Self-Criticism on Harper Collins Punching the Air Promotion
In Under Lock & Key No. 71 we printed an ad for a free copy of the book Punching the Air. We did so based on an agreement we had with a Director at Harper Collins that we would provide access to our readership to recruit readers for the book, and they would cover the costs for them to receive the book while promoting our Free Political Books to Prisoners Program on their Instagram.
Ebony LaDelle, Director of Teen Marketing for Harper Collins Children’s Books originally reached out to us about the promotion to get free copies of the book to people in prison, especially youth. We agreed to the arrangement above, and went ahead and created and printed an ad in ULK to find out who would want the book. We sent the final version of ULK with the ad we printed at our cost, and asked Ms. LaDelle about the ad they were going to post for us on Instagram. It was at this point that she informed us that there was no ad because we had missed a deadline a month ago. This was despite the fact that we had sent her the art and url for the ad almost 2 months prior. And this was the first time we had heard of a deadline or that we had missed it.
One reason we were open to this project is that the book was authored by Yusef Salaam, who was part of the Central Park 5 as a youth, and who had a story we thought would be relevant to our audience. So when Ms. LaDelle made it clear they would not be promoting our Serve the People program we reached out to Mr. Salaam, but received no response. At this point we cut off relations with Harper Collins and this project.
We say this was an opportunist error, because we accepted the arrangement with Harper Collins hoping it would benefit us without being vigilant about our politics being represented. We can also say that our state of feeling a bit desperate for support played a role in our willingness to jump on the promotion. Ultimately our politics were completely left out of the promotion, and we stopped working with Harper Collins in response. But we had already run the ad.
We are self-critical for this because we ended up using our comrades’ time and our money to print an ad, for free, for a large corporation, while getting nothing in return to benefit the independent institutions of the oppressed.
Certainly this is a small aberration on our history of managing 6-digits worth of funds over the years, which has gone directly to serving the people through independent institutions of the oppressed. Nonetheless, we should draw lessons from this error to maintain our track record.
While donations of stamps from behind bars, and the occasional donation from the outside is not nearly enough to keep our projects running, this is where we should be looking to develop more support.
And it is not just financial support that we need. More than that, we need people to do the work. We also depend on the masses and comrades out there for ideological support. It is your ideological questions and feedback that allow us to keep applying the democratic development of theory and practice as we go through this precarious time. Certainly there will be many more learning experiences like this to come as we go, and we can’t do it without all of you providing criticism, support and feedback.
Harper Collins did publish a small post listing some of the other groups that they worked with on this promotion. What we do differently is build independent institutions of the oppressed to serve the people. We do not run charities. We are trying to change the world. And our programs serve to help others join us in that project. That is why we are explicit that it is a Free Political Books to Prisoners Program. And we wonder if that is why Harper Collins was not willing to promote it.
It is our grounding in the masses that led Harper Collins to reach out to us in the first place. And to make up for our mistake in trusting that they would promote mass work, we will be sending everyone who requested the book an introductory book on the philosophy of dialectical materialism. And like everything else we do, this will be done mostly with money out of our own pockets. If you are reading this and want to see more revolutionary literature making it into the hands of prisoners of the United $tates, please do get in touch, or just send us a donation (see our Get Involved page for how).