When I first met my friend Malik Rahim, the San Francisco Housing Authority was trying to put him in jail for helping public housing residents organize for their right to return during HOPE VI. He was a member of the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. In San Francisco, he volunteered together in the Eviction Defense Network. Malik has always been a teacher and a mentor to me. He gave me a foundation to understand Community Organizing and anti-racism by. In the late 1990s, he returned to New Orleans and co-founded the Common Ground project to help his city recover after Katrina.
He’s always put his well-being on the line for other people’s housing. Unfortunately, the City of New Orleans is trying to sell his family’s home for back taxes.
We can help this movement warrior stay in this home by backing this Go Fund Me campaign. Please give whatever you can. No amount is too small or too large.
Paul Street’s essay “What Would the Black Panthers Think Of Black Lives Matter?” has gained attention on social media since it was first published on Truthdig (October 29, 2017). Street attempts to raise important questions about the impact of foundation funding within social movements. This is not what he accomplishes.
Street jettisons a critical conversation about the “corporatization of activism” in favor of inaccurate personal attacks on Black Lives Matter’s founders and an ahistorical summoning of the Black Panther Party (BPP).
Given that Street is an accomplished historian, we’re certain he’s well aware of the numerous ideological debates among Black Panthers, past and present. This includes debates about reform and militancy, nationalism and internationalism, when (and if) to engage in multiracial coalitions, how Black radicals should relate to electoral politics, and what economic analysis supports self-determination given rising neoliberalism. These debates are well documented. Many remain active questions within today’s movements.
Street ignores these complexities in favor of a one-dimensional story about the Panthers, and an equally one-dimensional critique of Black Lives Matter (BLM).
First, Street focuses his criticism on BLM’s founders — Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors — and falsely discredits their organizing experience. He questions their ability to reach poor Black communities and then insults those same communities by writing, “Few among the ghettoized and incarcerated black poor sit on the internet puzzling their way through the intricate policy ideas.”
This is a confounding statement in an article evoking the Black Panthers, who engaged the poorest of the poor in studying both theory and policy.
In fact, BLM is a network of many leaders, some new to activism and others — like Garza and Cullors — who have been organizing in Black communities, in prisons, and in grassroots multiracial organizations for nearly two decades.
Second, Street implies that BLM’s focus on Black dignity and power is too narrow, going as far as sympathizing with the All Lives Matter camp.
Much to their credit, BLM leadership has never been narrow in this regard. In addition to direct solidarity with Indigenous movements, many BLM leaders actively support the development of white — and specifically white working-class — activists through close collaboration and strategic alliances with white anti-racist organizations.
Street conveniently leaves this out, seeking instead to lay blame at BLM’s feet for the lack of organized working-class resistance that ushered in the Trump era.
Street spends the bulk of his article critiquing Garza, Cullors and Tometi for what he feels they left out of particular speeches or essays. In doing so, Street conveniently ignores the intellectual and political work of the entire BLM network, whose breadth of vision is clear: “We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work.”
Finally, if we must make parallels, let’s be accurate. The Panthers never directly organized white communities nor did BPP water down its message to appeal to white feelings. The Panthers organized Black communities first and foremost, establishing a vision and serve-the-people model that inspired others. Strategic alliances emerged in that context.
Under the leadership of the Chicago Panthers, the Rainbow Coalition emerged after decades of Black-led organizing during the Civil Rights Movement and a deliberate shift to fortify Black Power and Third World Liberation. When Fred Hampton reached out to the Young Lords in 1969 and Bob Lee visited the majority-white enclave of Uptown in Chicago, it was because these communities were already organizing their own people.
“We never expected the Black Panther Party to come and organize poor white people” confirms Hy Thurman, a founding member of the Young Patriots Organization. “We were already organizing in Uptown and the Panthers sought us out for an alliance because of that.”
These groups found commonality fighting greedy landlords, poverty, police violence, imperialism, racialized capitalism and, specifically, anti-Black racism as a central, shared goal. This happened because a powerful Black-led movement existed in the U.S. and anti-colonial struggles were actively reshaping the global South.
While Street mocks BLM for playing identity politics, the Rainbow Coalition was arguably a model for identity-based class struggle. These alliances took time to build, happened under very specific historical conditions, and, ultimately, suffered because of deadly government repression.
While Street evokes the Black Panthers as a rhetorical device for a catchy headline, the Black Lives Matter network has been deeply engaged in developing a broad vision, learning from history — including in-person meetings with former Panthers and veteran organizers — and confronting new challenges.
