Feminists of the Black Panther Party, with Lynn C. French and Salamishah Tillet

Feminists of the Black Panther Party, with Lynn C. French and Salamishah Tillet


(digital music) – Okay, welcome everyone. Welcome to the kickoff
event of Black History Month here at NYU Gallatin. Welcome to the spring semester, and welcome to a very terrific event that we have planned for you this evening. It’s really a wonderful way
for us to start the semester. NYU Gallatin is an
interdisciplinary school of individualized studies
within New York University. In the Urban Democracy
lab, who’s sponsoring this event tonight, is an
initiative within Gallatin, we seek to provide a space to debate and promote alternative urban futures that are just critical and sustainable. And sometimes in thinking forward, one of the most important
things we have to do is think back and look back critically and listen to those who
have lessons to teach us, which is why we’re doing
this wonderful event tonight. A couple of thank yous
before we get started. First of all, the Black
History Month committee, in the Gallatin’s Office of Student Life and Student Affairs, Dean Suzanne Wofford, and of course, as always, the staff that makes these events possible. So Jason Lanning, Jennifer Burge, Joanik Sorrell, Victor Baltista, Becky Amado and many others. Thank you. (audience applauds) So let me introduce our
wonderful speakers this evening. Salamishah Tillet is an
associate professor of English and Africana studies and a faculty member of the Alice Paul Center
for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at
University of Pennsylvania. She has her Ph.D. in
the history of American civilizations, an M.A.
in English from Harvard University and an M.A.T. from Brown. She graduated Phi Beta
Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her BA in English and Afro-American studies. Her most recent book, Sights of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination by Duke University Press examines how contemporary African-American artists, writers, and intellectuals
remember antebellum slavery within post-civil rights America in order to challenge
the ongoing exclusion of African-Americans from
America’s civic myths to a model of racial democratic future. In 2010, she edited the Color Lou a journal of African letters
special issue on Ethiopia. Her work has also appeared
in many different outlets, including American Literary History, American Quarterly, Color Lou, Novel, Research and African Literatures, Savoring the Salt, the
legacy of Tony Cade Bambara, Violence in the Lives of Black Women, and many others. And she’s currently working on a book on the civil rights icon Nina Simone. She’s also the co-founder
of A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit organization that uses art to end violence against girls and women. Thank you and welcome. (audience applauds) And our other guest of honor this evening, who also elevates us with her presence tonight is Lynn French. She was a member of
the Black Panther party from 1969 until 1973, working Chicago, as well as Oakland and Berkeley. In the party, and how
nice to be able to say stuff like this, in the party, she worked in a variety of areas including
newspaper circulation, labor, finance, breakfast programs, food and clothing giveaways. She walked the picket line
during the Bill Boyette boycott in Oakland and was
instrumental in starting childcare centers in Berkeley and Chicago. After leaving the party, French lived and worked in Cambridge,
Mass, from ’73 until ’76, where she co-founded and co-administered International Daycare Center. During those years, she was employed as the Cambridge Somerville
Community Representative for the Massachusetts Office for Children. Since graduating law school in 1979, French has worked in community development and housing policy in Washington DC, working on equitable
alternative to gentrification, an issue that, as you
know, we care a lot about. She worked at the Council
the District of Columbia until 1987, the DC Department of Housing Community Development as homestead program administrator, and a senior policy advisor for homeless and special needs housing in the executive office of the mayor in Washington DC. She now serves as executive director of Hope and Home, a
transitional housing program for low-income housing
program for low-income homeless families,
supporting their efforts to break the cycle of poverty and achieve self-sufficiency and independence. She also works with tenant groups and nonprofits seeking to
develop affordable housing. Welcome. (audience applauds) – So I just want to thank you all for joining us this evening, and thank you for our host, particularly Becky, who sent an email
this fall, I suppose, inviting us and encouraging us to attend and launch Black History month here. So we’re just both honored to be here and to be in the presence of all of you in the room and the
world of the cyberworld that we can’t see you. We’re gonna do a kind of
interview, conversation format, primarily because Lynn knows so much, but also her experience and expertise as a member of the party, I think, is really why we’re here. And I would love just
continue the conversation about women in the Black Panther party that got sparked in some ways for me with Stanley Nelson’s documentary and then it inspired the piece I wrote in the New York Times about Black, the party as a kind of feminist space and what that means. Do you want to say anything
before we jump right in? – No, no, no, you’re speaking for me. – Okay (laughs). Well, you’re gonna be speaking. Just the first question
that I have of anyone is what’s the story, like how did you join the Panther party and what drew you to the Panthers in Chicago? – Okay, so, I don’t know if
it’s a straightforward story, but when I graduated
from high school in 1963, the world was so different
from the way it is now. And the only options out there
for African-American women, seemingly, we’re either
you clean someone’s house, you became a schoolteacher, or you married someone who
would take care of you. And none of those options
embodied the vision I had for myself and my life. And I have to say as an aside that I come from, as my father would say, a long line of women who knew themselves
as spoke their minds. So just wasn’t my concept. And I dabbled a little. I worked a little with SNCC, but I was a little
younger than SNCC people. And by the time, by 19,
really I joined in ’68, joined the Black Panther party. I was living in Chicago, Illinois. I was a student, and I met Bobby Rush and Fred Hampton when they were organizing the Illinois chapter. And it was the first
organization, I’d been in a variety of organizations,
but this was the first organization that, first
place, I saw a saying. We have a vision for
ourselves in this world, and we aren’t asking for permission to be these people or to envision this world. This is the world we want to build. We want to have our own agency to live our lives the way we
feel we should live them, rather than having someone, you know, having someone giving you permission to come to their restaurant, or permission to come to their theater. We wanted to assert ourselves. And it was, I saw, it
was within the party, women had equal status to men. So it didn’t even occur
to me that this was a feminist action, but
just that we were asserting ourselves to build a world
that we thought would be the world we wanted to
pass onto our children. And so, to me, it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. – So one of the things
that was interesting for me in doing research, and I, you know, you think you know a lot about
a lot of different things, and particularly African-American history, 20th century African-American history, but the fact that the Panther party by the time you joined, 1968,
was over two-thirds women, in terms of the membership,
struck me as both amazing on one hand,
but also there’s a sense that, you know, these
women weren’t the rank and file of the Black Panther party. The dominant images
that we still have are, you know, African-American
men with leather jackets and berets, and so I wonder,
what do you think causes the disparity between the reality, as you all lived it, and our imagination or our memory of the time? – Well, first place, I
really believe that all, if, most if not all of
the women who joined the Black Panther party were leaders and had the same vision
of building a world. I think that there are a couple things with the image that was drawn. We were considered a huge threat to the United States, to the status quo, and so the image that
you, that was reflected in the newspapers, if you
look through the newspapers of that era, just show
us as this, you know, it’s a broad brush of just some black men with guns who are, if you don’t watch out, they’re gonna all wipe us out, you know. So they never looked at us with any depth or saw any complexity or what have you, but that wasn’t how we saw ourselves. And if you look through
issues of the Black Panther newspaper, you see women
very positively displayed, whether it’s in the art that’s there or in the articles. So I think it’s more, and then, because a whole history with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover calling
us the number one threat to security in America, we were then what I guess ISIS is considered now, but we weren’t going around bombing people or anything, we were just
trying to assert ourselves and build a world. Because they were
