Robin Kissinger thinks Cuba is the promised land. During a ten-day tour there last year, the south-side factory worker glimpsed a country he's convinced holds the answers to the world's problems.
"You have to be deeply political to understand Cuba," he says. "If you believe newspaper accounts, they say it's crumbling. But what's happening now is supposed to happen. It's a class struggle starting to unfold. The working class, blacks, women are consciously leading the struggle."
With a name like Kissinger (no relation) and a German American communist father, it's no surprise that this 20-year-old is a political activist. He's the local coordinator for and a national committee member of the Young Socialists, an international activist group. Last month he participated in a three-mile march on Washington to protest the U.S. Cuban embargo. This month he and his group are organizing a fund-raiser to send a youth brigade to Cuba in January. "It's for young people to see a different way of life," he says.
Growing up, Kissinger didn't pay much attention to his father's communism, but he felt the effects of "the capitalist society" early on. "I felt the discrimination of being black and having a white father," he says. "[Eventually] I began to understand it on a bigger perspective. The battle is not going to be about the color of the skin but between the haves and have nots."
Cuba's rationing system, he says, ensures that "old people and children get the things that are short, like milk and meat." He also witnessed the workings of subsidized busing, community day-care programs, farm cooperatives, and rent control. "There's a different level of consciousness than anywhere you'd see in the world," he says. "They had 80,000 workers assemblies [meeting all over Cuba in April] to talk about the economic crises."
The Young Socialists trip, taking place January 6-20, costs approximately $600 a person, which includes travel and room and board. Anyone under 30 can go, but they must be able to say they're traveling on assignment from some local media: a school or community newspaper, a cable-access show. There'll be a fund-raiser for the trip featuring music, food, a raffle, and video of Nelson Mandela in Cuba this Saturday from 8 to midnight at 2618 N. Washtenaw. A $5 donation is requested; call 829-6815 or 221-7411 for more info.
"The only reason I don't live in Cuba is because I want to make what's happening there happen here," says Kissinger. "I'm part of the world community."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.