Dienstag, 15. November 2016

Lessons from Cleveland State University

Bringing revolution and THE NEW COMMUNISM to campus... confronting fascists... and working to change the polarization...

November 14, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us

From revcoms with the Get Into the Revolution National Organizing Campaign and Tour:

When the Get Into the Revolution National Organizing Campaign and Tour arrived at Cleveland State University (CSU) days before the new Hitler was elected, there were a few minutes when it seemed we would just be talking to a few people on a sleepy campus. But as we stood on the American flag holding a display sign of THE NEW COMMUNISM by Bob Avakian and talking with students who were curious about all this, the fascist students at CSU jumped out, upholding the ugliness of the whole history of this country and quickly creating a violent-mob atmosphere of physical attack and death threats. It was a very negative and dangerous alignment, where those who disagreed with the Trump-ites were silent, paralyzed, timid, and even at arm’s-length.
We were speaking out on why America was never great: the dragging of Africans to these shores in slave chains and generation after generation of torture and terror of Black people, including the whole history of lynchings; the CIA coups and U.S.-installed military dictatorships in Central America. This was met with prideful dismissal by the Trump-ites, who angrily confronted the revcoms, and one lunged in trying to start a fight. He was prevented from landing any blows and some other students dragged him away. Police moved in, circling the revcoms, while the crowd of students watching grew. The fascists were incensed, puffed up, passionate, and on the offense.
Students who disagreed with the Trump-ites stayed silent. As police circled in, we chanted the name of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old murdered by Cleveland police while he played with a toy gun in a park. The Trump-ites started shouting in response, “Blue Lives Matter!” A group of Black high school students there with their social studies class stayed aloof, some even laughing at the whole scene. Their teacher told them to stay and pay attention and they would discuss what was happening there in their next class. But the teacher said he wouldn’t pick sides, and most of the students weren’t going against the tide.
Other university students said things like, “I like what you’re doing,” but refused to publicly step forward in support of it, letting the terms be set by the foaming-at-the-mouth fascists, who had grabbed an American flag and come out to rally around it, shouting, “USA, USA, USA.” In addition to their loud public rabidness, the fascists also threatened up close, telling one revcom, “You want a revolution, I can’t wait to see you on the battlefield so I can put a bullet in your chest.” At the same time, this was all flavored with snark and ridicule. This scene went on like this for about an hour, with the revcoms encircled by police and fascists, and other students quietly watching or not staying around to watch. The revcoms continued on the bullhorn calling all this shit out and calling on other students who don’t like all this shit to step forward. When the revcoms marched out of campus, we were followed by a mob of flag-waving Trump assholes and police, but also others who were just watching, taking the whole thing in. After we had left the front of the campus, a Black student who had seen us on the quad approached and said simply she liked that we were saying “America Was Never Great” and wanted to find out more what this was about.
The revcoms were back the next school day with a literature table and display of THE NEW COMMUNISM. As we were setting up, students were stopping and engaging. It was the day before election day, and one young Black woman stopped to see what this was about and expressed how she was at a loss for what to do about the direction of society. She was intrigued and interested to find out more about THE NEW COMMUNISM. Minutes later, a snarky buffoon arrived to ridicule us and try to whip up the fascists, who were beginning to gather.
We decided to make the defenders of America have to deal with us in the realm of content and substance. We challenged them to a debate. Many of them didn’t want to seriously put forward arguments and have to defend their shit, they just wanted to be Trump-ite frat idiots. But we persevered in leading this, challenging them with the fact that they are on a college campus, supposed to engage in critical thinking, and we were able to set some terms at least among a section of students. At times, this even required that we fought for some of the reactionary clowns who were just jumping around and acting like buffoons to shut up and listen when the flag-wavers spoke up for Trump, so that people could hear their best arguments and then measure them up against what we had to say. Through this, some people did step forward to debate and this shifted away some of the initiative of the gathering mob like the one that had formed the day before. Some people debated earnestly; others posed snarky questions, but did pose them and did allow everyone to hear the answers.