chauvinistic, they just saw it as coming from men, so
they arrested a whole lot of the guys, and the women went unnoticed in a lot of ways, because
they didn’t see us with any complexity. I mean, I was arrested,
don’t get me wrong, but (laughs),
(audience laughs) but they were, you know, they saw it as a Black male thing. And I think that’s a repeating pattern ever since African Americans have been in this country, whether it was the slaves or during the Great Migration, or in contemporary times that Black men within the imagination of
mainstream American culture are seen as a threat,
which is pretty curious that they, you know. It says more about them
than it does about us. – So I listened to a
conversation that you did a few years ago, and you
talked about the Panther party being the most progressive place to be as a woman in the late ’60s. And you’ve touched upon that a little bit, but I think that would
strike a lot of people as maybe unusual or new or curious in the sense of we don’t
think about Black nationalism in the Black Panther party as a place of progressive gender politics. And even by the early ’70s,
even a place in which, like Newton’s writing
a piece gay and lesbian and people being a part of the movement and ending homophobia. So there’s this, another
thing about, you know, these myths about the Panther party, male-dominated, entirely sexist. But I wish you could just elaborate– – That’s why we were the vanguard. That’s why the name of
that movie is (laughs) Black Panther Party:
Vanguard of the Revolution. I mean, we were the advanced thought. And the party evolved from
the Black Power movement, you know, 1965 when Stokely Carmichael first used that phrase. It just jumped out there quickly. And a lot of African
Americans my age were pulled to Black Power, then, at that point, to sit-ins and all that. And especially in urban areas, but once we got started
and started talking about what the world should be and what people should
be, we really weren’t, I don’t know if we were Black. I mean, we saw ourselves
as a positive image, but we had allies in Chicago. We started the first Rainbow Coalition. There were the young
lords who were Chicano, the young patriots who were hillbillies from Appalachia who came to Chicago. There were Chinese organizations. There was a whole variety of organizations that were our allies, and they organized themselves around the same principles as our ten-point program. And we started Rainbow Colation. We took old Richard Nixon buttons that they were giving out and we painted over top of them and
painted different colors. And that was in 1969. So we really evolved from
just being Black Power to really seeing a
different world, I think. – Can you just talk a little
bit about the SNCC women and how, I know you were too young to be one of them, but
Kathleen Cleaver said it in my conversation with her that by the time she arrived in Oakland, that her image of Black
womanhood was so tied to those early moments of SNCC and organizing that she saw
amongst the men and women, but particularly the
women, that it created a model of what kind of
activist she wanted to be. And so it never, she
never doubted for a second that women should be
leaders, because that’s what she inherited from SNCC. And if you could just, I mean– – Yeah, I had the same reaction. When I was young, I used to sort of, not sort of, I would go
to SNCC demonstrations and sometimes, without permission, but I guess I didn’t yet have the agency to just say this is what I’m going to do. But I believe that women from SNCC and women from the Black Panther party are cut out of the same cloth. When you think of SNCC women facing what they faced in Mississippi and all across the South with the bombings and registering people to vote, it took a lot of courage
to do what they did. And although there was
still more to be done by 1965, they really unseated
segregation in the South. And again, it was largely
the women in the organization who were doing that work. – And so there was that– – Some of the women I
most admire were in SNCC, like Joyce Ladner. – Well, I guess the other
thing I’ve been thinking about based on what you were describing is, so the state surveillance,
state suppression of the movement being this revolutionary vanguard people during the reign of Nixon and that kind of backlash toward
the civil rights movement, but also the rise of the silent majority. We know what came with Nixon, but part of it was the men
were primarily targeted, but you did speak about, you know, you have this two things going on. Women also are being arrested. Ericka Huggins talks about
this in great detail, but also the fact that men were targeted left space for women to kind of rise in the party and enact
leadership positions. And so it seems almost like
kind of a contradiction. – Well, I think we had
leadership positions from the beginning,
but as time progressed, you were aware of there
being more and more women than men because of that. For example in Chicago,
women were in the leadership from the beginning, but
once Fred Hampton was murdered in his sleep in December 1969, a whole lot of people
left the part wholesale. They were scared, and you
know, with good reason. And so some people stuck it out and some people didn’t,
but they were really not making any bones
about really lashing out at Black men. I understand, I saw, I have some really. We talked about our mutual
feelings about Chicago. I’m very much feeling what’s
going on in Chicago now, because to me, it’s a
continuation from the time of the Great Migration when people went from Mississippi to Chicago wholesale. The Chicago police
department was like being another KKK there and
keeping people in place. There’s a history of men
rising to the position of being competitive
to become an alderman. An alderman is a very
powerful position there, and at least two were murdered, one in broad daylight by
four or five police officers in their twenties, and then it happened again in the ’60s just
before I moved there. And so it’s, it’s just a very powerful,
repetitive thing going on there. – So I mean, let’s talk
about the state of Chicago because it’s a place, we
both call like a second home. It’s a place of your
radicalizing and your being in the Panther party. I do a lot of community and political work in Chicago as well. And so, it’s almost, you know, Chicago, and I was there last week on a panel on Chiraq, which is very controversial, Chiraq, the movie, in Chicago, I must say, but understandably. – And a very controversial
mayor doesn’t like it, so like who cares. – Yeah, yeah. (all laugh) Exactly. But I mean this repetition of violence or the ritual of white
supremacist violence against black bodies. – It’s like they have permission to do it. It’s just– – Well, they, in a way,
they do, right, but that. I was thinking about
organizing in North Lawndale and Homan Square being a
kind of site of torture for many recently– – And that still goes
on, even though it’s been widely publicized. – Yeah. – I don’t know if you all know that, but there’s a place in Chicago where police will take,
it’s a whole building, and they will detain someone,
mainly African-American males or Latino males, take them to this place and torture and beat,
try to beat confessions out of them and all that, and because they haven’t yet
officially arrested them, they’re just being detained, there’s no way to even
know that they’re there. So you could be looking for someone and calling around and even
call the Chicago police and say, “Do you know where Joe is?” And they’d say, “No, we
don’t know where Joe is.” But Joe may be held and being tortured, and it’s really a horrible thing, and it’s been exposed,
and it still goes on. Or for the thing I was leading to before about the Chicago police, when they murdered Fred Hampton, it was just really horrific circumstances, and there’s a photo that I have that of I don’t know if any
of you have seen it, it’s just a powerful
photo of the policemen carrying Fred’s body out of the apartment, and he’s like under a blanket. You can just sort of see
his feet sticking out, and they’re laughing. And I read somewhere
recently that they had these annual like, I don’t know if it’s get-together times or
something once a year where they meet and the picture that I saw from this meeting was they
had that mounted on the wall. So it’s like they’re still celebrating or remembering that as the good old days when they murdered Fred and
really got away with it. I mean, what has changed? – So I mean, so part of what is not new, but I think inspired by
the work you’ve done is the kind of emergence of youth organizing. – I’m very hopeful about that. – I mean, what’s striking
again about the Panthers, not only was it two-thirds women, but it was such a young movement. I mean, young in the sense the majority of people were under the age of 25. And so now we have a kind
of corresponding movement of Black Lives Matter,
and then in Chicago, there are a number of organizations, youth-driven organizations,
sometimes at odds with the old guard, and
sometimes, you know, just at the forefront of the movement. But, you know, what is, you know, I know we’re in New York,
and so we love New York, but I would like to, what
is unique about Chicago in terms of obviously
there’s deep state repression and also real entrenched segregation. But it seems to me there’s also kind of possibility for all kinds of organizing that you know, cross-fertilization,
coalition building. I mean, it’s a really, really hotbed of deep political activism.
