others sitting near us know the news. One guy in his 50’s who took a flier about donating to the BA Everywhere campaign was very angry and heart sick to hear this. He started talking about how he had been in the Marines and witnessed the vicious, open, virulent racism celebrated there and told a story about becoming great friends with the only Black kid in his neighborhood when he was a boy. At that moment, listening to "Somewhere" from West Side Story and seeing the tragic conclusion of the film, it took on even more poignancy.

We opened up Revolution newspaper and looked at the call to act when the verdict was announced and called up a friend and asked them to read to us from Revolution newspaper to get some guidance on what to put forward around this. We then put our heads together and made a plan to speak to this. As thousands of people poured out of the concert we held the poster with the photo of Trayvon Martin up high and agitated while handing out palm cards and selling Revolution newspaper. We spoke to people in a very serious tone, "Tonight the murderer of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was found not guilty. This is an outrage, if you have any sense of justice in your heart you need to be part of resisting this, you need to stand with people on the bottom that give expression to their anger around this, you need to find out about how we can get to a world where the Trayvon Martin's — the Tony’s and Maria’s (the main characters in West Side Story) — do not have to die and can truly flourish. This is possible! It will take Revolution—Nothing Less to end this. Get with it! Find out about it!”

Many people were surprised and angered to hear the verdict. "We're from Florida and we're LIVID," one white couple, probably in their 70’s or 80’s, said. People reached out to take a palm card with purpose, shaking their heads and showing deep appreciation that we were there. A few were hostile towards what we put forward about Trayvon Martin and revolution. The older man came back again, "Oh fuck you," he said. We answered: “This is about whether there's a death sentence hanging over the heads of Black and Latino youth. Why are you so cranky? You seem to like what this system is doing?" We told him that we weren't going to let what he said stand among the people. "Why are you so self-righteous?" he growled back. We replied: "We are talking about the reality in this world.” He stomped off and once again his hostile response towards us compelled others to take a side, mostly the right side.

There was a lot of positive response to us. And then there were a few who really stepped forward, and we had a plan of making sure we got their information so we could follow up with them right away to take things further, especially raising funds. A Latina woman in her 50s stopped, "I'm outraged. This is an outrage. Give me some more of those!" She took a stack of palm cards and we told her why we were here on this van tour and that we want to talk to people like her because we're talking about how we can end horrors like this and she gave her information. People in groups of 3 or 4 and up to 10 were stopping and gathering around the volunteer holding the poster as she was telling them about the verdict and why we were there. This volunteer had never done anything like this before and she was very nervous. But then she said she started thinking about Trayvon Martin's parents and held the poster up higher and overcame her apprehensions about talking with people in a mass way like this.

After hearing about the verdict, one white woman in her 50s cried out almost as if Trayvon Martin was her son. Tears filled her eyes and she put her hand over her mouth in horror as if to hold back cries. She was stopped in her tracks and began exclaiming about how intolerable this was. At first she said that she had prayed this wouldn't happened and we said we couldn't rely on prayer that it was up to us to fight to put an end to these horrors and that if her religious convictions led her to doing that we had to unite. Then she said something like, "No I don't have religious convictions, forget religion. We have to do something. This is horrible." We put to her that we had to act around this, that we are fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution, that we are leading people to stand up and to end all this and she had to join us in that and engage what this is all about.

The polarization around the murder of Trayvon Martin was very sharp in this crowd. When revolution and BA were brought into the mix things took on a new polarization. When we brought in the need for Revolution--Nothing Less, the leadership we have in BA— the possibility of ending all this oppression so that there will not be another outrage of a murder of a Trayvon Martin or an Emmett Till in 30 or 50 years, people were compelled to relate to that and this altered the atmosphere dramatically.