Photo shows a person in a hoodie with their face obscured holding a green sign that says "NEVER AGAIN" with a drawing of a coat hanger.
Abortion rights activists and supporters participate in a RiseUp 4 Abortion Rights rally at Union Square in New York, on May 26, 2022 in response to the Supreme Court's leaked draft opinion indicating the Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Photo via Getty Images 

The Abortion Rights Group Other Activists Want Nothing to Do With

Amid accusations of transphobia and links to a controversial Communist group, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is recruiting young activists and using inflammatory tactics to spread their message.

Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, a protest group active in several major cities, is pushing back against criticism that it’s a “pyramid scheme” linked to a cult. The previous sentence is complicated by the fact that one of Rise Up’s founders is a leading figure in the Revolutionary Communist Party, an offbeat group that is frequently accused of being a cult—an accusation it angrily denies. This is not the first time that RevCom, as it’s commonly referred to, and groups founded by its members have caught flack from other activists; it’s been a common pattern for a very long time. This particular argument, though, is shaping up to be unusually messy. Rise Up has sent cease-and-desist letters to and implied that it will sue “those who have accused us of financial wrongdoing,” it wrote in a statement. (Its critics have alleged that “RevCom and its fronts … are notorious for raising tens of thousands of dollars and using those funds to pay RevCom leadership and purchase marketing materials.”) Meanwhile, RevCom-affiliated publications are issuing frenzied attacks on media outlets that have written about the controversy. Yet RevCom members, speaking on a Zoom call last week, made clear they also saw an opportunity in the fracas to make more people aware of them and of their leader, Bob Avakian. 


“You’re never going to make me feel ashamed” of following Avakian, declared Sunsara Taylor, a prominent RevCom spokesperson who’s also a co-founder of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. “You’re going to call out the guy who’s figured out how to emancipate humanity?”

Rise Up roared into public view this spring and summer, bursting onto the scene with a round of protests against the overturn of Roe v. Wade, which generated a fair amount of media coverage driven by the group’s blunt and eye-catching green signs and banners. At one point, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez briefly chanted and marched with the group, trading call-and-responses with Taylor.

The current blowup began in late June, when a coalition of 23 grassroots abortion rights, feminist, and mutual-aid groups shared a plainly-worded statement denouncing Rise Up. The post, which was widely shared on Instagram and Twitter, declared, “It is vital for for all repro groups to now unite in discrediting Rise Up,” and raised a number of concerns, including that the group is “an offshoot,” as the groups put it, of RevCom, which they called “a personality cult” revolving around Avakian. 


“Similar to its parent group RevCom,” the statement continued, “Rise Up’s only goal appears to be gaining more followers in order to raise more and more money. Both essentially function as pyramid schemes that prey on social movements.” 

The criticisms around Rise Up have centered not just around its relationship with RevCom, but the fact that it’s registered as a for-profit company, something its donation page does not currently make clear. (Merle Hoffman, one of Rise Up’s founders, referred Motherboard to a statement on Rise Up’s donation page, which reads, “As establishes infrastructure, we are using tools provided by Refuse Fascism on the Action Network platform. ALL donation funds to this campaign will be used to organize RiseUp4Abortion actions. We will inform you as new structures are built.”)

The signatories on the statement against Rise Up also expressed concern about Rise Up’s use of gendered language they say excludes trans and non-binary people who need abortion care. And they’ve raised serious concerns about Rise Up’s tactics, which include die-ins and imagery involving bloody coat hangers, which, the letter’s signatories wrote, are dated and sensationalist. 

Los Angeles, CA - July 06: Protestors hold a "die-in" on the steps of City Hall, organized by Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, in protest of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Los Angeles, CA - July 06: Protestors hold a "die-in" on the steps of City Hall, organized by Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, in protest of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“These theatrical tactics further the extremely harmful idea that abortion is a violent procedure and safe self-managed abortion is not possible,” the organizers wrote. “In fact, Rise Up has not once raised awareness about medication abortion as a post-Roe tool, and its only aim is ‘saving Roe’, despite this never having been enough historically.” (Rise Up has called all those criticisms “truly scurrilous, dishonest and highly destructive and divisive attacks.”)


