Getting Oriented and Getting Started, the first 2 days of the BAsics Bus Tour
The first day's orientation began with a showing of the first segment of Bob Avakian's Revolution talk, "They're Selling Postcards of the Hanging," where he gets into the founding of this country in slavery and the hundreds of years of white supremacist terror which was inflicted on Black people as part of the enforcing the “American way.” BA describes not only the lynchings, but how white people would gather in a festive atmosphere to witness the lynchings of Black people and to snap pictures and make postcards of the hangings.
All of us had watched this segment of the video before. All of us have been moved by it many times. But there was something different as we sat in the darkened room and watched it together on the first day of the BAsics Bus Tour. We were just meeting each other, the full daring crew of revolutionaries who came to the South in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, in the wake of the state-sponsored execution of Troy Davis, in the midst of the slow genocide of mass incarceration, to spread the only revolution that can put an end to these hundreds of years of bitter oppression and terror against Black people.
Following the video, the leadership of the Tour laid out our mission and our orientation for the two weeks we will be together. We stepped back and got into many of the biggest questions that we confront as we fight to initiate a new stage of communist revolution some 35 years after the last revolutionary bastion in the world was defeated (here I am speaking of revolutionary China before capitalism was restored in 1976). We got into the role BA has played over the years, deeply summing up the experience of that first wave of communist revolution – both the tremendous achievements and the shortcomings – as well as broader human experience. How, through all of this, he has forged a new synthesis of revolution and communism and how this means there really is a viable and liberating alternative to the way the world is today. And we got into what it means that he has led a Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, to forge a strategy for making revolution in a country like this and has published a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic of North America (Draft Proposal) for how a revolutionary society would be set up and function starting on Day 1 after the revolution and going forward.
From there, we dove into how we see this historic moment and what we are stepping into. One young volunteer recalled the stories he heard growing up from his great grandmother about picking cotton on a white-owned plantation not so far from where we were. He recalled the period after the election of Barack Obama and how Black people, in particular, across the country allowed themselves to celebrate and be deceived by the notion that his election marked the end to their oppressed status. Today, however, after the murder of Trayvon and the policies of Stop & Frisk and the continued rates of mass incarceration and the torture in the prisons and so much more that happens each day, it is becoming painfully obvious to millions of Black people that nothing fundamental had changed. “It is a good time to be bringing this revolution to people down here,” this volunteer concluded.
Another volunteer took longer to enter into the discussion. She began by laying out how, four years ago, when Obama was elected she was sitting in her home watching the news and thinking, “This is good. Black people are finally being treated better.” She admitted she had always thought that the oppression of Black people was something much more historic and mostly over with. But, since being in this country and really coming into the movement for revolution, she had learned a great deal – both about the history of slavery and of lynchings and KKK terror, but also of the current epidemic of police brutality, mass incarceration, and many forms of racist humiliation. Even on the travel to Georgia with a few other volunteers, she explained, she learned a great deal just listening to the stories of the lives of those she was traveling. More than once she would interrupt her comments to exclaim, “I just can't believe this is real. It is so crazy. It doesn't make sense.”
Other volunteers brought in their fears and their excitement about taking on a challenge that was bigger – and different – than any they'd been part of before. Living together for two weeks carrying out an extremely intense and very high stakes mission, to spread this revolution and the leadership of BA throughout the South and throughout the country. We discussed how we will be forging new social relations among ourselves – how we interact, how we get to know each other deeply on the level of what we think about the world and philosophy and politics and music and culture, but not on the level of gossip or even too many personal details about everyone's lives and history that could make us more vulnerable to counter-revolution.
In our orientation packets we have some principles for how we conduct ourselves and there is a plan that we will discuss them further in the days to come. But, even short of getting into them more fully, it struck me that several of the volunteers expressed genuine enthusiasm and eagerness to begin living in close quarters with others to start taking them up and applying them. These principles include things like, “no hitting on women” but instead interacting with women as full human beings and potential revolutionaries and comrades. Also principles about not stealing from the masses or making racist, homophobic or anti-immigrant jokes. The enthusiasm expressed was both about how it will feel to embody the new liberated culture of the revolution we are making as well as about being able to project this in all the work we do and how this itself is a statement about the character of BA's leadership (after all, it is rather breath-taking that BAsics includes a whole chapter on communist morality) and the future we are fighting for.