– It is. – And when you, at least
when I lived there, there were all kinds of organizations. It’s an extension, I just see that same, that link between Mississippi and Chicago, where it wasn’t just
Black folks who migrated, but white people. One time during the ’90s,
my brother and I went to a bar association meeting in Chicago, and he hadn’t really
spent any, I don’t know if he had ever been to Chicago before, but he’s a lot younger than I am. But we were walking down the street, and he commented, “This
is the whitest place “I’ve ever been.” And he said, “It’s almost
like they’re in Mississippi, “and they want us to get off the sidewalk “to get out of their way.” I mean, it’s just something
he picked up there, and it’s just always sanctioned. New York, Chicago, and
LA are in a category of their own in terms of
big cities in this country, and of those three, Chicago is still like the old South in a lot of ways. And with all those millions of people, it’s still a very balkanized place. There’s still a lot of segregation there. There’s a lot of just
places that people don’t go, things that people don’t do, and it’s just amazing to me. I mean, it produced some wonderful blues, but you really see why people
sing the blues, you know. (audience laughs) – I thought you were going
to say produced Barack Obama. (audience laughs) Produced the blues. Another thing, speaking of Bobby Rush and Chicago and your kind
of introduction to the party through a professor, Charles Hamilton, who co-wrote the Black Power book with– – He didn’t introduce us
to the party, we just all. Charles Hamilton co-wrote a book with Spokely Carmichael,
I guess it was 1967 or ’66 that they wrote this book together called Black Power. And I don’t know if people still read it, but I consider it a classic. And he taught political
science at my college. So everybody who was
thinking that way would fight to get into his classes. And from that, we
organized one of the first Black student unions,
as they, I guess now, everybody takes that for granted that you have a Black student association or something at your school, but that was even a radical thing there. And we were organizing
it, we needed a speaker, and one of our classmates,
Bill Hampton said, “Well, I have this brother
who’s a really good speaker. “He belongs to the NAACP Youth Movement. “We should invite him.” And that’s how we met Fred. – Okay, okay, so– – And right around that time, Martin Luther King was assassinated, too, so there was sort of like a
melting pot going on there or some kind of I don’t know. – Yeah, just some catalyst
for different activity and. So I guess one of the things that, a big question I have is
in terms of gender equality and racial justice, like so much of, even today, while we think
of Black Lives Matter, we know that Black Lives Matter comes from this really radical place. Last week, Patrisse
Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of the three women who
founded Black Lives Matter coined the term, spoke at Penn, so one of the questions that I asked them was about, you know, the intersection between racial justice
and gender equality. And what happens when we
imagine racial equality without this other component, because it still seems to me that, and this may be just the media response, but even with Black Lives Matter, coming from three queer Black women really centering the lives and experience of trans, Black men, and Black women that there’s an attempt
to not include that, to just sort of see it
within this other tradition of exclusively around African
American male leadership. And the fact that this
movement is so consciously leader full and pushing
against one model leadership, one charismatic male leader, like it’s still self-consciously trying, in some ways, I think inheriting– – I think it’s great
that they’re doing that. – Yeah, inheriting a SNCC tradition and a Panther tradition, but you know, oftentimes we think about racial justice without thinking about where
gender equality fits in or where sexual equality fits in. And I just wondered if you could just talk a little bit more about,
I know you don’t see them as separate things. – I mean, I think they’re
all the same thing, aren’t they? – I mean, I would say so, but I think there’s a way in which we’re conditioned to think of them as– – I agree. – distinct, so– – People are conditioned
and popular culture leads you to certain ways. – To understand them. – Yeah. – But I also, I mean,
what were the challenges? Like what, you know, even if it were this Vanguard space where
people were really wrestling in real time such progressive practices. I mean people were living together. They’re working together. – It was never easy, because everybody came into the party being the person they were. So you know, there were many times you had to assert yourself as you know, wait a minute, you don’t speak for me. You don’t control me, but we were dealing not only with them, but with our own families
and with people outside who thought we were crazy, you know. I mean, we were talking about
things that people just. I was arrested just before
Fred Hampton was murdered. I lived in the apartment where he lived, but I happened to be somewhere else and I was arrested. And at first, my parents
refused to bail me out of jail, one because they were scared, and the other, my father
kept saying to me, “Come on, anybody with common sense knows “that if you rock the boat, “this is what’s gonna happen to you.” And so my dear cousin
came and bailed me out, but you know, we were,
a lot of people were looking at us as scams, and you just sort of had
to know your own mind and assert yourself the
way you wanted to be. It’s never easy. Change isn’t easy. – So how did you, did you
resolve it with your parents? Or did they–
– Yeah. – They came to the point
where they were very proud of the fact that I had been in the party. And it’s funny, I had a grandmother who I adored who lived to be 95, and she never criticized me for it. People would, even though she may have had questions in her mind,
she would say to people, she knows what she’s doing, and you know, and you have to respect that
people follow, you know. I think that my parents were more reacting from fear than anything else. And we did resolve that, yeah. – So one of the things