Conversations with Rise Up founders, with an activist who has squared off against them online, and with two former Rise Up activists—both teenagers who made the choice to step away from working with the group after a period of intense involvement—shed further light on the contours of the controversy. Rise Up organizers earnestly seem to believe they’re the only people working to save abortion in America; its opponents describe it as functionally indistinguishable from RevCom and its efforts as shambolic, and worry they’re diverting money and attention from the struggle at a time that couldn’t be more urgent. 

Rise Up promptly responded to the June group statement against it with a statement of its own, making it clear it had already sent cease-and-desist letters to some of the signatories. “People should,” it wrote, “be aware that Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is represented by counsel, and this counsel has already put all parties on notice to refrain from disseminating false and defamatory information about Rise Up.” (NYC For Abortion Rights, the top signatory on the statement against Rise Up, confirmed it had received a cease-and-desist letter, adding that it is not responding to it. The group had no further comment on the statement.) 

As should be evident by now, there’s a lot going on here. It’s accurate to say that RevCom is uniquely and intensely focused on Bob Avakian, its founder, whom the group refers to in sweeping terms—calling him for instance, “the most important political thinker and leader in the world today” and “the architect of a whole new framework of human emancipation, the new synthesis of communism, which is popularly referred to as the ‘new communism.’” 


Avakian, 79, has been politically active since joining Students for a Democratic Society in the ‘60s. Over that time, in addition to becoming a bit of a kitsch figure on certain campuses and in certain big-city neighborhoods attractive to radicals, he’s attracted a great deal of criticism. In 1979, for instance, as Avakian was raising funds to defend himself and fellow RCP members after they were charged with assaulting a police officer during a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy during a Deng Xiaoping visit to America, Communist activist Paul Saba compared the RCP to the Gang of Four and COINTELPRO, and described him in Bolshevik Revolution as an instrument of bourgeois interests.

Avakian fled America and was long said to live in self-imposed exile in France, even after criminal charges had been dropped. (Some revolutionary news sources have referred to him as having been “forced into exile”; he asked for political asylum in France, which was denied, according to his official biography.) His last major public event seems to have been a discussion he conducted in 2014 with Dr. Cornel West, and RevCom members have been evasive about where he actually is; he continues to write regular articles and op-eds for RevCom’s website, though. “Pronouns and Starving Children,” a brief piece arguing that unnamed people’s focus on correct pronouns draw attention away from “a serious revolutionary struggle to transform the world,” is typical. 

Screen capture from the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party

Screen capture from the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party

Over the years, RevCom also attracted criticism for being anti-gay; one ex-member wrote that RevCom considered “same-sex attractions” to be “a politically reactionary, personal-ideological choice.” However, RevCom revised that position in 2001, and no longer holds that homosexuality won’t exist under an ideal society. It has also denounced U.S. laws targeting transgender people

Today, Avakian’s followers run a waning chain of bookstores—locations in Berkeley and New York are still open, while ones in Los Angeles and Chicago have closed—and drop a blizzard’s worth of publications about Avakian’s unique contributions to humanity, as they see them. These feature a unique and overstuffed prose style, never using one adjective where several will do and favoring as many capital letters and italics and as much red font as the authors deem necessary to make a point. 

Over the years, RevCom members have also created or co-created a number of groups, which the group fervently denies are RevCom offshoots or fronts. Anti-war group Not In Our Name was founded in 2002, and the similar World Can’t Wait in 2005, with both being described as responses to crimes committed by George W. Bush’s administration. (The Wikipedia Talk page for the latter group has devolved into a series of arguments over its connection to RevCom.) World Can’t Wait was co-founded by Sunsara Taylor, one of RevCom’s spokespeople and most recognizable faces; she’s particularly active on its TikTok and podcasts and in other online spaces, energetically making a group long associated with elderly Maoists seem somewhat more online and current.


