Lifetime Achievement Awardee Jarvis Tyner remarks to the Better World Awards on December 11th, 2016
Thank you! Everybody, really. I’m a really humble dude, you know, I mean, all of this to do, it’s very good for the heart, and it makes you want to rise to the occasion, and gives you a great confidence in yourself and in the people around you.
I appreciate all that was done to put this together, and I am greatly honored to receive the lifetime achievement award, and I’m really happy to share the platform with George Albro, and Nelini Stamp, and Vinie, and Amina, who’s just terrific as usual, and both are just wonderful, wonderful examples of our cultural achievements as a people. And then the red microphone, as usual, very nice, and Cameron with this thing with the violin. I don’t know what the hell he was doing over there, but it sounded like a sixteen-piece orchestra. Long live technology! But anyway.
I’m very happy to be here and thank you brothers and sisters, comrades, friends for coming out. I want to thank the New York Friends of the People’s World for making this possible. I want to particularly thank Estevan, the organizer of the Party in NEw York, give him a hand. He has done Herculean work to make this possible, and there are a lot of people his age running around Wall St robbing people. You know, they call themselves stock brokers. But they stealing from us, y’all, that’s what they doing, that’s what they do, and doing all kinds of things. With his brain power and his creativity, he could do almost anything, but he chose to work for the Communist Party, he chose to help transform society into one of freedom and peace and justice for all and really, we need one hundred more Estevan’s in this country to help make the transition to the better world.
I want to talk a little bit about the elections. Everything I wanted to say has actually been said before – but we’ll pretend like it wasn’t said – and said very well.
The first thing I want to say, though, is about the passing of Fidel Castro. Comrade Fidel occupies a special place in the hearts of we US Communists and all people who believe in independence and justice and freedom for all. And, he brought something special to our hemisphere. You know, when the fascists took over Chile, we said, “uh-oh, they’re in our hemisphere and they’re open and so forth, we have to defeat them. But also, when socialism was established in Cuba, that opened up all kinds of opportunities for us in our struggle here. And don’t believe that the American people are against Fidel and socialism there. They keep flocking down there – why you think they make these airplanes – they’re going down there to see, and they’re going to be impressed with this multi-racial society where medical care is free. You know, Black people could not become teachers in Cuba. Cuba was a playground for the rich and the gangsters. You all know that. Batista, a Black man, was enforcing Jim Crow in Cuba. that was one of the first things they did was to eliminate the Jim Crow system in Cuba. And then a lot of people said, “well, I don’t wanna go to school with these Black people – those who stayed – and we’re gonna stay in our private schools. So you know what Fidel and them did? They publicized the private schools, and everybody had to go to school together. And he helped to mold this Cuban personality, this sense of democracy and justice for all. That’s why in Angola, when the South Africans went in, the Cubans heard the call, and thousands went there to defend the Angolans and to defeat the South African Army and they did, that’s the first defeat they ever had, and they did, and the blood of Cubans was spilled in the quest for freedom in Africa. It was a great thing. And that’s why a country of 10 million people is loved by billions all over the world. The doctors they’ve sent around. And after 200 or so many attempts to assassinate Fidel, acts of terrorism down there and so forth. The CIA, they just didn’t know what to do about this thing. It’s 90 miles away. Everything they thought was horrible, or they think was horrible, or they wanted you to think was horrible was succeeding in its own way. 50 years of an embargo and they didn’t bring them down. They made them suffer, but they didn’t bring them down. They punished the Cuban people for choosing socialism, but socialism helped to make their lives better and stronger, and their socialist future is going to be even greater. So, long live Fidel Castro.
The actions of Obama around Cuba were a step forward, but I think that Donald Trump has promised his right-wing backers that he will bring back the restrictions and so forth on Cuba. So his election demands that we step up the fight to end the blockade, and establish normal relations with our socialist neighbors. History has absolved Fidel, he will never be forgotten.
Speaking of history, you read my little history in the magazine. If you haven’t, you should read it, it’s kinda nice. But, I want to say that life was not easy growing up in the ghettos of Philadelphia – Mill Creek is the ghetto I grew up in. There were no white people in that neighborhood except for some of the small merchants. And some were very nice and some were not so nice. But, I remember our landlord was an old man who ran a shoe store up the street. He was Jewish. Mr. Sanders was his name. And our rent was $30 a month, and my mother had a beauty shop there and that’s what kept the family going. That and my father working in the factory. And I remember my mother told me to go tell Mr. Sanders that we can’t pay the rent this month, we don’t have it. And I expected him to get mad at me, but she said, “No, no, he’s okay.” So I go up there and I tell Mr. Sanders that we don’t have the rent. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” He said, “and I hear your father, in the G.I. Bill learned to be a shoe maker. He said, “I’m about to give up this business. You think he’d be interested in taking over my shoe repair shop?” And my father was not, but I mean that was the wonderful kind of people we met in this little community you know – sticking together.