At this point, Clyde Young, a veteran revolutionary leader interjected that while this is an extremely important point – about how we are modeling these new social relations for the masses – one of the most urgent things the masses need to see is that this revolution is taking hold, that people like them are coming into it, that it is gaining strength. This is important NOT because we want to feel approbation and approval, but because humanity needs revolution and communism and for that to happen people must be getting organized into this revolution in growing numbers, particularly those who are most under the gun.
Another older volunteer spoke up and posed the challenge this way: “We have to leave organization in our wake, real organization where people are hooked into this movement for revolution in a lasting and sustained way. But we are not going to leave Revolution Bookstores in our wake, so we have to envision a different way this will look.” This is a key contradiction we have to spend a lot of time on this Tour developing the answers to – both in theory and concretely in practice. As this volunteer put it, “This is a paradigm shift.”
A THEME OF THE TOUR – “NO MORE GENERATIONS OF OUR YOUTH... WHOSE LIFE IS OVER...”
A theme of this leg of the BAsics Bus Tour is the quote from BA, “No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that.” This quote speaks to what is going on with young people all over the world, but has a specific resonance down here in the South and in speaking to the conditions of Black people, as well as to Latinos and many of the immigrants we will be interacting with.
One way we are making this a theme of our Tour is that we printed up a 9 foot by 5 foot banner which has this quote written on it in English and Spanish which we are taking out at every stop to have hundreds of people sign. This statement gives expression to the aspirations of millions and it is from the revolutionary leader, Bob Avakian, whose work and leadership means that it is possible to make good on that statement, to really put an end to this madness once and for all.
Everywhere we have been with this banner, it has struck a deep chord. People have been happy to be given a way to come together with others and make this feeling known publicly.
OUR FIRST NIGHT – MEET AND GREET
After our orientation, we gathered at the local Atlanta Revolution Books to hang out a bit and interact with some people locally who wanted to welcome us and meet all of us. One of the people who showed up was a young middle aged Black woman who had heard Carl Dix on the radio and decided to contribute $45 to the BAsics Bus Tour. Since most of us are not from around here, we asked her if she knew about the neighborhood we were planning on heading out to the next day.
Immediately she responded with appreciation and enthusiasm, “Yes, people over there are really oppressed. They definitely need to hear about the revolution.” She explained that there used to be housing projects over there, but they were torn down. There aren't any housing projects in the entire city of Atlanta any more. She explained that a while back, they had a fair for people to apply for housing assistance and it was mobbed by thousands of Black and other poor people, way more people than they possibly had housing for. Its not just that they tore down the public housing, they left the demolished area vacant. So the masses who still live in the area – pretty much entirely Black – are left in dilapidated apartment buildings surrounded by open unkept fields and right next to a huge federal penitentiary.
This woman was so pleased to hear that we were going over there that she piled a crew of volunteers into her car right then and drove out to show them around the neighborhood. By the time they returned, most of us at the “Meet and Greet” were engrossed in a conversation with Charles Person.
Charles strode in and took a seat, quietly observing the gathering. On my way to the food table (if I find the time, I promise to make the food we have been eating the subject of a whole other blog entry – there have been so many good cooks, food growers, restaurants and others who have kept us well fed!). I stopped to introduce myself. It took me a minute, and some patient help from those around me, to realize that this was the Charles Person that I (and thousands of others) had recently watched in the new documentary on the Freedom Riders. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders who set off a tidal wave of struggle that changed the course of millions of people's lives in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.
