“What would revolution be without poetry?” said Reiko Redmonde, store manager and curator of Revolution Books, before introducing Berkeley poet laureate Rafael Jesús González. González’s poetry reading opened the slate of speakers at the store’s 40th anniversary celebration, following a brief slideshow of the history behind Revolution Books.
Revolution Books, whose flagship store is in New York, came to Berkeley in the 1980s and operated in different storefronts before the first store on Telegraph Avenue was established in 1987. Prior to this, bookstore volunteers also took to handing out revolutionary literature on the streets of Berkeley. The current location, which is in Telegraph Channing Mall, has been in operation since 2015.
As an organization affiliated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, or Revcom, and the “New Communism” ideology of its chairman, Bob Avakian, Revolution Books has not been without its adversaries. These incidents inevitably came up throughout Saturday’s event; the programming focused on highlighting the store’s strengths, including how the members have managed to survive in the face of heightened opposition over the past two years.
“Revolution Books is more than just a bookstore,” Redmonde said. “It’s about truth, and science, and revolution, and humanity and a future that is actually worth living on this planet.”
The urgency of Redmonde’s words was echoed by everything each speaker had to say, their presentations centering around both the personal and broader significance behind a bookstore that also has an active political presence in Berkeley and elsewhere. After González read the English and Spanish versions of a poem and spoke about the need for revolutionary change in the United States, Redmonde introduced author and UC Berkeley alumna Sahar Delijani.
For Delijani, who has been involved with Revolution Books since she was an undergraduate, the bookstore and its message served as a “beacon of hope” in her younger years and endures to this day. Her upcoming novel was inspired by conversations she had with affiliates of the bookstore and deals with the rise of fascism in the United States through an immigrant perspective.
Delijani also touched upon the backlash that the store has faced, recalling an event she attended at Revolution Books at which people gathered outside the store and raised safety concerns for event attendees, making the reality of the bookstore’s backlash all too real for her.
“The fact that the bookstore has been here for 40 years — it’s incredible,” Delijani said. “I can only imagine the amount of … pressure it’s been under, (even) in a city like Berkeley … what I’ve come to realize is that the fight is not only for the most vulnerable and the most marginalized, but the fight is also for those who resist.”
Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books, then took the microphone to make a zealous case for Avakian’s “New Communism,” the ideological backdrop behind the store. The troves of Avakian’s writings are easily accessible when walking into the bookstore, and Zee’s impassioned speech aimed to explain why this is so.
His presence was also a reminder that, as a bookstore trying to stay afloat in a city like Berkeley, it needs all the financial support it can get, something that Zee himself explicitly touched upon when talking about how the store is currently operating at a loss each month. Thus, while the night was a celebration of the past and its triumphs, it was also an effort to secure a future.
In a much different gesture toward the future, the programming ended with bookstore affiliates listing reasons why people should participate in the International Women’s Day march on March 8. Revcom is currently conducting a National Revolution Tour, and Bay Area store affiliates are heading down to Los Angeles to join them.
Afterward, attendees toasted both the past and future of Revolution Books. With the future looking unclear, the night wasn’t without its anxieties. It made sense, however, that in all the discourse being voiced, there was one message in common: Revolution isn’t a process without its anxieties.