Taylor went on to co-found Stop Patriarchy, a women’s rights and anti-pornography group, and was deeply involved in Refuse Fascism, a group founded by members of RevCom and others, which described itself as acting in opposition to the “fascist” Trump/Pence “regime.” Taylor and other RevCom members were often a presence at Black Lives Matter marches, sometimes garnering criticism that they seemed to be trying to take over Black-led protests or use rallies to create tenuous connections between things like the murder of Trayvon Martin and U.S. imperialism, or ratchet up the tension by burning American flags—something RevCom members are fond of doing but that is not a common feature of BLM events. (One of RevCom’s members, Joey Johnson, was a defendant in a flag-burning case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and which enshrined flag-burning as a constitutionally protected form of protest.) 


As a whole, groups founded by RevCom members tend to emphasize mass protest; enormous, brightly colored banners; uniform signs; and dramatic public demonstrations like die-ins. As such, TV cameras are almost irresistibly drawn to them. (Rise Up is successfully employing those tactics again; besides marching with AOC, it managed to get actor and activist Mark Ruffalo to speak at a rally in May.) 

When Rise Up first emerged, some young activists who joined were unaware that it was in any way affiliated with RevCom members. A 17-year-old activist who’d been attending Rise Up events reconsidered their participation after seeing information on social media about the relationship between the two organizations, and concerns over some of RiseUp’s tactics and rhetoric, they told Motherboard. (We are withholding their name to protect their privacy.)

The teenager, who is nonbinary, said they joined an abortion rights protest co-sponsored by Rise Up in the fall, and bought a tank top and a sticker from their organizers. The sticker had a link to RevCom’s website on it, and the tank top featured a logo for Stop Patriarchy, the anti-pornography group co-led by Taylor, according to the teen’s memory. They befriended several Rise Up organizers and continued to attend their events, though some of the speakers took directions they found confusing. 


“They were talking about Bob Avakian up on the mic,” at one such event, the teen remembered, “and talking about this bookstore up in Harlem. I didn’t know what Bob Avakian was.” 

The teen also grew confused as to why Rise Up wasn’t partnering with other local abortion activism groups; a Rise Up organizer told them that other groups weren’t receptive to it. “We’ve tried to get involved but they’re unfriendly,” the teen remembers the organizer saying. “They think our protests are a distraction.”

“They were talking about Bob Avakian up on the mic,” the teen said. “I didn’t know what Bob Avakian was.”

RevCom and the groups its members have founded are all historically keenly interested in growing participation by students—touting, for instance, student walkouts earlier this year in support of abortion rights.  The teen said Rise Up organizers were persistent in getting them to recruit other students to the cause, encouraging them to consider doing die-ins at lunch or organize a walkout at their school. 

But there were already been “red flags” for them in the language that Rise Up used, the teen said. One of Rise Up’s persistent slogans is “Forced Motherhood is Female Enslavement.” The teen, who was assigned female at birth, is uniquely aware that abortion rights affect nonbinary and trans people. Sunsara asked to film an interview with them, and throughout, they used inclusive language, for instance using terms like “people with uteruses” instead of “women.” 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 04: An abortion rights protestor holds a sign in front of Independence Hall at a rally on July 4, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The host organization, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, held several protests all over the country on Independence Day. (Photo by Hannah Beier/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 04: An abortion rights protestor holds a sign in front of Independence Hall at a rally on July 4, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The host organization, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, held several protests all over the country on Independence Day. (Photo by Hannah Beier/Getty Images)

“Afterwards she brought up that I was using this language,” the teen remembered. “She said it detracts from the fact that it’s an attack on women and rooted in misogyny. I didn’t push it. It was like, why are you trying to impose on me how to discuss my own community?” 

(Taylor wrote, in response, “It is essential that trans and non-binary people who need abortions have safe, respectful access without restriction, as well as all the healthcare they need without restriction or stigma. It is also essential that the vicious attacks on LGBTQ people as a whole, and particularly against trans people and trans youth, be fought and defeated. Rise Up had stressed that repeatedly, including its founding statement, and I have spoken about this at many of the rallies.” But, she added, “because the attack on abortion is at its core aimed at women, and because this is so little understood, it important to speak openly of this. Of course, while Rise Up’s literature speaks of the right of women to abortion, while also emphasizing and defending the rights of LGBTQ people, some within Rise Up have chosen to speak of ‘people with uteruses’ or ‘people who can become pregnant’ and they are and have, of course, been free to do so.”) 