that’s interesting, too, or unique about the Panther party are the multiple programs
and the multi-platforms and the multiple platforms
that you all were engaged in and creating, and again,
that’s part of like the vanguard identity, but it’s also, you
know, and I’m not trying to link it to gender, like women do this, and men do this, but there are issues around childcare, and
we can talk about that in greater depth, the
free breakfast programs, the health, I mean,
there’s so many parts of it that come out of a community of activists where they’re trying to think through what a family can look like. And family meaning like community. – What people’s needs were. You have to imagine, for example, the breakfast program was
our first really big program. And at that time, there was no such thing as free breakfast for children in schools. I mean, that’s one of the
ways that we changed society. There was no notion that children needed food in their stomachs to
go to school and learn. And so we started that. And it’s interesting to me, because I hear from women who are
young feminists as well, serving breakfast,
isn’t that women’s work? But no, men and women
were cooking that food and serving it, but what we were doing was addressing the need of children. And in Chicago, when we first announced that we were going to start this program, we had gathered all this food to open a breakfast program on the West side at the Better Boys foundation, and the night before the
program was supposed to open, the police broke in there
and smashed up the food. They even urinated on it, just made it so we couldn’t open it. So we had a press conference there and showed what they did,
and talked about hunger in Chicago and how there were children who didn’t have enough to eat. And so many donations
of food poured into us, and one of the major newspapers then ran a big series on hunger. And so we talk about, we considered that raising, heightening the contradictions, and that things would
change when you heighten the contradictions. So from our perspective, it
wasn’t that you were, ooh, that you were necessarily
doing women’s work at a breakfast program. So I don’t know if I ever
cooked any food there, but that we were all pitching
in together to do that. The same with the daycare center. I was the person who initiated the idea of daycare both in the
Bay area and Chicago, because I had a child. And my grandmother started
the first nursery school in Washington DC, Black or white. So I came from a family
that believed in the value of early childhood education,
that that’s what gave children a jumpstart on life. And so I fought for it, but I wasn’t there just taking care of people’s children. There were many, everybody was sharing in that responsibility. – Well, I think that’s part of what, when we think about the gender equality or the radical gender,
kind of the way in which gender norms were being re-envisioned is the fact that you had men doing what would be traditionally seen as like the domestic work as a political act, and women being in this
kind of upwardly mobile political system. And so even if the public image was really, you know, hetero-normative or the way in which the
media responded to it, the practice was really,
really much more fluid. And I think that’s part of what I find, part of what I, you know, for those who know the Panther party, it’s obvious, but I think a lot of people don’t know.
– People don’t know. – And part of that’s
because the experiences and voices of the women,
even though they were so significant during
the Panther party itself, have been historically invisibilized. With that comes the way
in which you guys were experimenting with gender norms
and political orientation. I mean, it was a lot going on. And you were again, so young during it. – We were kind of finding our way. – Yeah, but one of the
things I always hear is that even if the revolution
that you all envisioned could never really come to fruition because of state repression. It did revolutionize,
you all did revolutionize the world.
– We did. – We did. I mean, what public
school system doesn’t have free breakfast and free
lunch now for children who are under a certain income. We started free health
clinics by going out. My father had been
president of the medical committee for human rights, and we started the first
health clinic in Chicago, and doctors from medical
committee for human rights supported us in that. And that idea of free
healthcare for people was like unthought of, and within five to ten years, there were health clinics
in neighborhoods across. Many of the things that we said and did, even down to expression, you know, power to the people or right on were absorbed by people, even though we didn’t ever have state power. We impacted society a lot. – One of the things I’ve been thinking about in this moment, in
relationship to Nixon, was the ability for Black Lives Matter, and I’m just thinking this out loud. I don’t have a theory, because I do know that many of the activists
are under state surveillance. They’ve been harassed. – I’m sure they are. – Obviously by the police, quite publicly or not. But what does it mean to have a movement in the era of African-American president, is Black Lives Matter in some ways more, less under state surveillance, which seems crazy because we’re under more surveillance than anything else. – I can’t imagine that it is. – Than with Nixon? Or I’m thinking about this
because right now in Iowa, people are really deciding, at least who, amongst the two political parties, who the, partly deciding,
who the presidential candidates could be. And so, you know, and I wonder
about Black Lives Matter under Trump, let’s say or Kruse. – Well, it would be no different from what we had with Richard Nixon. – Yeah. – I mean that’s the thing about society. You get these extremes. In fact, I read something
in the past few days. I can’t remember where I read it, but the person’s theory was that you could analogize what’s going on now with these wacky candidates with
what happened in the ’60s. – With the Nixon rise. – Yeah. – So you want to talk about
that a little bit more? We didn’t all read the article.
