In the last 45 days he's lost his living situation and now he's on the streets with no income and/or aide. I offered to work with him to help him and so far, that's looking like helping him develop a plan to provide shoe shining services through a mobile service. I committed to help him finance the kit, which isn't very expensive, and to help him develop a skeleton business plan. He's quite clear that this venture isn't going to solve his problems and I've made it clear to him the limits to my ability to help him financially due to the monetary needs I have to finance my political work.
My point here is that during today's meetup, we were discussing at the coffee shop his declining health from sleeping on the streets and his subsequent inability to maintain his optimism about his future. During the course of this conversation, the two graduate nursing students sitting at the table next to us started to engage the conversation and soon, we were having a full blown four person conversation about inequity in this society.
Helping facilitate those conversations is what I do in ways that are productive and more enriching than what most people have the skills to sustain. Still, the crux of the conversation came down to the lack of hope gnawing at my mentee (his definition of our relationship) and how people can maintain hope when their perspective from their individual circumstances is as bleak as his currently are .
As our four person conversation came to a close, he and I continued a more focused conversation about his specific situation. From that conversation I thought of Fidel Castro, that revolutionary Cuban who's born day was actually yesterday. In Western capitalist societies, we are dominated today by the internet and a world where people actually believe that the few poorly written and researched internet articles they read each week are truly preparing them to understand difficult ideological and historical phenomenon. Fidel Castro is an example of this. I would never claim to know everything, but I can say confidently that I already forgot more about Cuba than most of these Western Cuban experts will ever learn. I can say that because I've been seriously studying the concepts of socialism, the Partido Communista Cuba (Cuban Communist Party), its structure and governing processes, Cuban society, Cuban revolutionary history, Caribbean history, and everything related to those areas for the last 35 years. And, I mean reading probably about 40 books on those various elements of Cuba. Traveling there 25 years ago before most people today even knew there was a Cuban revolution, and doing extensive research to support the writing of my thesis on Cuban revolutionary socialism. All of this coupled with my organizing experiences over the last three decades, permits me to have a pretty strong understanding of how people can come together and make positive changes. Again, there is much I don't know, but I'm not a fool. I am not going to be falsely modest and pretend that some anti-communist hack can compete with my commitment to learning about Cuba's path. So, despite the rantings of ignorant so-called revolutionaries who insist on castigating the Cuban revolution in general and Fidel in particular, because these people wouldn't know how to build a revolutionary movement if they pushed out perfect revolutionary theory into the toilet, we continue to proclaim loudly our love for comrade Fidel Castro. And we say that understanding fully that the Cuban revolution doesn't have to be perfect as its critics complain. As one of the world's first legitimate socialist revolutions, the only responsibility the Cuban people have is to continue to build socialism. They will correct their errors in the process and their brief 60 year history is full of examples of how they are doing just that, but if you don't know those examples, that means you have lots of work to do. Its not our job to educate you (despite the fact we have done that countless times as a courtesy), so stop being lazy and do your work. What's important here is that the reasons we love Fidel is because he and others had the courage to stand up to imperialism and to provide hope to millions of people in the course of their revolution.
A special shout-out to all the idiots who swore that Cuban socialism would collapse the moment Fidel ceased to breath (because to these small minds, the Cuban revolution was Fidel's one man control over 10 million people which since Cuba is essentially an African country is about as racist as you can get). We love Fidel because he led the effort to tackle challenges that are reachable today. Challenges that were unimaginable 60 years ago. Challenges like facing off point blank against U.S. imperialism head on and without fear. Challenges like being able to ensure 10 million people could read and that the basic tenets of socialism were implemented so that the generational process of transformation could be imposed and culture could be changed. Today, we see Cuba, a country that when the revolution started it was in many ways basically a satellite of the Soviet Union, openly acknowledge its errors and make corrections. At one time, it was seriously frowned upon for Africans to exhibit African cultural characteristics because that was seen as nationalistic which is anathema to those so-called white Marxist/Leninists and other so-called white leftists who see the entire world as a caricature of European history (meaning because nationalism has been dominantly negative for Europe and European people, that means it has to mean the same for everyone else, even those of us colonized who must reclaim our identity - nationalism - in order to build for socialist development). Today, African culture is celebrated in Cuba and the government actually funds African culture and has made the study of Africa, African culture, and the oppression of African's required study for every Cuban student. A much more progressive and logical approach than that of the U.S. where oppression against anyone is still never acknowledged and any effort to do so is met with hostility. So, we love Fidel because we believe he helped establish their process of making these things possible in Cuba and as a result, that has to mean they are possible everywhere else.
How all of this about Cuba, their revolution, and Fidel, ties into my meeting today with my African man friend is the question of how we can transmit that hope that Fidel taught so many of us into the hearts and minds of people like my younger friend who has very little in his individual existence to encourage him to keep going? I think a lot of the answer is tied up in how we engage people. The reason my friend listens to me is because, according to him, he observes certain things in me that have caused him to have respect for who I am as a human being. For one, whatever I tell him I'm going to do, I do, every time. For someone in his situation, relying on people to be consistent with support, meetings, etc., is all he has to hang onto, so although from experience I know those traits are taken for granted by most people, for him they are extremely important. Also, our discussions are never just about his individual circumstances, but how his individual life is shaped by the structural conditions we are subject to. I believe that my efforts to help him remember that his problems are not because something is wrong with him, but because of this system of oppression, helps him stay encouraged. In fact, I know this is true and not just because he says so, but because that is very liberating message in a backward society that preaches to people that individualism is their only solution while ensuring that there are absolutely on resources to help them on an individual level. Finally, my brutal honesty with him which evolves from my revolutionary orientation. Since I have that instead of some liberal consciousness, I'm not going to tell him or anybody that the solution is here by just believing in God or having faith in a backward system. Instead, I tell him in the most sober terms possible that the only answer is collective organization to dismantling a system that is itself collectively organized to oppress us. In the course of that, I have to unfortunately tell him that his suffering is something that I can do what I can help subside, but that just me myself, I cannot stop it without creating a host of problems for myself in other areas of my life. In other words, he knows I have his back, but he also knows there is much going on in his life that I can't do much to help improve and that it is going to be like that for a while with him and many other people. Still, I know that a person can deal with trauma on any level if they are prepared. The important thing is that he knows he has support and that we are going to have to fight to make any progress on an individual level as well as collective level.
In all of that I have crafted a clear reaffirmation for the work that I do. We should do whatever we can to support those who are suffering, but its important we all understand that under this system, despite what we do on an individual level, people are going to suffer. If not here, than in Africa, etc., because this system depends on human suffering. My hope is to help individuals as I can while keeping my vision firmly sighted on the collective dismantling of this system and the creation of something better as the Cubans have been doing for 60 years. No one can intelligently argue that life for most Cubans, especially those most oppressed pre-revolution, is not better today. And, no one can argue that things will continue to trend upward for them, despite hiccups, largely caused by imperialism. Again, we love and thank Fidel for his contribution to this. And, we continue to be inspired by their example in our efforts to help others hang on and be inspired because in the final analysis, the more of us who accept this reality, the more prepared we become to change it, despite our personal circumstances.