We are not here to speak for the Panthers or for BLM. Rather, we have appreciated numerous opportunities to see BLM leaders speak about these crucial questions directly. In fact, some of the most critical assessments of BLM have come from Garza, Tometi and Cullors themselves, alongside their contemporaries. Appropriately, many of these deeper debates happen offline and in the many grassroots spaces where real movement-building happens.
Street positions himself as uncovering a story about BLM that has been silenced on the Left. In reality, Mr. Street has uncovered more about the problems with the Left’s persistent self-immolation when it comes to criticism offered without concrete solutions.
We get the impression that Mr. Street has put a lot of thought into how to run a movement without foundation funding or the influence of Democratic party politics. Judging from his other important books and articles, that would be a truly worthy essay. We hope to see it.
Amy Sonnie and James Tracy are the co-authors of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. Sonnie works as a Librarian in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tracy teaches in the Labor and Community Studies Program of City College of San Francisco.
I’m turning over the blog to my well-read-beyond-her-years niece Maggie Gabriel, for her interview of my good friend Sam J. Miller, author of The Art of Starving (Harper Teen).Starving is Sam’s first published Young Adult novel, but recently it has been impossible to pick up a Science Fiction magazine or journal and not see one of his short stories in it. We can only hope that he doesn’t forget all of his friends when the movie adaptations inevitably come his way.
Bay Area readers will have two chances to hear Sam read:
Tuesday October 17th, 2017 7:30pm at Pegasus Books Downtown, 2349 Shattuck Avenue, He’ll be joined by local favorite, Ananda Esteva reading a sneak preview of her new novel, ‘The Wanderings of Chela Coatlicue,” soon to be published on Transgress Press.
Wednesday October 18th, 2017 7:30pm at the Green Arcade Bookstore, 1680 Market Street, San Francisco. With Juliette Torrez (Kapow! Poetry and Comics, Madness and Retribution) Tomas Moniz (Rad Dad) and Michelle Gonzales (Spitboy Rule)
MG: What was the inspiration for Tariq?
SJM: Tariq evolved pretty naturally for me as I thought about who Matt was as a character, and how he was both attracted to and menaced by masculinity and the expectations of how boys should be and act. Manly, confident, athletic men can be threatening at the same as they can be hot as hell! The key to Matt as a character is that he’s wrong about pretty much everything, and that includes thinking Tariq is a villain when he’s really a boy who is good and kind and strong and hurting inside. I also loved the idea of a gay romance between a Muslim boy and a Jewish boy.
MG: How did you come up with the title and the cover art?
SJM: When I wrote the book, its title was RULES OF THE BODY. That’s why every chapter starts with a “Rule”! But my agent felt like it needed a more compelling title, something that stood out from the rest and raised questions in the mind of the reader, and we decided on THE ART OF STARVING before we started sending it out to editors. As for the cover art, I’m in love with it, but I’m afraid I can’t take any credit for it. I was lucky that HarperTeen assigned brilliant art director Jenna Stempel to design it, and she chose gorgeous art by Matt Blease. That’s generally how it goes at the big publishers. Authors have very little say over what goes on the cover of their books.
MG: Do you consider yourself an activist?
SJM: Absolutely! I think there is so much suffering and oppression in this world, and that we all have a duty to fight back against that to the best of our ability. These days, with the government doing so many scary things, we need to be activists in a lot of different ways. Calling senators, going to protests, retweeting people who are trying to expose the truth and fight the good fight. But activism is more than that – it’s about being kind to people who might be hurting, or standing up for people who need it. For my day job, I’m fortunate to be a community organizer at a great organization called Picture the Homeless, where I work alongside homeless people fighting against police abuse and bad city policies that keep them from getting housing. So I get to raise a lot of hell and support a lot of powerful people who are dealing with unthinkable violence and pain from the police, from the government, from their fellow citizens who look at them as less than human – but still believe that they can come together and fight collectively and nonviolently for real social change.
MG: Dogs or cats?
SJM: Dogs! Well, I love them both, a lot, but I am allergic to cats, so I can’t have one.
MG: Do you plan on making more books?
SJM: Every day I’m above ground, I’ll be writing words! I have a novel called BLACKFISH CITY coming out in April – it’s not young adult. It’s set in the far future, after rising sea levels and climate change have transformed the globe, in a floating city in the Arctic Ocean, where one day a woman arrives with a killer whale and a polar bear at her side. And I’m currently working on my second YA novel, tentatively called UNPHOTOGRAPHABLE
Please help my good friend and comrade Chuck Armsbury recover from the amputation of his leg. This medical emergency has drained most of his life savings. Your support will help him through a lengthy therapy.
