The Panthers Created One of the Social Programs

Few revolutionary movements of the sixties have distilled as much underground glamor as the Black Panther Party, however, their trajectory is far from a fashion show. The Panthers created one of the social programs of regeneration of the poor neighborhoods of the most ambitious large American cities of their time and were the nucleus of a coalition of revolutionary movements with a strong ethnic and social implantation that came to have a certain weight in life American public, if only as a threat to the status quo. The result of the revolutionary adventure was not very chic either: more than forty dead by firearm and hundreds of incarcerated.

However, the Black Panthers continue to be a political myth for all those political and cultural movements that are unfolding in the increasingly numerous ghettos of the European and American major cities. The Black Panthers were the result of the evolution of the civil rights movement that, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, had mobilized blacks and whites against the legal segregation and daily discrimination suffered by African Americans in the United States. Its founders, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, began their political journey in one of the many small groups associated with Black Power – the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) – that adopted a revolutionary.

Seale and Newton began working on the anti-poverty community programs of Oakland City Council and soon after, in 1966, they founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. As the last name of the party announces, the initial political project of the Panthers was focused on putting into practice the position of Malcolm X in favor of self-defense, in a context of police impunity and strong repression in the black neighborhoods of the large industrial cities of the United States. United. And this, precisely, is what Newton and Seale developed with the police surveillance patrols. The patrols consisted of an armed group of Black Panthers who followed the police in their routine round through the ghetto to avoid abuses being committed. Of course, as Bobby Seale recalled years later, the Panthers ‘civic zeal did not go unnoticed by police officers: “At one point, the policeman says’ You have no right to observe me! ‘And Huey replies:’ No It is true, a judgment of the Supreme Court of California established that every citizen has the right to observe a police officer doing his job as long as it is kept at a reasonable distance. To say that there is a reasonable distance, I am twenty feet away from you and I will continue to observe you, whether you like it or not. ”

The first properly political campaign of the Black Panthers arrived at the end of 1967, after the arrest of Huey P. Newton accused of murdering a policeman. Bobby Seale launched a massive campaign of support for Newton under the slogan “Free Huey” that increased the party’s popularity in African-American neighborhoods. From then on, the Black Panthers, who had adopted the analysis of Marxist classes, faced some political dilemmas that had not been part of the repertoires of the civil rights movement and Black Power: the first was still heavily laden with religious connotations, while the second considered that Black Nationalism was a sufficiently agglutinating political position. Instead, both Seale and Newton thought that the great political challenge facing the Black Panthers was the joint mobilization of a black sub proletariat formed by precarious and criminals and industrial workers who made up the traditional African-American urban militancy. According to all the chronicles, this was the key to the political success of the Black Panthers; unite workers, unemployed and gang members, men and women, in the same project of community emancipation.

In 1968, members of the Black Panthers stop carrying weapons permanently, a new batch of militants from the university arrives at the party and gains a political line that emphasizes the need for community work in the neighborhoods. In 1969, the different local groups of the Black Panthers launched the so-called “survival programs”, an initiative to provide black neighborhoods with social services denied them by the State. The most famous of these programs was the Breakfast for Children: the activists gave free breakfasts to the children before they went to school. Medical and dental programs soon followed, transportation programs to visit family prisoners and care programs for the elderly. A self-managed militant welfare system that had a huge impact. As Huey P. Newton would say years later: For the first time since the rebellions of slaves before the Civil War, blacks were responding to an organization that tried to build community institutions and that did so under the banner of a political ideology that challenged directly to capitalist democracy. At the end of 1969, ten thousand children ate breakfast daily with survival programs and ninety percent of the black population supported the Black Panthers.

At the same time, twenty-nine Party members, including leaders Bobby Hutton and Fred Hampton, had already been killed by firearm, more than a hundred had been wounded and as many were in prison. Although the image of the Black Panthers feeding the children in the mornings and in the evenings engaged in shootings of more than two hours with the police could be completely outlandish, this was the daily reality of the Black Panther Party at the end of the years sixty. Although the party was progressively abandoning the cult of arms and never used armed action as a strategy to achieve political objectives, the fact that carrying loaded weapons was one of its founding milestones did not help to cool the situation, especially taking into account that the Panthers already had more than five thousand full-time militants.

In 1969, the then director of the FBI, John Edgar Hoover, established that the Black Panthers and other subversive groups constituted the greatest threat to the United States. He also stated that the communist breakfast program for children had to be completed by all means. The Black Panthers became one of the central objectives of the COINTELINPRO counterinsurgency program and the harassment tactics were refined: it was not that the shooting assaults on the Panthers’ headquarters were over, but they were complemented by an extensive infiltration program to favor internal confrontations in the party. As a result of these conflicts and the police persecution, Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver decided to go into exile. The first was installed until his death in Ghana, under the protection of Pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah. The second retired to Algeria, from where, with the infiltrators of the FBI as the sole source of information, repeatedly accused reformers Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, assuring that the situation in the United States was ripe for the armed revolution.

In the seventies, although Elaine Brown replaces Seale and Newton in the direction of the party and the political line is increasingly focused on social programs, the murders continue, such as George Jackson’s in San Quentin prison, and more and more splits are produced. Between 1972 and 1973 the Black Panthers turn their policy around and focus on local electoral politics by introducing Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown to Oakland City Hall. To the astonishment of the Democratic Party, Seale is second among six candidates. From this moment until the eighties the Panthers would vanish between the atony of local politics, the successive incarcerations and the violent deaths of its members, such as Huey P. Newton who died murdered by a drug dealer in 1989. Years later, Bobby Seale would summarize the causes of the success and defeat of the Black Panthers: “They fell on us because we had started a real revolution, from the base, for the normal people, we had an articulated program and we had made coalitions in which we crossed the lines of racial separation “.

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