My “Red Hunt” began when my teacher decided to take my class on a trip to the Constitution center in Philadelphia. The trip was meant to inspire and help us choose a topic for the upcoming C-SPAN StudentCam competition that we were participating in for a project. I, being as disinterested in history as I am, meandered about the museum taking quick glances at the different exhibits. Nothing had really piqued my interest, except for one brief essay mentioning the Cold War and Communism.
I didn’t actually read this essay, I glanced over it fairly quickly like I did with the rest of the exhibits. In glancing over it, however, I noticed the word, “Communism,” which stirred memories of days past. Sometime in the years prior this visit, I had done extremely light research on the communist party. Once I took a glance at this essay, I thought of this research. My first instinct was to open my phone and do some more studying on the subject. Google’s definition was something along the lines of, “all property is publicly owned and everyone is paid according to their abilities” and it didn’t sound too bad to me. I then turned to a friend and said something like,
“Communism doesn’t sound so bad.” She, knowing much more about history than I, said to me that capitalist America didn’t like communism much because of what it preached and that communist dictators across the world were making a name for themselves in America. This was when I started to get interested in the project, it was at this point that I decided to make my video entry for the StudentCam competition about communism.
Quickly after deciding this, I realized creating this video wasn’t going to be very easy. My information on communism was very limited and the topic was vast. Something about the topic interested me and drove me to do more research, I couldn’t tell you what it was though. It could possibly be the sort of creative freedom I felt within the topic, most of the projects we’ve done in the school have been about racism so I tried my best to avoid that. With the prompt being, “The Constitution and you” I had a lot of topics to choose from. Maybe it was that communism was something different and encompassed different rights, or that video games and comics made a lot of references to it. Either way, it spurred me spending countless class hours doing research on various important figures in communist history, from Vladimir Lenin to Joseph McCarthy, I was going to learn as much as I could. I had some ideas for things to add in my video, the comic, “Red Son Superman” being one of them. The comic was supposed to be an example of how pop culture was affected by communism. The idea fell flat as I began to do more research however, with people like Joseph Stalin and John Edgar Hoover to talk about, Superman had to take a backseat.
With most of my research out of the way, the next and arguably most important step was to interview a communist for my film. Part of the reason I really needed an interview was to provide myself and the viewers of my film with more information from an inside source, also because it’ll improve the films quality in general if you include an interview. Getting the interview was not a simple task, the communist party isn’t as big a presence as it used to be and most of my search consisted of asking my teacher and father if they, “knew any communists I could talk to?” The hunt was slow, my teacher said he knew someone and had emailed them but received no reply. My father, however, hadn’t updated me on his communist until I told him that I found someone. I contacted the United States’ Communist Party, the CPUSA, and a week and some change later, they got back to me. I exchanged a few emails with the member of the CPUSA they put me in contact with and eventually I was setting up an interview. It was perfect, the person who I was talking to seemed cool and he had a flexible schedule. There was, however, one glaring problem. He was based in Chicago. A two hour flight from Philadelphia.
This was a very difficult hurdle to overcome. Either I manage to arrange someway to get to Chicago, record this interview and be back in time to edit it into my film or I call him over skype and find out how to record our conversation. The former option was near impossible since the the film was due the next week. The latter was very possible, finding out how to record our skype call, I imagine, wouldn’t be too difficult. I felt that it wouldn’t be the same as an in-person interview however, which leads us to the third option. My first contact, who was based in Chicago, happened to know someone from the CPUSA based in West Philadelphia. Now all I had to do was send an email to him and get this interview arranged, a bit of a difficult start but things were finally starting to line up.
After a few days of exchanging even more emails with this newfound member of the communist party, I was invited to dinner with him and his comrades at Gojjo, an Ethiopian restaurant in Philadelphia. Once I received this invitation, I felt an extreme and overbearing wave of nervousness wash over me. It was soon replaced with something I can’t quite pin down. Disbelief is what I think comes closest to it. I couldn’t quite believe that I was actually going to talk to him and his comrades, I had thoughts of sitting at a table with them and asking some fairly light questions about communism. I planned on making good first impressions to set up the interview and finally adding a solid viewpoint to my film. I had told my father about going to dinner with them the night I received the email. It was at 7:00 p.m. the next night and I would most likely need someone to drive me there and to come get me. My dad, after some light convincing, agreed to me going. After hearing this, I emailed my teacher to tell him about the plans I had and thought of dinner with “The Red Menace.”
The next morning, while everyone in my house was busy preparing for the day ahead, my mother called me downstairs to talk. She wasn’t entirely sold on letting her child go to dinner with these people that she didn’t know at 7:00 p.m. I understood that as a parent, it must’ve been hard for her to let me talk to these strangers by myself. It didn’t help my case that they were communists, my mother’s image of a communist was more a millennial that would try to “recruit me into the fold.” Now I had to send more emails, telling my second contact that I couldn’t make it and asking if we could find another time. Then, after a sea of emails began to accumulate, we decided that he would come to my school to be interviewed on Wednesday the following week. He said that he could make 12:30 or 1:00. This was a bit of a problem since I had to leave the school around that time to make it to my classes at another building. He told me that he couldn’t come much earlier so I would have to play with the cards I was dealt and see what would happen.
Wednesday arrived fast, my interviewee had arrived early as well. I was planning on him arriving at 12:30 and this interview taking about half an hour if it went well. He was at the school by 11:00 and the interview went on for a little longer than half an hour. He sent me an email one of the days prior the interview telling me that he’d try to get to the school as early as he could, I didn’t expect him to get there that early however. I was in class preparing myself for this interview when my teacher told me that he arrived. All of the mental preparation I did immediately fell to shambles, nervousness had taken over my limbs, mind, and speech. I couldn’t think of anything but about how ill prepared I was. I had never interviewed someone on camera before, let alone from outside of my school. On top of all this, I was about to talk to a communist. I was expecting someone who had a raspy voice, stern attitude and wore gray suits. I had no idea as to what he had to say, let alone what kind of information he had to give me.
This isn’t to say that I was disappointed with who I was interviewing, far from it, he dressed simply, was very friendly and his voice wasn’t quite as raspy as I had imagined. He was an educator for 40-some years and had been friends with my teacher, MC, for some time. He wasn’t trying to recruit me as some may think, he wasn’t carrying around communist propaganda or anything like that. A lot of what he said in the interview was a retelling of events as he and others experienced them. I had a handful of questions prepared weeks prior for this interview, I had only gotten to around half of them. He had a lot to say and I was thinking of questions as he was speaking to me. This may sound very rudimentary to someone who is paid to interview people or conducts interviews on a more regular basis but it made me feel like this idea that I had was starting to actually come to fruition. I spent nearly a month knee deep in emails trying to set up an interview that could have easily went south very fast. In the end, even if I wasn’t able to get the interview on time or if I had dropped the metaphorical ball once the time for the interview came, I’m happy I was able to talk to him.