In the 1950s when our teachers were called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and my brother, who’s here tonight, I will introduce him later, he had a teacher named Lou Ivans, and if I ever mention that name in the Philadelphia Party everybody would go, “Oh, I know Lou, I know” – Lou Ivans taught in the junior high school. His father was a Communist, he was a Communist, and his son was a Communist. So, McCoy was just very excited about Lou Ivans. He used to come home all the time talking about, “Mr. Ivans said this, Mr. Ivans said – ” Mom would say, “Who is this Mr. Ivans?” and McCoy said, “No, he’s my teacher down at the school and so forth. You gotta come meet him, and she did and she was very impressed. She saw that kind of democratic decency and honesty that Communists are supposed to have, I mean, all of ‘em don’t have it, but supposed to have, and she saw this sense of rejection of racism and so forth and so did my brother and it helped to give him a sense of achievement in school and confidence. Well, along comes the HUAC Committee and the teachers were all called up before it, and he was called up before it. And my mother – I heard her in the beauty shop where we grew up, say to her neighbors, “You know, there’s something about this thing about Communism.” She said, “Every time somebody try to do something good, that’s what they call them.” And she mentioned Paul Robeson – this is the common people understanding what the hell we were up against then – she mentioned Paul Robeson, she mentioned the Ivans, she mentioned this Black teacher named Goldie Watson who had led the fight to integrate the trolley drivers, they didn’t allow any Blacks to drive in Philadelphia – and later she went with Rizzo, but – but she was a terrific lady, and these people were accused, so I sit there and I go, “Hm, that’s interesting. And I had never met anybody. Go through high school. All my buddies and everything, saw what would happen at Little Rock and everything and then we got to out in the world and started working and saw that they didn’t – I couldn’t find a job. When I came out, it was 27-28% unemployment among Black high school kids – I couldn’t find a job. I thought I was pretty talented, my teachers told me I was pretty good – couldn’t find anything. Finally got a job for a dollar an hour, and I was happy to get that ‘cause I didn’t think I was ever gonna get a job before, and when I got hired, the boss came in and he said, “you know, we don’t have any colored here now, but you the first.” And he said, “I want to tell you, if you work hard, and you keep going you can have this as a lifetime job.” But that’s the way it was! That’s the way it was.
So, later I got into the printing trades and I learned that and they were a little more generous, they made me a member of the union, I got to be a general worker, and I made a little bit more money. And, when I got to the union, right away there was all white workers in the place and they said – they were telling racist jokes, one guy came back from Florida and said, “You know, I went into this wonderful place, but they wouldn’t let people in there.” He thought it was a joke. And I said, “Larry, come on, man, that’s terrible. That should be against the law.” But anyway, they finally let me into the union and then we had a strike, and it was a militant strike of lithographers. We were well paid workers you might say, but not me, I wasn’t that well paid, but they were, and the strike won, and I was the captain of the picket that night, and those white workers said to me, “Jarvis, would you be interested in being our shop steward.” Now, I’m the lowest paid worker in there and they wanted me to be their shop steward. But then, six months, I was laid off from that job. That’s the way it was.
In addition, I found some people picketing on the neighborhood, a shopping center against Woolworths, and they were – that’s where the sit-ins were in Greensborough, and they were marching in front of Woolworths in a Black community and they were mostly whites and I thought, “That’s not right, let me join in their picket line.” And I walked with them for a while and they were very nice. And, we learned that, just talking I learned that it wasn’t just – I think Betty Hutton owned Woolworths – it wasn’t just her, it was the system that was involved in why we had this segregation and hatred and so on. So, I went back and told some of my friends, and one of them asked me, “Why do they hate us so much,” and I said, “Well, it’s really the system that do it,” and they were like, “What are you talking about, man?” “The system, man, the system is no good.” I thought I was pretty smart when I said that, but, I was just at the beginning.