Chuck is a lifelong fighter for the human rights of all oppressed people. Born in Kansas, Chuck was the Chairman of the Eugene Oregon chapter of the Patriot Party. The Patriot Party was a national organization of anti-racist working-class white people which emerged from the experience of the Young Patriots Organization in Chicago. They worked hand-in hand with the Seattle Black Panther Party and worked to build principled unity between black and white poor people. As a consequence, he spent years in federal prison on trumped-up charges. After his release, Chuck kept organizing to end the drug war with various coalitions.
When I last spoke with Chuck we joked that he’ll continue to kick-ass with only one leg, and schemed about where to put a secret door in a prosthetic leg to hold certain pain-killers now legal in Washington. He’s not going to let this setback ruin his legendary sense of humor. Let’s let Chuck know that he’s supported and loved by his community.
In 2011, Melville House published Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Timesby Amy Sonnie and James Tracy. Hillbillies explored histories of white working-class radicals who organized hand-in-hand with revolutionaries of color in the 1960s and 1970s. These histories provide clues and sign posts for organizing in today’s world where the racist right has consolidated power and progressives are fracturing around issues of class, race and gender. This year, the Left Forum will bring thousands of activists to strategize about where to go from here.. What better way to begin this conversation than exploring the lives of those street level organizers who built the Original Rainbow Coalitions.
SUNDAY JUNE 4TH, 10AM, ROOM 1-127: LEARNING FROM WHITE LIGHTNING, OCTOBER 4TH ORGANIZATION. ORGANIZING THE WHITE WORKING CLASS IN THE 1970’S AND TODAY
Philadelphia’s October 4th Organization (O4O) worked in the Kensington and Fishtown neighborhoods and played an important role in the coalition which ultimately denied the racist Mayor Frank Rizzo a third term in office.
In New York City, White Lightning provided a left-wing analysis to drug addiction and drug treatment, supported the Young Lords, the Black Panther Party and other militant community groups in the takeover of Lincoln Hospital, and inspired by the politics of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, the BPP and the YLP, focused on organizing the white working class in the Bronx.
Panelists:Sharon McConnell-Sidorick, October 4th Organization, Gil Fagiani, White Lightning Dan Sidorick, October 4th Organization Moderator: James Tracy, Co-author Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
SUNDAY JUNE 4TH, 3:50PM, ROOM 1-127 REMEMBERING BOB LEE, PEGGY TERRY AND THE ORIGINAL RAINBOW COALITIONS
Bob Lee who passed away in March, was a member of the Illinois Black Panther Party and was dispatched to build the “Original Rainbow Coalition” with the poor white Young Patriots, Young Lords the Panthers and Rising Up Angry.
Peggy Terry was a white southern migrant worker who broke from a Klan family history to work with the Congress of Racial Equity and Jobs Or Income Now, while mentoring new generations of activists in Chicago. This panel of people who knew and worked with Lee and Terry will explore their political legacies and the lessons they hold for those energized by the Black Lives Matter, immigrant defense, and anti-Trump movements.
Bob Lee who passed away in March was a member of the Illinois Black Panther Party and was dispatched to build the “Original Rainbow Coalition” with the poor white Young Patriots, Young Lords and Rising Up Angry.
Peggy Terry was a white southern migrant worker who broke from a Klan family history to work with the Congress of Racial Equity and Jobs Or Income Now, while mentoring new generations of activists in Chicago.
This panel of people who knew and worked with Lee and Terry will explore their political legacies and the lessons they hold for those energized by the Black Lives Matter, immigrant defense, and anti-Trump movements.
Jakobi Williams, From the Bullet to the Ballot The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago
Melody James, former member Jobs or Income Now Community Union
Hy Thurman, Young Patriots Organization
James Tracy, Co-author Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, Global Women’s Strike
Moderator: Collen Wessell-Mc Coy, Kairos Center NYC
Thanks to Rooflines, the blog of the National Housing Institute for running this piece a co-authored with Gordon Mantler about the Freedom Budget for all Americans, authored by longtime civil rights activist and March on Washington organizer Bayard Rustin, was a “step-by-step plan for wiping out poverty in America during the next 10 years.” Written in 1967, it offers a counter-balance to debates about Trump’s first budget. Roundly criticized at the time for being too moderate, most of the proposal’s ideas would be considered far-left by today’s standards of discourse. (In the United States, at least.) Take a look here: