Panthers

As someone who did not grow up in the 60s and the 70s, I have always felt that I missed out on the real Black revolution.  You know, when Black people we down for cause and speaking up and acting out in the name social justice and equality. 

Those were the days!

Afros were the norm and for the most part, Blacks were unified in their demands for social change.  It wasn’t unusual to see a group of Black people walking the streets trying to engage other Black folks on the issues.  Black people were much more socially conscious and willing to get out there to fight for their rights and it wasn’t uncommon to hear the Last Poets or James Brown’s “Say It Loud” blaring on someone’s record player.

I never had a chance to march with Huey Newton or join the Black Panthers, but if I had I would have.  For me the Panther’s embodies what a real revolution was all about.

But as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Black Panther movement, I can’t help but notice that many of the same issues that Huey and the Panther’s were fighting for are still very much relevant today.

The original vision of the Panther’s was to serve the needs of the oppressed people in our communities and defend them against their oppressors.

Not much has changed on that front.  Black people all over this country are still oppressed. And it’s not just about Hurricane Katrina.  Those people in New Orleans were poor and oppressed before the storm struck and they were not alone.  In cities across this country, you can tell just by its appearance when you have reached the “Black” part of town.  Everyday I drive through Watts and Compton; I get a depressed feeling in my stomach when I look at the state of the community.  A once vibrant community full of life and hopes devastated by the effects of unemployment, drugs, and alcohol.

I am a firm believer, that good or bad, everything that happens to each of us as Black people is a direct result of us being brought over to this country as slaves.  Does that mean I am a racist and hate all white people?  No.  It just means that I know I might be somewhere in Africa today if it hadn’t been for America’s slave trade.

You can’t argue with history, although we like to try.

The Panther’s knew that.  That’s why they developed the Ten Point Platform and Program to attempt to show Blacks what they needed to be fighting for.

The Panther’s so eloquently articulated the basic wants and needs of so many Blacks, while calling out the government for its role in creating a society of the have and the have-nots.

Freedom
We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black and oppressed communities.

Again, not much change.  Our destiny is in the hands of a government that is hell bent on keeping the poor and the rich richer.

Employment
We want full employment for our people.

And so do the people.  Our biggest battle on this front now seems to be centered on whether or not non-citizens from south of the border are taking jobs away from the African American community.  I say yes they are, other’s say they are not and that Blacks have moved up the ladder and are unwilling to do those jobs.  But what they don’t say is for those wages.

The Capitalists
We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.

I am not going to hold my breath on this one.  The United States will never repay it’s debt to Blacks.  Besides, how can you put a price on the millions and millions of lives ruined by a racist capitalist government that still to this very day is not fully accepting of what it did to Black people. 

Affordable Housing
We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.

I live in the homeless capital of the United States of America, Los Angeles.  Over 40% of the people that live on skid row are Black men.  Black men that were somebody’s husband, brother, uncle, father, cousin, that are now just out the street, most suffering from mental illness. 

Education
We want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.

We had to fight to be able to go to school with the white kids.  Then we had to fight to have our contributions to history included in the teachings.  Today, without affirmative action, we’re fighting because Black students are not being admitted into top colleges at the same rate as non-Black students are.  Less than two percent of UCLA’s freshmen class was Black students.

Healthcare for All
We want completely free health care for all black and oppressed people.

And we still do.

Police Brutality
We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people, other people of color, all oppressed people inside the United States.

This is where it gets tricky for me.  While police brutality is still an issue in our communities Black on Black crime is just as big, if not a bigger issue in our communities.  The police don’t need to murder us, when there are people in our very own community willing to do it for them.

War
We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression.

Yeah, tell that to President Bush.

Prisons
We want freedom for all black and oppressed people now held in U.S. Federal, state, county, city and military prisons and jails. We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country.

It’s hard for me to want to imprison a group of people that are themselves a product of the system.  As I said before, everything that happens to Black people be it good or bad, stems directly from us being brought or here and enslaved for hundreds of years.  We were never meant to thrive in America and it is by chance any of us do.  From slaves to second class citizens, Blacks have been pre-conditioned for failure from day one.  Now what we need to do is call for an end to the death penalty in this country.  I think America has murdered more than enough people.  Don’t you?

Community Control
We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology.

So here we are forty years later and not much has changed.  Sure there have been some milestones for Blacks, hey we have a Black woman in the White House.  But by and large, we still have a long way’s to go as Black people.  But I wonder if we’ll ever get there, wherever there is. 

All I know is that Black people would do well to bring back that revolutionary spirit and unity of the 60s and the 70s.  We don’t need anymore poverty pimps and drive-by activists.  What we need are people who are committed to the cause and willing to call it like it is, whether or not there’s a news camera around.

Forty years after the emergence of one of the most significant Black groups in the fight for social justice much has changed but we still have a long ways to go before we are truly all free.  The question is what is our role and will any of us live long enough to witness it.

But I guess for now I will just keep listening to my Gil Scott Heron albums, attending community rallies and forums, and keeping an invested interest in the plight of Black folks in and around the world.