One of the sincere comments was from a guy who said his great grandparents were killed in Finland during the Russian Civil War, and that his family came over to America because of the liberty and freedoms it modeled to the world. We asked what year it was they came over. 1917-1918. And what was happening in America at that time? For one, the lynching of Black men, being hung off of trees, killed for being Black. And we posed back to him and the crowd if this was the liberty and freedom he thought was a model to the world. He actually had to concede this point at least, and others in the crowd felt the need to change the subject and revert things back to sneering and snark.
        Students who opposed the America-first fascist crowd again mainly did not step forward and make themselves felt, even while there were numbers of students passing through the quad who stopped to listen to the debate. And tellingly, a student who calls himself a socialist and has claimed CSU as “his” community where he doesn’t want to see students get organized for revolution, joined the crowd of reactionaries to denounce the revcoms, preferring to strengthen the fascists than to take a principled stand. Disgustingly and in an extremely self-exposing way, he actually played a key role in breaking up the debate we had fought through to establish. He saw the two sides, and rather than saying jack shit about these Nazi-youth prototypes, he laid into us! This was bullshit, and we took it on. The guy complained he thought we were giving revolution a bad image, but when we challenged him, if he was so revolutionary, to tell the crowd of flag-wavers what he thought of their flag; he repeatedly and cowardly refused.
But, through this whole process, the hardened nature of the polarization was softening up. Many students were starting to recognize that there was real substance to what we were saying and it was stirring their thinking and their concern for the world, even as most were still coming from a very different—frequently oppositional—place. As the larger debate was opening up, a few students came over to our literature table to hear what we really had to say. Some were oppositional and some were more open, but all of them were curious.
One Black student who was against the Trump crowd but said he was in favor of capitalism, did take the conscious step of walking up to the literature table to engage further, essentially crossing a line that the fascists had drawn to keep people away. A white guy with a U.S. Marines baseball cap came charging towards us in a threatening way, asking us, “What did you say about the military?” We braced ourselves, but told the truth, paraphrasing BA’s quote about how they say the military is out there fighting for the people and for freedom and democracy, but really it is killing and dying for a system that oppresses and terrorizes humanity and enforces a world of horrors, and has no regard for the humanity or lives of those who fight in it either, they are used by this system for very bad purposes. He engaged in conversation and thanked us for being there, but was back the next day holding an American flag.
To be clear, the reactionaries still mainly had many people vocally aligned with them, but through continuing to agitate, to draw out the differences, to fight for real engagement, and through never backing off from the full dimension of the horrors of this country and what Trump represents and the truly liberating revolution we are making to end this, we increasingly gained political and ideological initiative.
Burning the U.S. flag outside the Republican convention
Joey Johnson with the support of the Revolution Club burned the American flag outside the Republican National Convention to protest the toxic chauvinism and reactionary ideas of all stripes surrounding Trump’s nomination.
The following day was election day. Things were different off the jump. There was chalking all over the floor from Trump followers and Hillary people crossing out each other’s messages. The revcoms marched onto campus in formation and lined up on the quad in front of a big banner that said, “America was never great! We need to overthrow, not vote for, this system!” Several members of the Revolution Club, all defendants in the RNC 16 flag-burning case, took turns on the microphone. (The RNC 16 and Joey Johnson were arrested at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland for burning the American flag and are now facing trial for this political protest.) They spoke compellingly about how Clinton and the Democrats can’t and won’t stop the fascist movement being led by Trump, and about a radically different way the world can be, and organizing to make revolution to emancipate the seven billion people on the planet. Through it they drew bare what Trump is and the whole country and system he concentrates.
One male revcom did moving exposure of the woman-hating Trump represents, “his misogynist bullshit, his celebration of sexual assault, his glorifying and mainstreaming of rape and degradation of women,” and how this is woven into the fabric of U.S. society. Another revcom laid into the U.S. military: “You sign up for their military—you’re going to get sent halfway around the world to go kill and die, not for freedom and democracy... for the 1 percent who controls the military, who controls the economic system—you’re going to go kill and die for capitalism. Is that what you want to do?”
