By Nicholas Shelly
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Raymond Lawrence Riley, known by his stage name Boots Riley, told a large audience at Johns Hopkins University Tuesday that communism is a way to alleviate poverty and better integrate society.
“Poverty is not some unattended consequence of capitalism,” Riley said. “It is a necessity of capitalism.”
Riley, a Chicago-born artist, activist, singer, film-maker and writer, addressed students in a packed auditorium on the 140-acre Homewood campus in North Baltimore. Hundreds of people listened and eagerly applauded his disapproval of capitalism.
Riley received national recognition for his 2018 film, “Sorry to Bother You,” an American dark comedy and is mostly known for being a part of the politically charged music group, “The Coup.” Riley was invited to Johns Hopkins as part of the university’s foreign affairs symposium Disrupt series.
Riley said that unemployment is used as a threat so that businesses can make their workers work. It allows them to control their workers by their desire to stay in the working class.
“If you have a group that has to be unemployed under capitalism,” Riley said, “they will find out how to survive.”
Riley said that this strategy places pressure on the unemployed, who are victims of capitalism. Jobless workers simply do what they can to survive and often are forced to approach illegal businesses similarly to legal business, but without regulations.
“Poverty and crime are what you get with capitalism,” Riley said. “If you don’t want poverty, you have to get rid of capitalism.”
Riley said that if you are someone benefiting from capitalism you will choose to blame marginalized groups for their situation in a way of deflecting blame.
“People are poor because they are savage,” Riley said sarcastically. “People of color are poor because of their own choices.”
Riley said that people are taught the lie that “if enough people raise their voice, things will change.”
Change is not brought about by getting the right people in office, Riley said. Change is brought about by instilling fear of unrest in the people who are in power.
“If we want to create a different culture, we can’t do that without changing the economy,” Riley said.
When asked about the fact that he uses capitalism to promote his work, Riley said that he needs to use capitalism to further his agenda so that people can hear about it.
Riley encouraged students at Johns Hopkins to create unrest if they do not approve of what was happening on the campus. He promoted taking action saying, “You might get arrested, but that means that you are going in the right direction.”
Madeline Amonick, a sophomore studying writing seminars and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins, said she was very excited about the talk.
“I am really involved in Baltimore as a community and social justice and advocacy, so having a speaker that was the interception of those two interests of mine was really great,” Amonick said.
“In order to make the biggest impact, you need to fully leverage and understand the systems of power that are in place,” Amonick explained, “simultaneously exploiting the power dynamics that exist in order to illustrate and leverage your own message.”
A 2017 Towson University graduate who identified himself only as “Curtis,” said, “I just really appreciate him coming out and being so open about the philosophy and politics of capitalism and how the structure works. He is willing to acknowledge these things and have students come and create a dialog.”
Curtis said he particularly liked Riley’s acknowledgment that he steals his ideas, taking a bit of what he likes from all around him to create his own stuff.
“I think the theme of his speech seemed very past superficial changes, kind of dismissing those as not really having any effect on the society,” said Nav, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins in the nursing program. “For example, you can have a minority leading our school or a female leading our school, but you can still be fundamentally against those that are impoverished.”
Nav said that a lot of people seem to be just letting themselves fit in rather than trying to change it. Making changes within the same system will push leaders to “recycle what they know to be normal,” she said.
Sarah, a visiting student from Berlin, Germany studying political science and international relations, said that she really liked the question and answer session.
“I am part of a feminist group in Berlin,” said Sarah. “We also do lots about racism, sexism, and gender. I liked how he gave each person a chance to speak about what was on [his or her] heart and really respond to their questions.”