– Well, because you know, – there was this whole notion, his thing was the silent majority. Who are the Trump followers
but the silent majority. There are people who genuinely feel that if there is affirmative action or if an African-American
benefits from anything, that’s taking something from them, as they just so genuinely believe that in their superiority
that it’s inconceivable to them that an African. I mean, look at the
things that they’ve done to Obama as president. Would you ever have had a president before where people are just going around openly saying he’s not really a citizen and still challenging him to
show his birth certificate? I mean, they do so many obnoxious things that they feel entitled. One time I heard, before
Trump was actually running, I heard him interviewed
where he was complaining about the way Barack Obama walks. And he said that it was
especially offensive to him the way that Barack Obama comes down the steps of the airplane. He said, ‘It’s just like some
dude coming down the steps.” And we’re thinking,
yeah, that’s why we want him as our president, you know (laughs). He’s our dude, right? But one person can’t
change, can’t turn the tide. If anything, it puts other
people more on the defensive. – I get the, I mean, so
there’s a lot of analogies. So in the civil rights movement, and the backlash, people
compared it to emancipation, reconstruction, the backlash
against reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow. And now we’re starting
to compare this moment, or at least, what could
be the next moment, to the civil rights movement,
Black Power movement, and then state repression, the rise of the silent
majority, another backlash. And then there’s been, so the current comparison would be the emergence of this radical movement that’s exposing the systemic racial violence
that African Americans continue to experience, both visible and sometimes invisible,
or at least unrecognized. And the kind of anxiety that comes about with the election, the double election of the first African American president, meaning that not only Trump perhaps the fracturing of the Republican party, the rise of the Tea Party itself representing a backlash, that there’s a way in which we can maybe anticipate what could be on the horizon, state repression, and ongoing. You know what I mean? – Or think of ways, alternatives– – Exactly. – I consider this a third reconstruction. I think of what you learned in school as a reconstruction is
the first reconstruction. – Yes, exactly. – And the civil rights movement, mid-century civil rights
movement into the ’60s as a second reconstruction. And I consider this a third, and I’m very hopeful that
this will go farther. – So knowing that each reconstruction came with, I mean, you were in
the Black Panther party is the prime example of
a second reconstruction being suppressed in very
violent and hostile ways by the federal government. What is it that people in this room or in the cyberworld, what is it that we can do? Because we know history is cyclical, at least, we’re trying
to break that cycle. Do we imagine another,
not the rise of Jim Crow, but the rise of Nixon or something else on the horizon that’s similar? – I mean, if I knew the answer, I’d win the Nobel Peace Prize. (all laugh) – This is true. – But one thing that I’m hopeful about is that with Black Lives Matter. For example, it was very touching to me when Michael Brown was killed, to see as many white people out there demonstrating as anyone else. And it said to me, well maybe, you know, I hope this means that
there’s a new generation that maybe won’t fall
back on all of that stuff. Then all of a sudden, Donald Trump jumps out of nowhere. But for example in Washington, a friend of my daughter’s, my daughter and a friend organized a thing when that happened because
when they announced it, there would be no action taken. They lined 16th street. I don’t know if anyone’s
familiar with Washington, but it’s essentially
shaped like a diamond. And 16th street is the street that goes down the longest part in the diamond, and the White House is on that path. And they lined 16th street
from the Maryland border down to the White House, where they just had people go out at dusk and stand there with candles, just saying, you know, okay maybe nothing happened, but we want you to know, we’re watching, you know. And it wasn’t just Black folks out there. It was all kinds. It was human beings out there, and that was encouraging, but I really don’t know
the answer to that. I wish I did know the answer to it, because I certainly don’t want to say, because things are
cyclical, don’t struggle. You’ve got to keep struggling, but I don’t know the answer. – Well, I wonder if, part of it may be different strategies, right? So the idea of a leader-full
movement makes it. First of all, it is part of
the moment that we’re in, which like that kind of social media web means that things have
decentralized, right. So that, in some ways, it
reflects the era that we’re in, but it also seems to be a
useful and pragmatic strategy to learn from the lessons in which, in the ’60s, you had major
figures literally assassinated. In the late ’60s, early
’70s, the Panther party also having just people being
locked up or killed off, that to have a decentralized movement may mean it’s harder– – To get the leaders. But at the same time, look
at how many Black people, Black men especially, are just killed. I mean, the police can do things with no accountability,
and I’m not saying. I think that we need a society
that has police officers, because everybody isn’t honest. Some people do bad things. I just want them to go about their jobs in a way that they don’t use it to exercise their racist tendencies that if somebody’s murdered,
to really find the murderer, you know, instead of
just arresting the first Black person out there. – So what you’re saying is that even if a movement’s decentralized, in some ways, they’re targeting anyway, so. – Yeah, I mean all these crazy things. You know. They’re like things that you read about what happened in the South that pushed people into the Great Migration, where people had so much, they were faced with so much violence that they just left. And perhaps this, I don’t
think that statistically, I don’t know, I don’t know the statistics. But it just seems that
maybe it, as you say, is the impact of social media and people being able
to suddenly film stuff. But it’s really making us aware of how just in everyday life. We had a thing in front
of our house in Washington where a 15-year-old kid was walking in the neighborhood I lived in has been heavily gentrified, and it’s almost like
you feel like a stranger in your own home town. And this 15-year-old kid who lived about a block or two away
in subsidized housing was walking through the
block to go see his friend, and one of my new neighbor’s dog that was just like a
little yappy dog bit him. And some people, you
know, there’s some people who have visceral fear of dogs, anyway. So he said to the woman,
“Your dog just bit me.” And she said, “Oh, let me see your leg. “There’s no blood. “Your pants aren’t torn. “You’re okay.” And he was trying to
say, but your dog bit me. And he, they got into a dispute about it, and her friend who was with us said, “Well, maybe we should call the police.” He said, “Okay, call the police.” Because he’s thinking,
the police are gonna come and protect him against
this aggressive dog. And he even keeps going
to where he’s going to the block, and when the police came, and they send out now in gentrified areas, they’ll send out six police
cars for one little incident. So all these police cars
pull up and he saw them, and he walked back up the block, because he just knew that
the police were coming to assert his right to be
able to walk down the street without being bitten
by an unrestrained dog, and he ended up being arrested. It’s just things like that. We stood out there and
we taped it and we went. So they released him, but if
we hadn’t been standing there and taping it, and this
is a 15-year-old kid. So what path does that lead him on, that they’re arresting him at 15? And she’s saying, “Well, I was scared. “I didn’t know if he
was going to come back “and try to hurt me or something. “He was so mad.” And just so many things
like that that happen. It’s just scary that maybe
they aren’t killing leaders, but young black men are
being locked up or killed. Well, the statistics are just amazing. It’s like what future do they have. At least in our public
schools in Washington, they aren’t being educated, either. So. I think it manifests
itself in a different way. – I mean, so part of
what that story just says is that, and we all know
this, I guess, to be true, is that just the kind of
existence of Black people, the kind of ritual of
walking down the street now also means that you can be arrested without any provocation. We know this is true, but to hear story after story and knowing people who’ve experienced it. – It’s like, how dare you. The part of the city we live in. I mean, first place, Washington
has always been known as chocolate city, right, but now all of a sudden, we’re mocha city. And the corridor that I live in was like, when I was growing up in a segregated, when there was De Jure segregation, this is where all the
Black businesses were. This was our neighborhood. And now, that it’s been, we
fought for revitalization, and got all this investment there. And now since they got some, everybody’s being pushed
out of the neighborhood, and people will call in
and complain to the police if you’re sitting on your front porch. When African Americans
in a hot summer evening in Washington, that’s what you do is sit on the front porch. And people just call in and say, “Well, they must be out
there dealing drugs.” Or “they’re up to no good.” It’s really horrible, the way
that’s been institutionalized. – So I guess I have two
additional questions. One is about Black women
who are also being killed by police officers. – I shouldn’t make it sound like it’s all–
– No, no. – But they do, I think they do see Black men as a bugaboo, you know. – But I just to say,
when we have these cases. – Like Sandra Bland. – Sandra Bland, his funeral,
I attended in Chicago, and it was, you know, it’s devastating. – It was. – And Rekia Boyd, who was
killed by a police officer in Chicago in North Lawndale, and recently, Sandra Bland and
Rekia have gotten attention, but still not, when Black
women or Black girls die at the hand of police officers, it’s rarely the catalyst for action. – Like they’re expendable. – Expendable, and there’s
sometimes a time lag or delay between when the movement, even in Black Lives Matter catches up to these women’s deaths. So I just wanted, because
you know, I asked Patrisse, before this, as well, how do you explain the time lag when movements
are primarily led by women, when the origins are feminist in impulse. Why do you think that there sometimes is a real time lag between acknowledgment or recognition of these
women’s lives as worthy of organizing around and you know, when people kind of spring to action? I’m just, you know, it’s
something I’m just wrestling with and thinking about. – I think too much of the
general culture is male-oriented. – Okay (laughs). So it’s a male-dominated culture. So do you think it’s, I mean, is it internal, you know,
or how the organizer? I mean, how did you all
deal with these things? Right, so, I mean that’s,
was there a time lag? Was there a delay or did you feel like you were wrestling with
these things in real time? And maybe you were,
it’s just that the world didn’t know that you were, or the world didn’t want
you to acknowledge this. – I was trying to think, you know. I think we just saw
people as being oppressed. I don’t think that we
looked at that particular, that particular issue. – So if the community, whoever
in the community they were equally oppressed. – Yeah, but I agree about Sandra Bland. That was very upsetting. – Yeah. No, it’s just. – And even beyond that, to be honest, one of the things that I wrestled with because I retired from government in 2006, and since then, I’ve led
this organization called Hope and a Home that’s a program for low-income homeless families. And what we’re doing is trying to help people remake their lives. And this summer, we had some very, very deep conversations with the young people in our program, because
there was so much going on with violence, and one hand,
you want to talk about it, and you want them to struggle against it. On the other hand, you
want them to survive, too. And it’s, from that perspective,
it’s a big challenge. – So a lot of the young
women that I work with or our organization works with live in communities that are
over-policed on one hand and under-policed in other areas have family members who are incarcerated, parents, oftentimes who have been killed within the community or
died of drug-related, because of drug-related situations. And then at the same time,
they’re also experiencing like disproportionate forms
of gender-based violence, sexual assault and domestic violence. And so what’s interesting is that they, these girls at the kind of like vortex, or they live at the deep intersections of multiple forms of violence. And perhaps because of
that, they remain invisible. But what strikes me as, again, unique about the moment that we’re in, that pulls from the Black Panther party and from SNCC is trying to
make these things all visible, equally visible and not
have kind of competition amongst you know violence. But it’s still again,
seems very difficult. – No, it’s very true. I just read something
in the Washington Post in the past few days of a young woman who as a very young teenager was raped. And knew, I think in
most instances like that, they know who the person is, and they went to the police, and after a lot of this,
that, and the other, she ended being charged
with lying to the police because whoever was doing it just got away with it. And she was taken from her family, put in foster case, and went through. So now she’s just, the reason
it was being written about is she’s just emerged, you know, she’s now independent. And they forced a review of it, and the police chief had
to admit that it was wrong, and they were gonna go back and reopen it, but when you think about the impact on her life, it’s just horrifying that there was so much. I keep doing that, I’m sorry. There was so much sexism there within the police department that they, it was so easy for them to say oh, she’s just lying or to buy into what person’s saying, oh you can’t believe what this girl says. And that is troubling. – And it’s obviously a pipeline for incarceration of young girls. It’s one of the key, actually, the indicators of incarceration. At least, this report recently came out from the Ms. Foundation. Sexual assault is like a precursor to being incarcerated for Black girls and girls of color. – And the other pattern that
I see in the work I do is when there’s dysfunction in a family and I’m working with them, I can almost always tell
when the mother was abused as a child. There’s just certain behavior patterns that you know, just never
knowing who they could trust or just having a whole different thing. It’s very sad when you see that repeated. When you see the impact
that that’s now had on a whole family, because, and the mother really is
struggling for her children, but it was so dysfunctional
the way she was treated when she was young is just horrible. Horrible. – So one of the final
questions I have for you is the current work that
you do is an extension of your work in the Panther party. And there was a report
a couple of years ago about African American
men being pushed out through being mass incarcerated, just unfortunate, we know this. But the report also said
African American women are disproportionately being evicted. So you have these two groups that constitute working
class African American, not always, but middle
class, sometimes lower class, literally either being part of the state, because they’re being
incarcerated or homeless, because they’re being
kicked out of their housing. And so I don’t know if
you see in your work, you know, this– – That’s why I do the work that I do. – So can you just talk about– – Well, you know, my last job, when I was working in
the city government was as the city’s homeless czar, because we were trying to reform the way that the city was addressing homelessness. And during that period
was when the real estate market got really crazy in Washington. And all of a sudden, these huge prices, property that you never
thought was that valuable before now is worth a million dollars. And all that was happening. And what I was seeing
where I was sitting was many, several nights a week, I’m going out to a fire where
I’m sure it’s been arson because the owner of the
building just lit it up so that they could. We had very strong tenant
laws in Washington. So if you want to change
the use of a building, you have to give certain amount of notice. You have to give people money, and there’s all these laws. So to avoid it, people are
lighting up the buildings, or just all these things happening. And I go there, and I see
a disproportionate number of Black women who were
there with their children, and you saw what was a
functioning household, and they’re bewildered
because now they don’t have a place to live. There’s nothing else in the housing market for them to turn to, and we would at least make the landlord pay for a certain amount
of putting them up in a hotel, but invariably, if they didn’t have many resources, they’d end up in a family shelter. And I felt that between, after having been in a family shelter between 30 to 90 days, I could see a family lose all the fabric of their family life, that it just tore it all apart. Because they’re living out in some place that’s far from where they had lived. The children, you try to keep the children in the same school, but it’s an effort to get them there. The mother has little if any control over what’s going on. They’re living in substandard conditions. And you would just see it deteriorate. And that’s become the
norm in Washington now. So you have all this
expensive real estate, and you have women feeling
like they have no control over what can happen to their families. And these are working women. These weren’t women who were on welfare. These are women who
work, but they don’t make enough money to pay rent in the city. And so that’s what I struggle
for is equitable development, and for finding ways to help
people continue their lives, because I believe in my people. I don’t think that they
should just be cast aside. Or did anybody see the
movie The Big Short. I mean, that’s what it’s about where Wall Street was
betting against minorities and poor people. And they made a whole
lot of money off of it, and that’s part of what
led to this whole era. I mean, it’s really horrible. – I mean, I think it’s (mumbles). Well, I mean– – Is it becoming depressing? (audience laughs) – My followup question was gonna be, is really depressing,
because I was thinking, about that scene, that moment, when you talked about seeing that mother and then recently I was. So I’m a mother of a three
and a half year old girl and a four month old boy, and the other day I was on NPR listening to radio in Flint, and there was a mother, who was an organizer in Flint. She’s been a community
organizer for a very long time, and now has to think about leaving Flint. And she talked about
giving her daughter a bath, and how the ritual,
again, back to these ideas of rituals of living,
walking down the street, getting bitten by a dog
and then getting arrested. Giving your child a nightly
bath and now that bath is, you can’t do it.
– You don’t know – what the long-term implications will be for your child.
– Exactly. – And so, I’m having a
similar visceral response to the story of the fire. – And do you see people, I hope this isn’t offensive to people, but when
things happen to parents, everybody was just
(speaks foreign language). Do you see anybody saying I am Flint? You know, what reaction do people have, you know, it’s horrible, horrible. And there’s still, nobody has really yet come up with any solutions. – But it just seems to me that this– – They’re still talking real estate value. The last thing I watched on that, they said the problem is
that replacing the pipes, the houses aren’t worth
as much as it costs to replace the pipes. So what they’re saying is these people who live in these houses are worthless because they can’t see. They don’t think that’s a good investment to replace the pipes in their houses. – So it just seems to me,
and I’m gonna open it up. This is where the Panther
platforms were so useful, because it enabled us to see that racial injustice is
not only police brutality or police violence, which it is, but to think about the various ways in which families and
individuals and communities are impacted by systemic racial violence and gender inequity and capitalism, and then came up with a
whole bunch of different types of solutions and
programs to address that. And this is again the era that we’re in, where we’re seeing this kind of emergence. It’s almost like a, you
know, hydro, many heads of racial injustice with Flint. We have Chicago. We have, you know, Detroit ongoing, whether it’s schools, Baltimore. I mean, it’s, you know, and yet to resolve or to deal with these things honestly and sincerely, requires
so many different types of strategies and
programs and revolutionary belief and love, I think. So I just want to thank you for that. And this is why the
Panthers are so important, because they gave us many answers, and– – But we were inspired by
many of these same things that are still happening. – Yeah. – And felt that we should not accept them. – I’m gonna open it up to the audience. You can obviously ask Lynn. You can ask me questions,
too, but you know, you can ask them to Lynn. So I’ll call on people. So in the green. – [Student] Hello, thank
you for speaking today. So my question is first, do you think racial injustice is a
public health problem, and if it is, what would be
the public health solution that a department of health could do? – Well, my sister’s
here who has a Master’s in public health. Maybe she can answer that. (audience laughs) But I think that it is
a public health problem. I think that violence is
a public health problem. I think that, I don’t
think you can separate any of these issues from public health. And perhaps the fact that
so many things are accepted says that we don’t even live in a mentally healthy society, that
people accept these things. But the only way it changes is for people to struggle against them. There’s no one person who has the answer and no one organization. It requires everyone
in whatever you choose as your path in life
to struggle against it. In fact, in this course that I teach, I teach at UVA history
of civil rights movement, I know that none of those
students that I’m teaching are gonna go major in
civil rights and be a, but what I consider it is you think of. Once you have these ideas,
you think of yourself as having a really bad cold. And you think that when
you sneeze on somebody, they catch your germs. And I think that we all have an obligation to try to sneeze on as
many people as we can to help change even the way
people think about things. So in whatever path you
choose for yourself, please sneeze on people. (audience laughs) – In the, I don’t know what color that is. – [Student] Camel, camel. Hi, my question was about
you shared the story about like the murdering of Fred and how the police
officers had that picture and laughed at it. And it made me think about now, like if a young Black male is murdered, it’s like public backlash,
like it’s a thing. We make it very clear that it’s not okay, but at the end of the day,
like you already said, like young Black males
are still being murdered at these alarming rates,
so I guess my question is what is the role of public
backlash in these murders? How do you think it’s
symbolic of shifting time, and do you really think
it has a big impact? – I think we have to keep fighting back. I read, there was an article in today’s New York Times where they were comparing the impact of this movement
on New York versus Chicago, and saying that, you all live in New York. I don’t live here. But they were saying that there has been much more reform in Chicago
in terms of addressing how police officers approach things. In Chicago, those police
officers are saying that the reason there’s
so many murders there is because the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter
come out so harsh on them if they do enough, that they just turn their backs on things. – In Chicago. – In Chicago. I mean, it was incredible
that they even claim this, and that they don’t see any solution. And the statistics are
getting worse in Chicago, whereas they were saying in New York, at least there’s some improvement. – So they’re blaming Black Lives Matter and the ACLU for police shooting– – Because they’re saying
whenever they shoot someone, they now have to fill out reports on the interaction, and first they say the reporting takes too long, because the questions are too involved and it takes them away from the streets. And they claim that they’re
gun-shy because of this. – But it doesn’t seem
like they’re gun-shy. – No, heck no. – I mean, I just wanted
that on the record. – They go somebody’s calling for help because their mentally ill
son is having an episode, and it ends up that not
only is the mentally ill son murdered but their neighbor is murdered. It’s like, you know, it’s just. That’s why I’m so really feeling the way I’m feeling about Chicago police. It’s like it’s so inbred. They just really feel
entitled to do these things, and don’t think that they
should be held accountable by anyone. – And it’s not ironic, I suppose, but the fact that, you know,
the we charge genocide movement was successful in a sense
of getting reparations for men who’ve been
tortured, in particular, tortured by police officers there. This is coming on the kind of the heels of that, right, like you have the– – Are you talking about the Burge? – Yes, and the– – The main lawyer for
that was, he started out as our lawyer, and they were just out of law school and they called
themselves the People’s Law. That was Flint Taylor, a really good guy. – And so, and then you have this moment of reparations, and then yet, all of, at the same time, you
know, all this cover up has been going on and was going on. It’s kind of tales of two Chicagos. – Well, for years, they didn’t even think they had to cover it up, because they weren’t held accountable. – Exactly, yeah. Yes, and then the girl over here. The stripes. – [Student] Stripes, yeah. Or you talked a lot about how
the Black Panther movement, you said the average age was under 25. The Black Lives Matter movement is a very youth-centered movement. I was wondering if you
could make on change in how we educate youth to sort of create the most effective and empowered youth organizers we can so maybe the next generation of revolutionaries doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. – Like I said, if I had the answer, I’d win the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m encouraged that they’re young. And I think it’s great. We used to say, “Youth
makes the revolution.” And we used to try to be very thoughtful about the way we even dealt
with our own children, because you know, that’s a quotation from Chairman Mao, but
youth makes the revolution. So your experiences are
different from ours. One of the only constant
things in life is change. So each generation looks to the next to be the one that really
makes the ultimate change to bring the ultimate solution. – I guess for me what’s inspiring, too, is the ways in which, because it’s such a, it’s a young movement, both
in terms of chronology, but also youth led, but the questions or the
