Sunsara Taylor on the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago, or...
Why I Was Dis-Invited, Why I Did Not Just Shut Up And Go Away, and Why It Still Matters
The woman who coordinated my speaking engagements in Chicago has written an account of what transpired leading up to and on the day of my cancelled talk, November 1st, 2009. This includes a robust eye-witness defense of my videographer who was brutalized and arrested. Please read her statement here: [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/11/true-story-of-sunsara-taylor-and.html] as well as the statement from a lawyer who was present here [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/11/statement-from-attorney-martha-conrad.html] and join in demanding the charges be dropped!
My invitation to speak at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago traces back to a talk that I gave on a panel at Columbia College last year entitled, “A Communist, A Buddhist and a Priest Sit Down to Discuss... Morality to Change the World: With or Without God(s)?” [which you can listen to here and here].
The diversity of views among the panelists, along with robust challenges and deep questions from the audience, made this an exhilarating evening. I spoke openly of being a communist. Drawing from Bob Avakian's book, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, I brought alive how his further development of communism places great importance on the need for the methods and means of all who struggle for liberation to be rooted in, and consistent with, our ends. In other words, if we want a world where the needs of humanity are valued above individual gain, where women are fully liberated, where all people and a diversity of cultures are respected and valued, and where critical thinking, the unfettered search for the truth, and individuality are fostered – then we must begin to live this morality now and we must struggle to bring that world into being. Others spoke from their own perspectives. Hundreds of students and others stayed long after the scheduled end, standing in the back and squeezing in on the floor in front.
That night, a member of the EHSC Program Committee approached me and let me know that he intended to approach other members of his Committee and invite me to speak.
Anyone who googles “Sunsara Taylor” can see quite easily that when I speak of morality I speak as a communist. I expose the immorality of a global system based on profit, a system that has patriarchy and the oppression of women woven into its very fabric, a system that thrives off of wars of aggression and legalized torture.
In one of the easiest talks of mine to find online, an exchange with Chris Hedges entitled, “Atheism, God and Morality in a Time of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism,” I began with the story of Placide Simone, a Haitian woman who – like millions around the globe – was struck hard by the recent global food crisis. I quoted news coverage, “'Take one,' she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. 'You pick. Just feed them.'” I made the connections between this real world nightmare and the “need” people feel for the illusory comfort that religion provides in the almost unimaginably unbearable condition of vast swaths of humanity under imperialist globalization. I further argued that religion, the weight of tradition and superstition (including the notion of “sin”), only adds to this suffering.
I speak publicly on these and other matters not, as some now claim, out of a desire to “be in the spotlight.” I do this because I understand that even people who today often close their eyes to truths that seem too difficult, too big, too disturbing to confront, can be won to open their eyes, to think, and to act. To find that part of them that, together with others and the irrefutable evidence of both what is wrong and of the possibility of change, can be part of making those changes to this world and to ourselves in the process.
All of this is informed by my worldview as a communist. At the same time, because this communist worldview is rooted in confronting the world as it actually is and as it actually can be, there is tremendous room for others, coming from their own worldviews but similarly committed to the betterment of humanity, to be enriched through an engagement with these views on morality.
From all this, it is clear that the EHSC knew I was a communist from the very beginning. But, as the date of my long-scheduled talk approached, some began a drive to cancel my talk exactly because of these views.
In his objections to allowing my approved talk to go forward, Anil Kashyap, the co-chair of the Program Committee of EHSC on October 13th wrote, “we specifically stipulated that it [her talk] was NOT supposed to focus on the revolutionary communism.” The actual focus of my talk, as it was clearly described and submitted to the EHSC, was to look at the profound changes that have been brought about by imperialist globalization and the moral crises this has contributed to, to look at the resurgence of virulent, fundamentalist religions in this context and to explore how this can be countered with a secular morality. Of course this was informed by my perspective as a communist.
In further arguing to cancel my talk, Anil Kashyap, who is also a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, wrote, “A talk that claims morality is inconsistent with a global economy is nonsense. The first order fact that cannot be ignored is that the greatest anti-poverty program in history is the growth in China over the last 30 years. That was only possible because of globalism. That transformation has lots of problems, but more starving and desperate people have been lifted up faster than ever in human history.”
This notion, that the last thirty years of capitalist restoration in China has been the “greatest anti-poverty program in history” is one I would have gladly disputed in an open exchange. I probably would have pointed out that between the years 1949 and 1976, under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung, life expectancy in China rose from 32 to 65 years, medical care was brought to the vast country-side, women were brought into education, the workforce, and public life, and for the first time in the history of China the food problem was solved. I would probably have pointed out that since capitalism was restored in 1976, 200 million peasants have become displaced and now cast about through the country, vulnerable to the grossest forms of sweatshop exploitation and that by some estimates as many as 20 million women have been driven into the sex industry for mere survival. Kashyap might have challenged me and I would have responded. In my view, this would have been great – giving people the chance to compare and contrast and form their own views.
Rather than air his very different and strongly-held views on these issues, Kashyap and others argued for the cancellation of my speech. This is in keeping with, and contributes to, a broader chill on discourse that challenges the status quo and it is in keeping with a particularly virulent resurgence of anti-communist McCarthyism.
A member of Obama's team was recently pilloried for having once quoted Mao Tse-Tung, Glenn Beck regularly rants about so-called “communists” and “socialists” that are packed into the administration, and Obama himself is targeted as a “socialist” for considering any form of healthcare reform.
To be clear, I am no supporter of President Obama and Obama himself is no socialist or communist. But I am a communist and this has everything to do with why my talk was cancelled.
To the degree that this cancellation was driven by the fear of any association with an actual communist at a time when such associations are being used to discredit people and drive them from their jobs, this is neither ethical nor practical. One does not stop anti-communism and repression by capitulating to it. Such behavior only fuels the hysteria, encourages those on the witch-hunt, and intimidates others. To the degree that those who suppressed my talk did so out of fear that my challenge to the morality of capitalism might have resonated at a time when so many are experiencing such a profound crisis of confidence in capitalism, this is also indefensible. This cuts against stated principles of the EHSC as well as basic ethical standards.
Today, people everywhere are groaning under the weight and the horrors associated with the current world order. The female half of humanity is routinely beaten, raped, disrespected and demeaned in a thousand ways and from every side. Millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands of lives have been stolen by U.S. wars just in recent years, with no end in sight. Hundreds of millions of children are caught up in life-draining labor, with no chance of a childhood and no prospects for a future of anything more than continued suffering. Here within the U.S., millions are forced out of their homes by foreclosure, an epidemic of police murder and brutality stalks the lives of Black and Latino youth, and the government routinely spies on its citizens emails, phone calls and public spaces. All of these, and countless other unnecessary nightmares, are part of the great moral dilemma of our times.
Yet, out of fear of conflict, out of fear of sacrifice, out of fear of standing out and having to struggle for one's principles and ethics, these and other crimes continue, even though millions disagree.
It is the phenomenon described so saliently in a poem by Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
All too often these days, people voice their disagreement with these wrongs... but then they go about their lives. They acquiesce. They tell themselves that they couldn't have won anyhow – but we can never really know that. Such “wise council” might have told the same thing to the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement, the soldiers who refused to fight in Vietnam, or the women who won the right to abortion.
Today, progressive and radical thinkers across the country are routinely dis-invited, their speech is routinely suppressed, they are pressured to self-censor, they are fired or denied tenure, and the discourse of this society is routinely kept within “safe” limits that do not challenge a bloody status quo.
To go along with this, and to contribute to this, is to do great harm. Indeed, the ideas that are allowed to circulate in society and the ideas that are suppressed, have everything to do with whether the crimes of this world will be allowed to continue or whether these will be called out, resisted and stopped.
I ask that each of you reading this now add your voice against this act of suppression. Spread this letter. Send statements to the addresses below. Help open up a platform to these all-too-infrequently heard ideas by inviting me to speak. Write and call the EHSC and the Skokie police department to demand that charges be dropped against my videographer.
Contact the EHSC at: email@example.com and 847.677.3334.
Send copies of your letters, and make contributions to the legal defense by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
To all in the Chicago area, join me this Sunday at the Best Church Of God: http://www.bestchurchofgod.org/.god/
And, because you really have been lied to about communism, join me in catching Raymond Lotta at U of Chicago on Wed, November 11th, 7 pm Kent Hall Room 107. “Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong! Capitalism Is a Failure. Revolution Is the Solution.”