Obviously, from there it didn't take long until the whole room grouped around and sat and listened to an extremely deep exchange between Charles Person and Clyde Young, with myself and other volunteers joining in. Clyde and Charles shared memories of the 1960s and 70s and the height of the Black Liberation movement. They went back and forth over how to sum up the experience of the Black Panther Party and other revolutionaries and liberation fighters. They wrestled with the big question of whether and how it could ever be possible for the masses of people to make and win a revolution up against a power as great as the system that currently rules over us. Many of us joined in at different points, particularly when questions came up about whether the youth could get out of their situations through persevering in their education, being responsible, and working hard.
At the height of this engagement, the crew of people returned from the neighborhood investigation. One of them entered in, having to pause to stop himself from breaking down with the outrage and the pain of it, as he described the conditions of the masses of Black people he had just witnessed. “They live right next to this federal penitentiary. There are all these beautiful children there, just running around and playing. But every day they have to look at this penitentiary and be reminded that this is where you are going to end up. Even the bus stop, the only people who take the bus are from the apartments. But the bus is not in front of their apartments, it is in front of the penitentiary. So at the end of the day, before they even get home they have to go by that and be reminded of it.” He described the lives of many of the kids who struggled to get good grades and be responsible and even "pull up their pants" and how still so many of these kids are brutalized and harassed, gunned down or incarcerated.
The longer the discussion went, the more intense and passionate the engagement got. It was invigorating for all. We ranged over many differences, some of them we struggled over some of them more got laid on the table and we listened and learned from each other. But what most stood out the most was the common determination to see the long and bitter years of oppression of Black people ended, as well as liberation for everyone more broadly. “I've still got the fire in my belly,” said Charles, “and I wish you success.”
It is hard to capture what it meant to all of us to have Charles Person come out to meet us, to spend an evening communing with us, listening to us, counseling us, struggling with us and joining with our spirit and aspirations for a better world. Its true, despite the brutal beatings he took back on the Freedom Rides so many years ago, despite the fact that he walked in with a cane and carried with him many years of struggle and experience, he does have a fire in his belly.
Several times during our exchange, Charles stressed that people are fed up and there will be many who respond to what we are bringing. Some of them will want to shout it out like we are, getting on a bus and building the movement for revolution across the country or taking action in other bold and defiant ways. But, he stressed, “Don't step over those people who may not want to be out there the way that you are, but may want to make the signs or bring you food or just show up or be with you in some other way.” This was a precious insight and piece of advice that overlaps significantly with the challenge we wrangled with earlier in the day. It is something that we have been returning to in our time since then.
By now, it is a couple days after I began writing this blog entry. So much has happened that I am dying to share with you all. We have been out among the people and overwhelmed by the depth of their openness and hunger for this revolution. We have been up against some of the grossest betrayal of the masses and attempts to contain their righteous anger and outrage. We have heard story after story after story after story of raw brutality from the state. We've seen people lift up their shirts or take off their hats or point to their arms or their necks to show us scars and more scars and more scars from the multiple times they have been beat down by police or prison guards.
We have learned so much and laughed so much and cried and yelled and searched for words and stretched our minds and leaned on each other and confronted more deeply, repeatedly, the urgency and the potential and the great stakes of this revolution we are fighting for. We have seen people come running out of breath to pull money out of their pockets and their shoes to buy “that book” (BAsics) when we've returned to a neighborhood after a day away. We've been reading “that book” (BAsics) with people and watching clips of Bob Avakian's Revolution Talk with people we've just met and been diving into some of BA's works, method and significance among ourselves. We have been wrestling with, and taking some steps to answer, the challenge of how to bring all these people into the revolution in a lasting and sustained way.
We have seen so much that I told Alice Woodward, who has been taking pictures and blogging about much of what the Tour has done so far, that I thought this blog might be out of date by now and not worth posting. “Its a little passe,” I told her an hour ago in all seriousness. “So much has happened since then, I feel like I need to write something new.”
Alice, with a great deal of patience, looked at me and said very plainly, “For us, this morning feels like it was two weeks ago. So, yes, the orientation day seems like it might be old news. But for the world out there, who has no idea all of what we've been up to and experienced and tasted, I think all of this is not only going to be new, but even cutting edge.”
So, as advised by Alice, I am posting this. Stay tuned as she and others will keep you up on what is being uncovered and transformed...