The teen decided to end their own participation in Rise Up events after reading the criticism of them online and their connections with RevCom.


“I made all the connections in my head,” they said. Several other friends in their teens who’d attended Rise Up events were also surprised and disappointed to learn about the RevCom connection. “It was a lot of people’s first experience when it came to protesting and activism in general,” they said. “They were so distraught and felt almost violated. How do you trust another group?” 

The teen and their friends have chosen to engage in more direct forms of fundraising for abortion access, holding bake sales and art sales and donating money to the Midwest Access Coalition, an abortion fund, and Keep Our Clinics, which helps independent abortion clinics with expenses like security upgrades. 

“I’m genuinely excited about what some of my friends and I are up to,” they said. Referring to Rise Up, they added: “I want our work to be the literal opposite of that stuff.”

Another activist said he also experienced a strange blind spot in how Rise Up talks about trans people. A Texas-based activist, a trans man in his 20s named Derek Darch, said that he, too, tried to raise concerns with Rise Up about its use of trans-exclusionary language, wading into a comments section on Instagram to express his concerns. The response from people who appeared to be RevCom members, he said, was to accuse him of “trying to break down the movement.” 


Darch said DMs were soon filled with people who appeared to be RevCom members, from their statements and social media profiles. A friend, he said, warned him that private chat rooms of RevCom-linked people were trying to figure out his birth name and talking about doxing him. (Sunsara Taylor didn’t respond to questions about whether she was aware of this incident or how RevCom deals with criticism; she is, again, a spokesperson for RevCom in addition to her role in Rise Up.) In what he does not think was a coincidence, he also started getting hundreds of spam phone calls a day; he surmises someone put his phone number on some kind of spam website. 

“Everything with RevCom is honestly gut-turning to me,” Darch said. “The more you see these cult documentaries come out, you’re like, ‘It’s happening before our eyes. And then the people who speak up are being harassed.’” (Of the accusation that Rise Up uses trans-exclusionary language, Lori Sokol, another Rise Up cofounder, responded, “Rise Up has been inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community from the start. I would not join or support an organization that is not  since I, myself, am a member of this community.”)

Another young activist, a now-16-year-old girl, also told us she made the choice to stop working with RiseUp after being part of their demonstrations for a few months earlier this year. The teen, whose name we’re withholding to protect her privacy, said she was 15 when she joined an “art build” in February, making visual aids for an upcoming abortion rights speakout. (She’d been mostly involved in climate activism, but abortion rights felt like an emergency, and she felt she needed to get involved.) There, she met a Rise Up 4 Abortion rights organizer who was also a member of RevCom, the teen said. The older activist told her Roe v. Wade was going to be overturned soon, and graphically described some disturbing possibilities for the future. 


“She told me that in DC or somewhere there’s a parental notification law and a 13-year-old tried to give herself an abortion with a pencil,” the teen said, “and that was the future that was going to come if it was overturned, stuff like that.” The older activist wore a shirt that read “Unleash the power and fury of women, break all the chains,” with the quote attributed to the initials BA. “They sell them at all the Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights rallies along with the bandanas,” she said. 

“All the young people involved were like, this is not cool,” she said. “We were telling them what was OK and not OK and they were not listening.”

As the teen became more involved in Rise Up activism and events, she said she realized that “anyone with power” in the organization also seemed to be affiliated with RevCom, and that both organizations used the same headquarters. (Taylor told Motherboard that the girl is mistaken, and that the headquarters for the two organizations are not the same.) She also noted that these same older organizers used what she found to be trans-exclusionary language, and said younger activists often asked them to correct it. 

“All the young people involved were like, this is not cool, she said. “We were telling them what was OK and not OK and they were not listening.” 

The teenager also participated in what she described as a “chaotic” Rise Up protest at a WNBA game between the New York Liberty and the Minnesota Lynx at Barclays Center, where a group of Rise Up activists rushed the court topless with their chests painted green. The teenager was part of a group of four other activists who were sitting in the stands, waiting to unfurl a Rise Up banner. The older activists in the group, she said, had made it sound like a fairly low-risk event, but the banner-holding group were immediately kicked out by security. Her bag was left behind, with her phone and school pass in it. She and a slightly older activist, a woman in her 20s whom the teen said was also not very experienced with activism, were left by themselves to figure out how to get their bags back. They returned to Barclays and had to ask security to get it for them, which led to them being briefly detained and then banned from the facility.


