Don’t get me wrong, I love most sports. But I’m going to have my TV remote (with mute!) at the ready for the upcoming summer Olympics. You know the drill—soaring, beautiful feats of heart, talent and skill by athletes from around the world will be twisted into training people in flag-waving “USA, USA, USA” jingoism and rooting for “our” country—with the occasional “human interest” bit on non-U.S. athletes thrown in to help the chauvinist poison go down. No matter where the U.S. ends up in the ever-present medal count, all this will prove—once again—that this imperialist system works to turn everything it touches—no matter its human potential—into something oppressive and ugly.
Of course, Olympics chauvinism is hardly the worst of it: America and Americans No. 1 are the ideological underpinning and justification for countless crimes, from extraordinary violence to everyday exploitation committed by this empire against millions upon millions across the planet—not once every four years, but each and every day.
So I was thrilled when I heard of the July push to spread two quotes from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—”American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’ s Lives” and “Internationalism—The Whole World Comes First”—far and wide (with an exclamation point on the 26th—more on that later). Organizers say this is part of the BAsics Bus Tour, now rolling through the streets of New York and nearby areas, with volunteers who have come from across the country going out to the neighborhoods to connect Bob Avakian’s leadership, vision, and works with the people.
And on further reflection, I realized just how unique and unprecedented the spreading these two quotes from BAsics is, and why it’s an effort anyone who cares about the planet should join or support.
I’ve covered and opposed U.S. wars and imperialism for years—from Vietnam “back in the day” to reporting on Iran’ s 1979 revolution against the U.S.-backed tyrant and torturer, the Shah; investigating the poison cloud that spewed from a Union Carbide plant massacring 10,000 to 15,000 people in Bhopal India; seeing the made-in-USA tear gas and rubber bullets used by Israel to injure and kill Palestinians in Gaza in the 1988-89 Intifada; helping document the murderous impact of U.S. sanctions on Iraq, which killed over 500,000 Iraqi children in the 1990s; and writing about the imperialist agenda behind the U.S. “war on terror,” the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the current threats against Iran.
Over these years, many have protested and spoken out against U.S. wars and interventions, and there have been some bold stands against U.S. chauvinism, including raising the Vietnamese National Liberation Front flag during Vietnam War protests, and standing with the Iranian people and declaring “It’s not our Embassy!” during the 1979-1981 “hostage crisis.” And the sentiment that it’s wrong to value American lives over the lives of others has spread (although it must be said that far too often opposition to U.S. crimes is framed in terms of the cost to America and Americans, thus reinforcing the very ideology used to justify these crimes).
But because the capitalist-imperialist system has remained in place, the U.S. continues to rain death and destruction across the planet—via ecological damage and climate change, wars, and imperialist-driven impoverishment and dislocation. And with their system facing new challenges and stresses, the U.S. rulers—whether Democrats or Republicans—are even more stridently promoting America No. 1 exceptionalism and the baseless notion that American lives are worth more than others. Let’s be clear—this poisonous idea is one reason there is way, way too much silence when Obama illegally assassinates people in Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. Or when Afghans are massacred, tortured, or brutalized by U.S. troops. Why does Mr. Barack “change-you-can-believe in” Obama end every major speech with “May God bless America”? Every issue—from jobs to manufacturing to the environment—gets filtered through “what’s good for America,” and how “we” can keep America No. 1. All this is sickening and immoral.
As U.S. chauvinism grows ever more hideous, going straight up against the America uber alles mentality and broadly popularizing the outlook and morality expressed by those two BAsics quotes is right on time! The quotes plant a radically different pole, and call for a radically different morality and imagination. If you really start thinking about what putting the world first and not valuing American lives above others actually means, the implications are deep and far reaching.
You start thinking in terms of facing and working on the problems of humanity and the planet as a whole—not just America’s (or your own). You start thinking about how the vast majority of people around the world—billions of people—are forced to live and the unspeakable abuses they suffer. You think about the war being waged in one form or another on women—half of humanity! You follow what’s happening to the planet’s ecosystems. You learn about and face the fact that a very small handful of people centered in a few powerful imperialist countries are exploiting and strangling millions upon millions. And you start thinking about what it’s really going to take to end these needless nightmares—not just being “sorry” or “concerned” about them.
Tour organizers report that the BAsics Bus Tour is raising just these kinds of questions right now in the New York City area—the empire’s financial headquarters and ground zero for unending war, stop-and-frisk, and targeting of immigrants and Muslims. And, together with others across the country, the tour is distributing tens of thousands of palm cards with these internationalist quotes—including by putting this effort right in the hands of the people most cast off by the system.
They explain that this is part of a broader effort to introduce many, many more people to Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and BAsics. This book not only calls out U.S. chauvinism and the system’s myriad abuses, but lays out a vision and strategy for making revolution and getting to a communist world without exploitation, imperialism, national oppression—or national boundaries—and the chauvinism that these divisions foster. Connecting people with Avakian’s leadership and work is crucial for building a movement for revolution right here in the belly of this imperial beast.
Tapping into Deep Aspirations
The two quotes are tapping into the aspirations of many, many people for a better world—aspirations they very rarely have the chance to express.
A middle-aged Black man outside a Wal-Mart in one city said, “I like these quotes. The President says ‘God bless America and nowhere else.’ That’s selfish! The U.S. does many, many bad things to people of other countries. Like wars. The U.S. does these to keep its power over others. No more of this.”
A Black woman said, “I really think every person’s life should be equal.”
“Even though some Americans think they themselves are superior and treat people in other countries, including immigrants, as second-class people, that’s wrong,” a middle-aged unemployed Mexican immigrant worker whose son was murdered by police a few years ago said. “Because America oppresses other countries, people there have no way to survive except to come here to find jobs. I think everyone’s life is precious and everybody should be equal, and there should not be someone’s life being more important than others.”
Tour organizers have issued a call for creative expressions around the country on July 26 around the two BAsics quotes: “Imagine…a big brass band and a crew with beautiful signs in the city center or town square…a flash mob with people shouting out the quotes one by one…a big globe balloon…poetry and spoken word performances inspired by the quotes…dramatic and colorful giant banners…”
They’ve also called on people to “Make posters with these quotes with space for people to write what they think of the quote,” and then send photos and videos of these to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone with a conscience, who cares about the planet and everyone on it, who opposes war, global exploitation, and injustice and who wants to shake up and reshape the whole discussion in this country should take part in spreading these quotes all over and in the creative expressions on July 26.
Larry Everest is a correspondent for Revolution newspaper (revcom.us), where this article first appeared, and author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004). He can be reached at email@example.com.