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(en) US, SDS News Bulletin #2 - Review: Giving More Power to the People by Daniel Tasripin, Hunter College SDS

Date Sat, 02 Feb 2008 09:15:33 +0200

What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library Roz Payne
Archives / Newsreel (AK Press) The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service:
1967-1980 David Hilliard (Atria) ---- When SDS relaunched, I must admit that the
initial reaction I felt (as did a number of people of color comrades from the
circles I travel in), was one of skepticism. For myself and many others, the
organizations that launched us into our trajectory were not those that were
descended from SDS, or for that matter the mostly white anti-war movement. We
were instead, more interested in the organizations of the 1960's that had formed
the original Rainbow Coalition: the Black Panther Party mostly, but also the
Puerto Rican Young Lords Party, the American Indian Movement, the Chican@ Brown
Berets, the Chinese and Asian-American organizations like the Red Guards and I
Wor Kuen.

That skepticism was, in retrospect, born out
of a frustration many from my generation
of "movement" people of color. Perusing the
predominant historians of the Sixties--the
"Boomerologists"--there's a clear narrative: there's
the "Good Sixties," when the terms of the Civil
Rights and anti-war struggle were defined by
attempts to compromise rather than settle the
underlying questions decisively; then there's the "Bad Sixties"
in which first the black youth of the Civil Rights movement
stopped being conciliatory. Then the white youth of the anti-
war movement started to wonder whether the Vietnam War was
worth winning in the first place.
Key to that Good Sixties/Bad Sixties narrative has been both
a neglect and willful ignorance of the defining role the Black
Panther Party played in shaping the New Left of the era, both
through moral leadership as well as in the political actions
of the party. That may be understandable for the part of the
historians; for decades, the passing of the history of the Party
has been made difficult by a number of factors, including the
security considerations for political prisoners and exiles (both
former and present), as well as the divergent narratives that
arose out of the split of the Party's splits. Of course, the largest
factor may be the all-too-simple dismissal of the Panthers as
simply "blacks with guns."
There have been some bright spots of late, however. The past
year has seen the DVD release of the film and video archives
of movement journalist Roz Payne's coverage of the BPP in
Newsreel and other projects and an overdue re-issuing of
The Black Panther newspaper in trade paperback. They share
immediacy with the subject unseen to most of our generation.

Roz Payne's documentation of the Panthers in her Newsreel
films--all leather jackets, berets, and fists in the air--show the
urgency of the post-Malcolm and Martin era. Payne shows a
black population that no longer felt it enough to talk about
revolution, nor even to take a steps toward revolution, but that
the time had come for revolution to become incarnate in the
The non-Newsreel remainder of Payne's archives
is devoted to what happened after the Party's
preemption by the Establishment. Interviews with
surviving members (some exiled), lawyers, and
an interview with a former FBI agent who tailed
the Party round out the set. This video, taken by
Payne is rawer but cerebral.
An outsider, Payne's archives keep a comfortable
distance from the internal problems of the BPP.
The Newsreel footage is all from the era before
internal splits within the Party surfaced. While
the subsequent footage features various partisans
of the splits, I saw few (if any) direct references.
In contrast, Hilliard's presentation of the Party's
newspaper is a more intimate, longer-term, but
frustrating study. The BPP's evolution unfolds
in the volume's progression from amateurish
paste-ups to a slicker format and a widening of
its perspective in its solidarity with the Chican@
movement, the nascent Young Lords Party, and
with the American Indian Movement.

This deepens our understanding of the BPP, beyond the 10-point
program and image. Headlines are tinged with a defiance that
kept the BPP moving in spite of the steady police harassment,
assault and assassination. Simultaneously, they show the great
love for the people in the BPP's various Survival Programs.
This intimacy comes at the cost of witnessing the Party's
implosion. Midway through, the air is poisoned. Ellipses
multiply. Editions of the paper covering George Jackson and
the Soledad Brothers are from years after their assassinations;
what happened in the immediate aftermath? Articles that could
have provided context are cut off, "to be continued" in absent
pages. Stories are inordinately focused on interviews with
and (literal) paeans to BPP Chairman Huey P. Newton. The
sections covering the late 70's and 80's become even hollower, as
mentions of "Huey" become ritualistic intonations.
If anything, Payne and Hilliard's archives show the enigma of
what the Panthers are for the present day. We can never plumb
the depth of the Party. However immediate, the connection
to the past is incomplete. The Huey P. Newton of the rattan
chair, shotgun, and spear is neither dead nor alive; he is instead
like the ghost of Hamlet's father, an un-dead specter making
demands upon us we have yet to comprehend.

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