“We had to stay there for a long time,” the girl remembered. “I called my mom so she could send me a picture of my passport and they could permanently ban us from Barclays. If I go to Barclays it’s considered trespassing and I could be arrested.” The main Rise Up organizer who worked with her, she said, “had made this seem like no big deal. No risk of arrest.”

The teenager had previously been around protests run by Extinction Rebellion, the environmental activist group, and saw a difference in how Rise Up treated arrests. “With Extinction Rebellion they carefully write down everybody [who plans to be arrested or run the risk of arrest] and somebody’s holding their phone and they have jail support. It’s a big deal. Here it was like, interacting with security and cops and stuff was like not a serious or risky thing. I knew then that’s not how you treat arrests.”

The teenager decided to stop working with RiseUp after an older activist—a gay activist and Vietnam War refuser whose opinion she respected—told her that he viewed the group as “fake.” 

“I was like, this person knows what he’s talking about,” she said. “Like, he’s lived several times longer than I have.” 

On what happened to be her 16th birthday, the teenager wrote in several Rise Up group chats that she was quitting and that she viewed the organization as “a scam.” Her family left the country for a vacation soon after, just as Roe was overturned. She learned it had been overturned when their plane landed and her mother turned back on her cell phone. 


(Taylor did not respond to questions about how Rise Up trains activists for the possibility of arrest or plans for situations where its activists might be arrested or detained. She also did not respond to questions about whether everyone in a position of power within Rise Up is also a RevCom member.) 

The whole experience, the teen said, took an emotional toll, and the final overturn of Roe especially so. “I wanted to be with real organizers and grieve with other people,” she said. “That was hard.” 

Sunsara Taylor, the RevCom spokesperson, is just one co-founder of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights; the others are Lori Sokol and Merle Hoffman, both well-known women’s rights activists. Sokol is a journalist, radio host, and author, and Hoffman is a journalist and activist who helped found one of the first ambulatory abortion care centers in the country, now called Choices Medical Center, in Jamaica, Queens. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 08: Sunsara Taylor speaks during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Union Square on March 08, 2022 in New York, New York. RiseUp4AbortionRights held rallies and marches nationwide to oppose the growing erosion of abortion rights on International Women's Day. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 08: Sunsara Taylor speaks during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Union Square on March 08, 2022 in New York, New York. RiseUp4AbortionRights held rallies and marches nationwide to oppose the growing erosion of abortion rights on International Women's Day. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Sokol and Hoffman both agreed to speak only via email; neither responded precisely to a specific list of questions, but sent lengthy responses decrying the attacks on Rise Up. In her response, Sokol wrote, “It is clear that your questions may be influenced by many of the baseless accusations and unprincipled attacks on Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. Questions like these only serve to perpetuate these lies and, I'm afraid, may only cause further harm to women's struggle to maintain our fundamental rights.” 


Sokol said she has no connection with RevCom and was only “mildly aware” of the organization before joining Rise Up, though she agrees with its viewpoint that “the USA has opened itself up to growing fascist rule, particularly during the Trump presidency.” In a later email, she added, “I am not opposed to joining organizations that share a common goal (in this case saving women's fundamental right to abortion) even though we may have different views on other issues.”

“In December, 2021, Sunsara Taylor contacted me about joining her and Merle Hoffman to co-initiate an activist group of feminists to raise the alarm about impending Supreme Court decisions concerning women's right to abortion,” Sokol wrote. “As a veteran journalist, I have reported on these issues/concerns for some time, but was increasingly feeling that the need to do more was necessary, particularly in light of the conservative justices who were added to the Supreme Court during the Trump Administration.” 

Sokol asserted that Taylor’s affiliation with RevCom is a distraction only because other groups choose to make it one. 

“The only distraction from Sunsara's affiliation with RevCom is the result of other pro-abortion groups that are choosing to negatively fixate on it, rather than join with us in a concerted, massive effort to save women's lives,” she wrote. “Rather than divide and create infighting, it is in the best interests of all supporters of abortion to come together toward one common goal. That is why Rise Up reached out to a number of abortion rights organizations when we first started, inviting them to join us. However, we did not receive a response from most.” 


Sokol also defended the organization's use of coat hanger imagery: “Taking away a women's right to a safe and legal abortion is serious business,” she wrote, “and it will force many women, particularly those who don't have the financial means to travel out-of-state, to utilize any means necessary to end an unwanted abortion, including back-alley abortions, wire hangers, and other life-threatening procedures.”  (Wire hanger abortions are extremely rare, although a Tennessee woman was charged after attempting one in 2015. Reproductive health experts do not believe they will become necessary again post-Roe. Buying abortion pills online has become a more popular option, but while medication abortion is medically safe, in some states it can be legally risky.)  

On the question of of whether Rise Up has downplayed or ignored the possibilities of medication abortion, Taylor told Motherboard that, in her view,  “It is harmful delusion to think that even the most heroic efforts to spread the abortion pill and/or help women travel could possibly keep pace with the power of the state, especially as it is increasingly captured by Christian fascist theocrats, as it restricts, criminalizes and punishes abortion.”  


In her response, Hoffman, who was featured at an event with Taylor at a RevCom bookstore back in 2015, wrote that she also has no personal affiliation with the group.

“I am somewhat familiar with Bob Avakian thru his work,” she wrote. “I believe it is not Sunsara’s affiliation with RevCom that distracts. We call for anyone and everyone to join us regardless of where their core political affiliation lies. I view women’s reproductive freedom and justice as the front line and the bottom line of women’s freedom and as such, the struggle for this should transcend individual affiliations, personal or group egos, group insecurity and competitiveness.”

Hoffman wrote that she started reaching out to activists after the Supreme Court heard the Dobbs case, which ultimately led to the overturn of Roe, and that Taylor was one of the few who recognized “the clear and present danger” it posed. She also denied that the coat hanger imagery was alarmist or sensationalist, or that Rise Up excludes trans people: “The idea that Rise Up excludes trans people is absolutely false.” (She pointed out that Choices, the clinic she founded, created a trans care program in 2016.)

“The fact that some ‘Pro-Choice’ organizations have chosen to use these scurrilous and libelous attacks to try to de-legitimize a political effort that has actually made an enormous difference in this dangerous time (particularly these few months until the election),” Hoffman wrote, “is the ultimate distraction.”


For her part, Taylor initially responded to an interview request by stating that I was an inappropriate journalist to write about Rise Up, since I had engaged in what she deemed “dismissive snark” against Bob Avakian in tweets from 2020. (You can read the tweets she objected to here.) Taylor also mistakenly claimed in our email exchanges that I have referred to RevCom as a cult, which I have not. I have noted, accurately, that RevCom’s critics persistently make the accusation that the group engages in cultish behavior

In an email to me and my editors, Taylor also added several paragraphs about Avakian’s unique contributions to humanity. These were not totally relevant to the subject we were discussing—namely Rise Up and her role in it. 

Bob Avakian and Dr. Cornel West in discussion in 2014.

Bob Avakian and Dr. Cornel West in discussion in 2014.

“BA has scientifically concluded that revolution is necessary to abolish this system and replace it with a radically different system,” she wrote at one point, “thus laying the basis to uproot the relations of exploitation and oppression that this system of capitalism-imperialism embodies and brutally enforces, all over the world.” 

Taylor also denied that Rise Up or any other groups founded or co-founded by RevCom members are fronts for the organization. 

“One would have to be extremely obtuse to not recognize that when you refer to broad mass organizations that revcoms have been a part of initiating together with others as ‘front’ groups, you are refusing to truthfully acknowledge the broad array of organizations and prominent individuals in leadership and in support,” she wrote. “Look at the signatories and the thousands who joined some of these movements, like Not In Our Name, World Can’t Wait, Refuse Fascism, or the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. Erasing that breadth does tremendous disservice and is insulting to these tens of thousands who took up these struggles. One fact about the Revcoms is that we do not conceal our views, while respecting the integrity of the mass organizations we participate in.”

