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On a cold and chilly November Saturday afternoon last year, hundreds of people lined up along the outside of The Riverside Church in New York City, to witness a Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian entitled, “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.” The event was well worth the wait.
It was an event of historic proportions for many different reasons. Bob Avakian, the chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, made his first appearance in decades to discuss with Cornel West, a Union Theological Seminary professor, and well-known African American activist, the state of oppression in today’s society and the ways to overcome it in the 21st century.
The Riverside Church was packed to capacity— 1900 people from all over the country filled the pews to hear the discussion. One of the event’s
sponsors, Revolution Books, located on West 26th street, bused dozens of people from Ferguson, Chicago, Detroit, and even San Francisco to attend the event. People from all walks of life crowded the church. The uplifting sounds of music from Nina Simone to Bob Marley, echoed throughout the building as attendees waited patiently for the event to start.
The recent Ferguson demonstrations acted as the beating pulse of the event. Chants from young men in pews yelled, “Hands up!” while the rest of the crowd responded “Don’t Shoot!” The energy was spellbinding. Both revolutionaries addressed the issue throughout their speeches.
The event spanned more than four hours, much of which was taken up by Avakian, a leader in the Communist Party since the 1970s. At first, Avakian, managed to hook the audience by
honoring the victims of police brutality. “How can we get to a world without a system that treats people less than human?”Avakian addressed the crowd.
Avakian focused on the need for a complete change of the US government system. He recalls the “secular 60s,” an era in American history where people turned away from religion to evoke change. He argued that the deeper problem is that it’s a “problem of the oppressor and the oppressed. It’s a cycle. We have to get beyond that.”
He discussed issues like police brutality, the oppression of women in a patriarchal society, and his method of a scientific approach to a revolution.
“Science, when done the right way, simply means learning about reality and changing it by investigating and accumulating evidence by interacting with reality, identifying the patterns, and moving to change it based on that data. That’s all that science really is.”
However, after two hours on the microphone discussing the call for the emancipation of humanity under the system, the crowd got restless when Akavian approached the topic of religion. Despite his atheist liberal views, he wants us all to “stand to fight against oppression and fight for what’s morally right and righteous.” The audience applauded him with a standing ovation.
Nevertheless, it was West who stole the hearts of the audience. On October 13, 2014, Dr. Cornel West, a well-known black activist and scholar, was arrested during the ”Moral” Monday March in Ferguson, Missouri known as “ Ferguson October.”
Fourteen peaceful protestors along with Dr. West were detained.
As West approached the podium, members of the crowd stood up, one by one, embracing him with a warm loud applause. He called out to his fellow protestors in Ferguson and shook hands with Harry Belafonte, a Grammy Award-winning musician and civil rights activist as he exited the room.
He began his speech by addressing the issue of integrity in the face of oppression. He argued, “It has to do with spirit.” He used examples of revolutionary black leaders such as Alice Walker, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King, and he also used the “spirit “of religion as hope for overcoming hardship.
West also agreed with the need for a change to the US government system. He said, “there will be no fundamental change in American society without a critical investigation and to look into Wall St., the 1 percent, and corporations who rule and dominate our government.”
After 20 minutes West ended his speech calling for the need of solidarity with all religions in the face of oppression. He spoke of the recent protests of the killing of the unarmed black teenager, Mike Brown, and referred to the incident as a crime against humanity.
The Dialogue ended with questions raised from the audience to both speakers, presented by Bob Avakian staffer, Annie Day. Both Bob Avakian and Cornel West clearly united on the issue of the need for social change. They both suggested to the audience that as we wait for the indictment of Officer Wilson, “our youth cannot stand by to be executed by racist vigilantes.” West and Avakian called for peaceful protests and to take to the streets regardless of the results of the trial.