The Black Panther Party

1st May 1969: Members of the Black Panther party demonstrate outside the Criminal Courts Building one month after 21 Panthers were charged with plotting to dynamite city stores, a police station and a railroad right-of-way, New York City, (Photo by Jack Manning/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

When you think of the Black Panther Party, you may think of only negative things. Unfortunately, thanks to the media and the U.S. government, this is far from the truth. In 1966, the Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland California to help their communities better themselves, as well as defend themselves and low income, minority communities against police violence. A description of the party’s clear mission statement is outlined in Beyond Radical Chic: The Black Panther Party by T. A. Davies:

“The Panthers saw the urban black ghetto as a kind of internal colony within the United States and police brutality as an extension of imperialist violence. The Oakland Police Department was the white coloniser’s armed force sent to keep local blacks, literally and metaphorically, ‘in their place’. The Panthers were a paramilitary liberation force that aimed to protect people from that oppression. Arming themselves with shotguns, they began conducting regular patrols, observing and recording police conduct in their neighbourhood.”

T.A. Davies, Beyond Radical Chic: The Black Panther Party

Those with legal open carry licenses would patrol their streets armed with guns, ensuring that unwarranted police violence would not go unmet. To counteract the media focusing on violent police interactions, those who weren’t allowed to legally open carry also patrolled, but they were in charge of filming any and all police interactions within their community – a practice which is still done by many today. They made a 10 point program for these communities that had things like free breakfast for kids, free legal aid, and free medical clinics. Although their main focus was on low income, minority communities, they also supported other “radical” movements such as the women’s rights movement and “gay liberation” movement.

Members of the Black Panther Party stand behind tables and distribute free hot dogs to the public, New Haven, Connecticut, late 1960s or early 1970s. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)

What led to the Black Panther Party’s eventual disbandment in 1986 was a combination of two factors: lack of clear internal organization, and the FBI COINTELPRO surveillance program. When Eldridge Cleaver rose to leadership, he wanted to change the party focus to being more violent against police acts against them. There was conflict over what they should focus on as a movement: should they be focusing on the original mission statement of building up their communities? Or should the focus on “fighting the power” and reacting to police violence? This conflict led to disorganization, a split within the party, and was the ultimate downfall of the BPP.

The FBI COINTELPRO surveillance program only instigated this divide by proclaiming their acts as evidence of communism, infiltrating the headquarters to gain evidence for prosecution of members, and made a case to make it illegal to advocate for violent overthrow of the government. The police were also working against the party’s efforts, taking action against members. They assassinated known BPP members, raided known meeting places, and arrested as many as they could. This quickly became the norm and incited more violent actions by certain members, which also helped instigate the divide within the BPP.

Emory Douglas’ art counteracting the media’s reaction to the Vietnam war, shown in the Black Panther Party newspaper. “The tears in the image reflect the pain and suffering that I heard when I talked to people in the struggle, or in the military.” – Emory Douglas.

This is a great example of activism because it wasn’t based on social media or media at all, its message was spread throughout lower class communities via word of mouth. The Black Panther Party was proactive in their activism, and it started as a grassroots movement to simply help their communities. Before the party ended, chapters of the party were spread throughout the U.S. and even in Europe. Links to further learn about the Black Panther Party and their mission can be found below.

https://www.history.com/topics/civil-rights-movement/black-panthers

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/27-important-facts-everyone-should-know-about-the-black-panthers_n_56c4d853e4b08ffac1276462

https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/

Keeping Maryland Fair: Transgender Activism

The Fairness for All Marylanders Act was an anti-discrimination bill proposed in 2014. The bill aimed to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in terms of housing, employment, credit, and public accommodations, meaning services and/or employment could not be denied based on a person’s gender identity. Though sexual orientation had been protected under anti-discriminatory laws since 2001, Continue reading

“We Teach Life, Sir”

A year ago, I chanced upon Rafeef Ziadah’s poem ‘We Teach Life, Sir’ and was immediately captivated by her powerful words and earnest tone. Many times, Ziadah has been asked why Palestinians teach their children to hate and this poem was her response. Instead of fighting back with anger, she chose to express her thoughts in a straightforward poem.

Ziadah captures her audience all within a four-minute poem, relentlessly showering them with reality as the poem captures the attitudes of thousands of children, refugees and Palestinians. Her frustration and her anger at being ignored is clearly heard through her spirited but eloquent narrative. As a Canadian-Palestinian, she describes herself as a spoken word artist and activist. Ziadah released her début CD, Hadeel, in November 2009, which she dedicated to the Palestinian youth. She stands up to the numerous people who tell her to sit down and tells the world her story and her struggles. Her feisty response to journalists’ questions becomes an anthem for overlooked Palestinian refugees and activists against the people who want them to stick to the status quo.

Listening to Ziadah’s sincere response to critics made me realise how mute I had been, not taking a stand against something that clearly affects me. Her unconventional bluntness proves to me that making your voice heard is the only way to change society for the better. I’ve learned to admire the people who suffer from society’s ignorance and bravely face their opposition. The more I listen to Ziadah and learn about the shared plight of millions, the more I become conscious of how society mistreats people and how something has to be done.

The maltreatment of Palestinians sickens me and it seems as if no one is doing anything to help these people. However, Ziadah’s poem is a confirmation that Palestinians still stand strong and I have so much admiration for people who can still smile despite their hardships and trials. I can no longer keep quiet on pressing matters. I have learned to stand up for the people who deserve respect and a decent life. For most people, going against what society expects is terrifying and yet it is the people who are brave enough to make their voices heard like Ziadah that push society in the right direction. It has become my personal obligation to help the mistreated, the oppressed, and the people whom society has degraded.

My Political Activism

The interesting thing about growing up in Virginia is that we have elections every year, and sometimes more if there is a primary or special election. Election Day was always exciting at our house. When I was young, my mom or dad would take me with them to press the VOTE button. During Presidential elections, we took maps of the U.S. and used red and blue pencils to color in the states. It was one of the few nights we were allowed to stay up late. As I got older, my dad would take Election Day off and the two of us would hand out sample ballots at our local polling place and say “thank you for voting.” In 2002, a family friend decided to run for the local school board seat, and my dad jumped on board as her campaign treasurer. He joined the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, and got even more involved in politics.

This was my stepping stone to working in politics and becoming a political activist. After I came out in 2006, I became invested in LGBT politics. I had some campaign experience from working with my dad on campaigns, simply handing out literature and making phone calls. In 2011, my dad ran for the FCPS School Board and won. That same summer, he put me in touch with an openly gay man who was currently a state Delegate but was running in a democratic primary for the state Senate in a very liberal area just outside of DC. I volunteered every day from May until August, shredding papers, making phone calls, making recruiting calls, reminding people to vote, putting out yard signs, and canvassing. I worked so hard that eventually, they promoted me from volunteer to Field Organizer. Adam later told my mom “I don’t think I would have won if it weren’t for Kat.” Since 2002 I have worked on many campaigns for school board candidates, state delegates, and state senators. Easily, my favorite campaigns to work on are for LGBT rights or candidates, but the most important thing is that I feel like I am changing Virginia for the better.