“Snark” about Avakian, she added, “especially at this moment when there is a barrage of dangerous libelous lies about him, is not acceptable.”

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14: Sunsara Taylor, center, leads protesters from outside of Trump Tower August 14, 2017 in New York City. Security throughout the area is high as President Donald Trump is expected to arrive at his residency in the tower later tonight, his first visit back to his apartment since the inauguration. Numerous protests and extensive road closures are planned for the area. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14, 2017: Sunsara Taylor, center, leads protesters from outside of Trump Tower. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Taylor ultimately agreed to answer questions about Rise Up, under the watchful eye of my editors, to make sure I did not engage in any more snark about Bob Avakian. But she did not actually end up answering some of them, as she objected to their premise. She wrote, “The bulk of your questions seem provoked by and can only serve to elevate baseless lies against Rise Up in ways that foment divisions and contribute to a climate of distrust among those seeking to stand up against the fascist assault on the rights of women, LGBTQ people and the right to abortion in particular.” She referred us to two statements about the controversy, one by Rise Up and one by RevCom, as well as Rise Up’s founding statement.

Taylor also appeared to accuse us of engaging in a McCarthy-esque attack designed to damage a broader social movement. “[I]if you need help understanding why there is a pattern of revolutionaries, radicals of many kinds, civil rights leaders, as well as communists being singled out, distorted, and targeted—while others are pressured to disassociate or be smeared themselves—I suggest you study the method and harm caused by Senator McCarthy as well the very informative book by Brian Glick called, The War At Home,” she wrote. “Many times the media has—wittingly or unwittingly—spread lies and innuendo in ways that have served the real harm these kinds of attacks have caused to movements and individuals fighting for justice.”

Before we spoke, Taylor was already annoyed at previous press coverage of Rise Up. Since the statement against Rise Up from the other abortion rights and mutual aid groups was issued, two widely-shared articles have been written about the fracas: One by Will Sommer at the Daily Beast, and a second, a couple days later, by Robert Mackey at the Intercept. RevCom has responded to both articles and the broader criticism with a mass of outraged statements, press releases, YouTube videos, and TikToks denouncing the articles in particular as “McCarthyite attacks” that can, in the words of one statement, “only contribute to destroying movements and serious revolutionaries.”

RevCom suggested in one statement, without basis, that the attacks on Rise Up were being driven by larger forces. “These false claims smack strongly of the tactics of the right wing fascist forces in this country and the political police (the FBI, etc.) who create pretexts to go after revolutionary groups,” the organization wrote. 

In a Zoom event last week, Taylor and another RevCom member, Andy Zee, promised to respond to the attacks on Rise Up and the broader “cult” accusations against RevCom. (Zee is a spokesperson for Revolution Books, the RevCom bookstore in Harlem, and a co-founder of Refuse Fascism.) 

Over the course of two extremely long hours, Zee and Taylor rhapsodized at length about the amazing work that Avakian has done, railed against RevCom’s critics, and repeatedly denied being a cult. Meanwhile, questions from RevCom’s critics piled up in the Q&A section of the chat. (“Why do y’all keep saying abortion is slavery when Black folks keep telling y’all to not?” someone inquired.)

Zee and Taylor addressed some of the questions; Rise Up is incorporated as a for-profit company, for instance, “because you don’t have to report all your donors’ names,” Zee told the audience. (Nonprofits don’t exactly have to report all their donors’ names publicly, but they do have to give them to the IRS. Only the names of people who donate to political campaigns and private foundations can be inspected by the public.) 

Several times throughout the evening, Zee said that the controversy about Rise Up, and the broader attacks on RevCom, could be countered if enough people could only be persuaded to listen to their podcast. “Hopefully by the end of the year tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people are watching,” he said. “That’s an important way you can be part of combatting the false and baseless attacks against Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights and the Revcoms and especially Bob Avakian.” 

Taylor agreed. The attacks on Rise Up and RevCom, she said, as the evening finally wound to a close, “are destructive to humanity’s future and our ability to stand together and fight.”