This time, there were students who stepped forward to hear what was being talked about, with a great deal of appreciation for the exposure of the crimes of America. Some of the Trump-ites gathered on a balcony a little distance away to shout their opposition, and this time with an American flag that also had a huge image of John Wayne on it. The ones who ventured up close had to deal with a much more two-sided situation. There were only a couple of students who really stood firmly in support of the revcoms, but this opened up a lot of space for other thinking students to step in and engage and begin to take sides and express that. When a Trump-ite from the balcony yelled, “Get a job,” a revcom responded, “That’s all you got? That is some weak shit! I thought this was a college campus, can’t you make an argument?” At this, another student who had been sitting nearby listening for some time began clapping. The revcom continued to talk about the tremendous importance of students lifting their heads to think about the world, to stand up and fight against injustice, to engage the most radical and scientific leadership for revolution on the planet, Bob Avakian, and join the movement to make revolution—sharply challenging the bullshit, but also struggling with students to be better.
That night, we were reflecting on what we’d begun to change on the campus. Then the election results started coming in, and with it the growing realization that the fascist who had been legitimized by the media, the Democrats, and the whole system was being voted into office. This is an unprecedented—and truly dangerous—moment in history! The next day when we arrived near campus with a Mein Trumpf sign showing Trump as the Klan Nazi he is, we were approached by students thrilled to see that sign, before we even walked onto campus. One of them, a white student, agreed that we need to resist this presidency immediately and joined us on the spot, marching with us onto campus and staying with our crew the entire time.
When we got onto campus and began speaking, students were drawn in—many Black students and some white students—who were very upset about the election results. The reactionaries quickly appeared again and this time some of the other students were visibly upset at them and stayed around to support opposing them. Not many of those opposed to Trump were ready to get on the microphone and speak out themselves, though one student did, condemning Trump and saying America is better than this. In between calling out the illegitimacy of the new president and the need to resist it now as part of preparing for an actual, communist revolution, the revcoms chanted. Several students were drawn in to chanting “1, 2, 3, 4, slavery, genocide and war... 5, 6, 7, 8, America was NEVER great!”—hesitant at first, but responding when the microphone was put in front of them. For a while in the middle we chanted simply, “Fuck Trump!” which several students more readily jumped in on. When it was time to leave, we grouped up and sang out with a lot of joy and defiance, “WE ARE THE REVCOMS! THE MIGHTY, MIGHTY REVCOMS!” and marched off campus.
What we were doing, together with the elections, ripped open a situation where racists and flag-waving fascists are emboldened, while students who hate  all that shit are on the defensive and trying to live in “safe spaces” on the edges of it. We went straight after the foundation of all that disgusting Trump shit: America and the capitalist-imperialist system it concentrates. And in doing so, we drew the ugly out into the open. We were a minority in the face of a howling mob, forcing people to “own,” and be exposed by, their reactionary shit. But we also modeled and fought to lead people to confront it head on, fearlessly and with substance. Coming from the interests of humanity to end all oppression, we stood for the seven billion, the people of the world, and we had the substance to back it up, while working collectively to give each other strength. Through it, we wrenched out a situation where people were actually using their brains, and were forced to critically think (including by fighting for people who disagree to hold to principles they claim to agree with, such as critical thinking, or at least make them feel they have to play by such principles to be taken seriously by others). This at the exact moment when the fascist Trump has been elected president and there is a need for daring and courage to resist the new order.
And in the mix of all this, we did draw forward some students who are looking for another way, and engaged with them over what the problem was, what about the system that would give rise to a Trump and treat him as another legitimate president-elect? What about Bob Avakian and THE NEW COMMUNISM? And what’s in “HOW WE CAN WIN—How We Can Really Make Revolution,” and the challenge and the need for students to get into, and get with, this revolution now.

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