Next thing I know I was working with – socializing with these young – well, I didn’t know they were young Communists at the time – in the neighborhood. Eventually, one of them said, “You oughtta join the Party. And I thought, “What the hell is the Party?” Then I remember they gave me all this literature on the slave revolts and Aptheker – they said he was in the Communist Party, they gave me Kruschev reports which I couldn’t understand a word of it, really, but it seemed like it was doing the right thing and it was coming from good people who had a relationship with me and so when they asked me I said, “I’m gonna take a while and think about it,” and then I came back and I said, “Yes, I’d like to join the Party.” And I thought I’d be in the Party a year, six months, learn a lot of stuff, and enhance my knowledge and all that, and I’d be real cool, and 55 years later I’m still here.
And, the FBI visited my mother back then, and my father he was not at home at the time, I’d come home from work and two FBI agents – an older white guy and a younger Black guy were talking to my mother and she’s crying. And so, everybody in the Party had discussed it, we said when the FBI comes, they don’t have a warrant or anything, just tell them to leave. Tell them to leave your house, “You don’t have a right to do this to us, and we have done nothing wrong.” And they turned to my mother and they said, “You see? Your son’s going to be in great trouble now, you see? And they were slick, you know. And my mother was crying and everything, and I said, “Mom, don’t worry. We’re fighting just like – I had uncles in the army – when they ran into racism, they didn’t play. My uncle Sam picked one guy up and threw him through a plate glass window when he hit him and made racist slurs. My uncle Clyde left North Carolina because his boss and his factory he was working kept kicking him, and he went and told his father, “If he kicks me again, I’m gonna hurt him.” And he kicked him, and he bent down and grabbed him by his ankles – uncle Clyde was a strapping guy – and flipped over the other side of the room. And all of the workers surrounded him, and uncle Clyde took off. Now, we were 30 miles from the Virginia border and North Carolina. He ran that whole while. That was a – he ran a marathon to get out of that.
So this is a long tradition of this. You know Paul Robeson come from North Carolina – I’m not bragging or anything – but that’s what his family was. They were really fighting folks and even now. Reverend Barber and all them people, I love them people down there, and I got a lot of family down there and I’m very proud of them. And they always accepted me for what I am, my politics and so forth.
Well, on the elections. I think it’s important to say: don’t be demoralized by this. Organize. Don’t mourn; organize. Don’t get down in the dumps. We can beat them. The ideological structure and ideas that they have in this period have long been discredited if you really want to think about it. Long been discredited. Even their concepts of race are just primitive. 300 years ago if you think about it. They have given rise to the Nazis who met down in DC and ended up their meeting with “Heil Trump!” And now they’re writing the swastikas on the walls with “Heil Trump” on it. And, there’ve been 860 acts of bias, of racial violence, and a lot of them yell, “We’re doing this for Trump.” And every police officer with a corrupt and crazed racist mind now feels, “This is our time.” You remember what they said when Giuliani got here, it was Giuliani time. “We could do what we wanted.” ANd this, I think, it is dangerous, it is illogical and unacceptable, but if we organize, and unite and struggle, this can be defeated. That’s the first thing.
I think the media’s playing a little bit of a game – I’m not gonna go too long – playing a little bit of a game about Trump. Now they’re saying, “Well, you know, he’s changed. He now realizes the great weight of being the President, he knows he can’t do that stuff again.” I don’t believe it, and you know what proves it? The people he picked for his cabinet – the worst of the worst. Wall Streeters – all of them billionaires and millionaires. You got the lady DeVos he picked for education. What is her job? Privatize. So she’s coming in on the wings of public education, she wants to change that. Billionaire. You know, never sent her kid to public school in her life in the first place. BUt the reality is, she has a mission to destroy public education. He put her in there. He knows – they see he don’t have an ideology? How do you do something like that without an ideology? He picked Sessions. Jeff Sessions to be the Attorney General after Loretta Lynch. And the other brother – what’s his name? Eric Holder. They picked – this guy was rejected as a judge by the Congress of the United States because of his racism. And then there’s Ben Carson. Ben – I don’t know where he came from – he said he came from a poor community – okay, but he admits he took a knife to his mother? I mean, in my community, as poor as you were, no matter how poor, you never, ever took anything to your mother. If you wanted to live, anyway. But you know, you took care of your mother, your mother was everything. He took a knife to his mother? Obviously a brilliant guy, but, you know – everybody who’s brilliant ain’t always – you know – there. Incredible neural surgeon, obviously. But what’s he say? He says – he’s working on Housing and Urban Development – he’s gonna be in charge of all public housing, all Section 8, and this is going to be a disaster, because you know what he said? This is one of the worst things he said, he’s probably said worse, he said that for most people, being poor – he’s saying basically, that people who become poor – they prefer it. They prefer being poor. Now this boy never really been poor, ‘cause he would know better if he thought that, and I lived around poor people all my life as many of you have as well, let me tell you, nobody prefers to be poor. Nobody prefers to be unemployed. Nobody prefers to go on welfare if they can get a job. Nobody prefers to live in dilapidated housing and not have health care. Who would prefer that? To see their kids suffering and not have enough food. Who would do that? Nobody. But this is the man who’s gonna have a $40 Billion budget which he’s gonna now destroy.
