The United States constantly accuses its adversaries of holding political prisoners, while insisting it has none of its own. But for its entire history, the US government has used incarceration of its political opponents as a tool to crush dissent and advance the interests of economic elites. Well-known cases are those entrapped or framed in US national security state sting operations, or imprisoned with extreme sentences for a minor offense because of their political activism, such as Black revolutionary George Jackson. Each period of struggle by the working class and oppressed peoples against ruling-class control results in some activists locked up for their revolutionary work. “Political prisoner” has often meant those revolutionaries jailed for fighting their national oppression, as is the case with a great number of Black Panthers.
On an early Saturday afternoon, about a dozen residents and local organizers gathered in Maywood outside of the childhood home of Black Panther icon Fred Hampton. Armed with boxes of fresh whole corn, cherries, peaches and greens, they stood ready to stock a new community fridge that will provide people access to food 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Maywood is a food desert,” said Anthony Clark, an Oak Park activist and founder of Suburban Unity Alliance, a nonprofit that led the charge to open the community’s first public refrigerator. “It’s all corner stores,” Clark said. “For people to even think about accessing fresh produce, they need money. They need to be able to travel. They have to leave the community and take their money outside of the community.”
It should not be surprising that last year, mutual aid groups in the United States had to step in where the government has historically failed. Groups like Black Lives Matter Nashville distributed dozens of micro-grants—even as, at the height of the pandemic, federal and state governments drug their feet to help everyday people. As we reel from the pandemic, instead of providing more resources, the Biden administration has pledged to devote more federal spending to police.
Awhile back, a friend and I were talking about History and rebellions, and I lamented how the 1871 Paris Commune had failed. My friend, a self-avowed psychic, said, “Yes, history records very few total victories over oppression. That’s because, on this worldly plane, most things are not supposed to work out. It’s all about the trying.” So this will be a short essay on trying. On how, in the late 1960s, two Africa-American men met at the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and tried to build “The Revolution.” And how, for the past six years, I’ve tried to write a book about them.
In the late 60s and 70s, the Black Panther Party (BPP) embodied the vanguard of the revolution and anti-fascist, anti-racist action in the United States. The BPP formed an inclusionary, class-based manifesto, promoted armed self-defense and created an array of community survival programs and services, which included a sophisticated educational platform, free health clinics, breakfast for schoolchildren, teach-ins and more. Further, the BPP utilized art and music, via its newspaper and band, to spread its revolutionary agenda.
The U.S. ruling class, whose capitalist system is the historical midwife of modern racism, is not threatened by the racialist and black-capitalist BLM. But just to make sure that black anger is kept within safe political boundaries, a critical, cash-rich arm of concentrated wealth agreed last year to lavishly fund the group and a significant number of black middle class-led policy and advocacy groups coming in under its rubric. In August 2016, when I first heard that BLM had scored $100 million from the Ford Foundation and other elite philanthro-capitalists (including the Hill-Snowden Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, Solidaire, JPMorgan Chase and the Kellogg Foundation), I wrote it off as “fake news” from the right-wing noise machine. But the story checked out. The remarkable grant—a vast sum of money off the charts of normal foundation giving—was a matter of public record. Fred Hampton said "We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism."
Southern Solidarity has gone from 24 daily meal distributions to 250. “We’re doing this because capitalism is making survival impossible,” Araujo says. She plans to meet with researchers and academics to develop a guidebook on how to create a mutual aid project during a pandemic but, in the meantime, she has advice for those of us interested in lending a hand: “Assess and observe,” she says. “Do not mimic colonizer actions. Connect to existing institutions. And, most of all, insert your radical imagination.”
K’SISAY: I was born into activism. Both my parents were Black Panthers in the Queens branch of the Party. When I was a baby, my father was arrested for a robbery and served five years in prison. He wrote me letters, like, “Oh, my baby’s sick. When I get out I’m going to be there for you.” My mom and I would visit my father when I was a toddler.
On a February afternoon in 1969, Chairman Fred Hampton and his contingent of Illinois Black Panthers went looking for a Puerto Rican kid by the name of Cha-Cha in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Hampton had just read in the paper that the Young Lords street organization had shut themselves in the 18th District police station—along with the police commander and the media—to protest the ongoing police harassment of Latinx residents. The Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers established themselves on the West Side of Chicago in 1968 and functioned under a ten-point program of self-empowerment and service. Their Oakland, CA founding members were already involved in multiracial movement building through the left-wing and anti-war Peace and Freedom Party.
A giant has joined the ancestors. Black Agenda Report editor, lifelong organizer, and deep thinker Bruce Dixon made his transition on June 28, surrounded by his family in Atlanta, Georgia. I always hesitate to use a phrase like “joined the ancestors,” derived from African traditions, for fear of sounding like some white person who imagines they’re Black, but I think Bruce would be OK with it here. He often helped me navigate cross-cultural terrain. Once I called to ask him whether “Black” was, as I imagined, a uniquely American construction. He told me it couldn’t be more American, and that James Brown had sealed the deal in 1968 when he recorded “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The term has been used in other contexts and countries, usually with a small “b,” but without reference to Black America’s distinct cultural heritage.
On Oct 22, 2013, two days after Big Man’s 47th Black Panther Party Anniversary Celebration, held in Santa Rosa, ended, a beautiful child,13-year-old Andy Lopez, was gunned down and shot to death by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus. On Oct 22, 2013, two days after Big Man’s 47th Black Panther Party Anniversary Celebration, held in Santa Rosa, ended, a beautiful child,13-year-old Andy Lopez, was gunned down and shot to death by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus. On Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, five years later, the Board of Supervisors for the county reached a settlement with Lopez’ parents for $3 million. This settlement does not mean Erick Gelhaus is clear of any civil liability.
The childhood home of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, 804 S. 17th Ave. in Maywood, will not be up for auction this week, as was originally scheduled, buying community leaders some more time in their attempts to keep the home in the Hampton family. The ongoing ordeal, many community leaders said, should nonetheless serve as an opportunity for many people to learn about the factors that led to the home going into foreclosure in the first place. According to the website of the Judicial Sales Corporation, the foreclosure sale — which was supposed to be at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 23 — has been canceled for now.
Few veteran US radicals discussing the 1960s seem to remember how Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, after eight years of relentless guerrilla war, resounded throughout the Global South. Algiers, the nation’s capital, became a center of hope and political organizing for revolutions brewing in Africa, Latin America, Asia – and in the US for revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party. Elaine Mokhtefi remembers Algiers. Mokhtefi, author of the new book Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers, is an American woman born in 1928 to working-class Jewish parents. In the 1950s and ’60s, Mokhtefi was one of the many thousands who supported the Algerian struggle for national liberation.