Now, and then there’s the guy from Wall Street, from Goldman Sachs who’s gonna become treasury secretary, a big job for him. They’re basically – Trump’s “non-ideological” policy is to “let get this right-wing foxes to guard the hen house of the national treasures.” That’s what he has done. Now you think that’s different from the way he ran? Absolutely not. This is exactly what he wants to do. These are the people who are going to be in charge of the direction of the federal government.
So, you gotta get in the struggle. Already, I think we had some unprecedented things happen. All those people who hit the streets right after Trump – some body mentioned it today – “Donald Trump is not our President,” and you saw what’s happening in Standing Rock, I mean, that’s incredible, that is a fight against environmental racism. And it is right now on the cutting edge of the whole fight against global warming and fossil fuels and all that other stuff that’s happened. And those veterans who went out and joined them, I mean, it reminded me of the Abraham Lincoln brigades going into Spain, and they stopped them! And Obama had the good sense to say, “That’s it. We’re going to re-look at this situation.” Now, if they were demoralized, they would have never done it. If they didn’t’ think there was a way out they would of never done it. They understood that these ideas being pushed on them were old, decrepit, and evil and we have to defeat them. Or, like the $15 and Union people went out and had big marches all across the country including civil disobedience in the streets and so forth. A lot of people got arrested. A now the women are talking about a million women march on inauguration. The people are saying to the Left, and I know everybody on the Left doesn’t have a lot of confidence in people, well, we do – they’re saying to the Left, “We’re moving! You wanna come with us? Come on. And we wanna come with them and we are with them and we will stay with them as the Party, but also the broad Left in this country will be a part of this great fight, because here is our hope: Our hope is that Trump will be a one term president or less – or less – or less. ‘Cause I’m sure he’s gonna do a lot of things that will make him impeachable, he’s that kinda guy. ‘Cause he does it every day when he was running. You watch, when he gets real power. He is everything he accused Clinton of around corruption and using her foundation. He is doing it.
You know, that McMahon women up in Connecticut, who is running – “small business” – and she gave the Trump foundation $8 million of her own money and then he paid off, “here, you got a job in Washington. They guy from Wall Street gave him $425,000. Almost everybody he’s given these high positions have contributed something to the Trump warchest or whatever you wanna call. He’s a corrupt, conniving, thieving con-man, and he’s gonna make some big mistakes, I know it, and we know it, so we just have to keep the pressure on.
Finally, I want to say, he did not win the popular vote. If we didn’t have the Electoral College, which was a mechanism that was designed to serve – when they had the 3/5ths of a man and all that – to guarantee the slave states that they would have an equal or proportional impact on who would be the President. That’s when the Electoral College was invented. Get rid of it! Really. Get rid of it. I know it may not be easy now. But, a lot of people agree. 3 million votes now that Hillary has above him. 3 million. It ain’t a landslide, but I’ll tell you, it is the popular will of the people. Electoral College is not. It is the popular will of the people. I think think that’s very, very important, and I don’t agree with those you said Hillary was as bad as Trump, and you’re going to get a real lesson in that in the next period, I’ll tell you. I’m gonna tell you. I’m glad that Jill Stein is paying for the counting of the votes, raise that money, that’s very important, but the real thing that has to be examined even more is the voter suppression that the Republicans did to keep the Black vote, and youth vote, and the Latino vote down. They still going to build the wall. They still going to be rounding up people, and all of these mayors now are saying, “They can’t do that in our area.” This is going to be a sanctuary for them. We’re not going to allow that. And Trump is saying, “well, we’re gonna take away federal funds. Let him try. New York gives more to the federal government than it gets back. And if he comes in here and does something, we got a little bit to handle, to deal with this situation. But I think the people here will not accept – Trump’s supporters – the so-called “white, working class,” which I think is a wrong phrase. You know, there are white people who are workers, but they tend to be in the higher income of workers, and some of them are independent contractors and things like that. Their average wage is $70,000 a year, and the average worker’s wage is way down from that, and you look at the returns on the election and the people under $50,000 and below voted overwhelmingly for Clinton with all of her shortcomings. Some people stayed at home, there’s no question about it, and if they had come out, maybe it would have been a different outcome, but still those who came out, the numbers show that Trump had a minority of the popular vote and that’s very important, because right now the majority of the popular vote can be mobilized to come out and it won’t be long, but some of those people who voted for him are going to be – they’re already saying, “What’s he doing? He said he was going to do this, he was going to do that, he’s not doing it. And the lock ‘em up stuff, yeah, and all that little stuff, he’s now trying to duck away from that kind of thing, but these people are not, as my wife Lydia brilliantly said, “they’re going to learn through the school of hard knocks.” And sometimes that lesson is the greatest lesson of all, because they put their faith in this guy, those who voted for him. And actually, the majority of the working class didn’t vote for him because the working-class is multi-racial, and will always be multi-racial in this country, but those who did vote for him are going to – expecting all this new, white paradise they going to have now, we’re going to be back in charge, we’re going to make this country white again, that’s what they’re really thinking and so forth, they going to be meet the raff of the people and a sense of repulsion, by all people of color to that racist, fascistic idea. So, I’m optimistic, I’m sure you are. Christmastime – use it and other holidays coming up – use it to convince people that they gotta keep on fighting, and that we can win if we keep on fighting. And, I think that my family, which I’m very proud of – my daughter is a member of the executive board of her union, the Professional Staff Congress, she’s a PhD in sociology – I mean she knows a hell of a whole lot more than I do, and her brother, Michael, he’s just a fabulous film maker and school teacher and quite a wonderful – he’s been to Standing Rock and he’s been all around the country doing things for us, for the people, and then Colby, who’s not here – he works for Radio One, a Black-owned radio station, he’s a program director, you know. And I’m gonna tell you a little secret, you know they say you become a Communist everything will close down, your kids won’t get jobs, they won’t get education. Don’t believe it, because that idea doesn’t resonate with the masses like it used to. It does among some people, like it used to. And our kids – she tells her class, and my father, you know he’s a member of the Communist Party, and a leader and so forth, and nobody’s run out of the class yet, have they? No, and I spoke to one of her classes once and they gave me a hard time, let me tell you. But they didn’t say you’re an evil force from Moscow and all that other stuff. They said, “what are we going to do without rich people, you know. Well, we’ll do a lot better.
So, finally, thank you all again been really a wonderful event for me and I just wanted to take a moment to let you know, you all know Lydia, my wife, and you know my daughter, and my son, my sister-in-law – my daughter-in-law’s over there, she’s not my sister – she’s my daughter in law, and there is my brother, McCoy Tyner. Give him a hand. And that’s his son, Darryl Dean holding him up, and that big guy in the red jacket, that’s Amir Tyner and he is Darryl Dean’s son, McCoy’s grandson, and a great basketball player, by the way. And, I just want to say, my mother in law is here, Priscilla Bassett, stand up, Priscilla. Champion of revolutionary struggle all of her life, a wonderful, wonderful human being. Where’s Gwen? You’ll know my sister Gwen. Give her a hand. Yeah, I had to babysit her when I was a teenager. Hated it. No, I used to babysit her, and her trick was to get me to sit down while she was going up and down the street and then as soon as I wasn’t looking, she’d run out into traffic, knowing that I’d jump up and save her, but that would bug me to death, that was my sister, but now I run out in traffic and she saves me, so so that’s the way it is. Alright, thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
Oh! I forgot something. I was born July, the 11th, and my brother McCoy was born December the 11th, and guess what day it is. His birthday!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday, dear McCoy!
Happy Birthday to you!
And, my beautiful granddaughter that you have all got to know and love, running, her name is Lilith Beatrice, which is her maternal grandmother’s name and Beatrice is my mother’s name, Tyner, the youngest Tyner out there. Hi, Lilly. You okay? Say hi. Throw ‘em a kiss. There you go. Alright, thank you all very much.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Mike Tyner presented a short commemorative film of Jarvis Tyner talking about his childhood and involvement in the struggle for a Better World.