demands that they’re making on even my generation about what kinds of Black lives should matter are really, really important and
significant and radical. Right, like, because it’s a generation that have grown up with
more gender fluidity, outwardly so, and really challenging like heteronormativity in radical ways. So it just keeps on, I think it’s pushing my generation and then your generation to really, really be deeply inclusive. And I think it’s a
movement in which you see like self-correction. Like how do you keep on centering those who are most marginal, even within the African American community, right? How do you use those who are most, sorry, value the experiences of those who are most marginal as a way of creating a radically democratic feature. I mean, I think that, you know, like, my generation, and I’m like
the hip hop generation. I think we were wrestling
with these questions and really and in some ways are part of, but it’s really just, it’s amazing to see at its best, the ways
in which what we took for granted as like normative
or being challenged. And yet there’s this
sense that blackness is this open, fluid, rich category that is inclusive of so many different. I mean, I think that’s both like new, but also echoing the kind of tensions and the issues that
previous movements were really thinking about. Yes, oh. And then, yeah, and I’m calling everyone with their color, gray
and then stripes again. (audience laughs) Anyone back there, please let me know. – Just wave your hand. – [Student] Thank you both
for this conversation. It was a privilege to be here for it. I have a question kind of relating to your Chairman Mao reference, which is I think of the
Black Panthers movement and its influence internationally, and the kinds of conversations
that were happening in the height of the
anti-colonial movement. I was just in Australia and was meeting with indigenous Aboriginal
activists who talked about the Black Panthers
inspired their movement. And I just wonder what either of you have to say about the kind of global context of the current movement
or how the international shape your thinking then and now. Thank you. – Hm, well, we were
international in scope. And it’s always, it seems
like that I’m always hearing about another place where
people say we were influences. It’s pretty amazing. The Chairman Mao thing
was we looked to Mao and the Chinese revolution,
and it’s interesting, because when I visited
China, some of my feelings about Chairman Mao might
have changed a little bit. (audience laughs) But I guess I’m not giving a very, you might be able to give
a deeper answer to this, but I just see it as an
affirmation that people feel that way, and we were even surprised. It wasn’t that we were
intentionally saying, let’s reach out to Aboriginal
people in Australia. We were just saying this
is how the world should be and this is how people should be treated. And the big affirmation
is that that resonated with so many different people in so many different circumstances that’s it’s just amazing, amazing. – I mean, I’ll speak on what I’ve heard. I guess, Opal Tometi was talking about how going to Germany
and Black Lives Matter kind of a different version. It’s almost like German,
Afro-German version emerging there. And then I remember
following when, I guess, a group of Black Lives
Matter activists here went to Ghaza, went to Palestine, right. So on one hand kind of linking struggles and then at the same
time also coming to terms with the fact that like
anti-Blackness is also like a global phenomenon, right. So that there are these important sites of solidarity and also
there’s a kind of a commonness of like an anti-Blackness that I think. It’s kind of a useful term that I also emerges in this moment. There’s like white supremacy, racism, and then the kind of
specificity of anti-Blackness. So I think your question, I
mean, that’s another thing that wonderfully comes out of the film, but I also think there’s a way in which we think of these anti-racist movements in the United States as
solely kind of gaining access to the United States and
getting full citizenship, but if we think about most
of anti-racist movements have been international. So there are always, whether, if we think about DeBois and the Bandan conference or we think about Garby’s many. We think about King going
to (mumbles) ceremony when he becomes. You know, so, even the
civil rights movement, the movement that we don’t think of– – It’s tied to anti-colonialism. – Exactly. – We used to say that if you looked at the common link between
colonized societies. Basically, the way we, maybe
somebody who’s an economist would differ with me,
but the way we viewed being colonized was that somebody came in and conquered you. And you had an asset in your country, whether it’s sugarcane
or gold or whatever, and they came because
they wanted that asset. And they would sort of
just change your society so that everybody’s working
to produce this asset for them, and then you
ultimately are divorced from your own culture and your own ways of supporting yourself. So you even maybe have to start relying on them to even buy groceries, because you’ve stopped
doing all the other things. And we always thought of ourselves, African Americans, as
being the archetypical colonized people, because not only were we colonized, but we
were colonized for labor. So they totally divorced us from our land and brought us here to provide free labor to build this wonderful country. And you know, so I really
see that as the link that we all have in common. – [Student] Thank you for being here. I was thinking about your question with regard to time lag
when violence happens to African American women. And what I thought about was at least some of the statistics saying how many of our households are led by women. And I know with my contemporaries, if one of my friends was murdered, there’s a lynch pin of
both an older generation that will suffer and a younger generation that would suffer. So there’d be this huge vacuum there, and this hole that might exist
where people can’t protest as quickly, maybe if, when we lose men. And in this time
especially with my friends, closer to my 40s now,
and they have real fear about their sons not coming home and their daughters being abused. And while we want to make a better world for our children and protest, we’re trying to figure out how to maintain some sense of home and community. How do you do that, or how did
you do that, living in fear? Cause even in protest, you
had to have lived in fear. How do you do that? – We didn’t have all the answers, now, but that was, I think that’s the story of African Americans in this country, generation after generation is that fear, whether it’s somebody
who’s not being compliant enough as a slave person. So they’re whipped to death
or otherwise tortured. Or whether it’s an enslaved
woman being sexually abused by someone who thinks that they own her. Or on into you know, after civil war, where the Great Migration,
that’s why people left, going North, thinking they
were gonna find a better world. They found a different set of problems, but got away from the media. I mean, that’s the recurring problem. And the only thing you
can do is to be strong for yourself and your family, because the one thing that you have in that situation is the love and support that you have for each other. I have three nephews. I come from a very large family, and I have three nephews
who live at my house now in Washington. And I hear a gunshot in the neighborhood, and I’ll call up and
see is everybody okay? And they think oh, you’re so silly. But it’s like I know what
could happen, you know. And that never completely goes away. Only thing you can do is stand strong. – Becky has a, Becca. – [Becky] Becky. – Okay, that’s what I thought,
but I was like (mumbles). – [Becky] But this question
is not from me actually. – Oh, okay, okay. – [Becky] We got a question
through the livestream. – Oh, okay. – [Becky] Which I’m going to read to you. I know it’s really exciting. This is the first time
this has ever happened, so. So I’m just gonna read it. Good evening. First, thank you for hosting
such a timely discussion. I’m working on my dissertation on women in the Black Panther party at
the University of Connecticut. My question, I was wondering
if Lynn had thoughts about the silence on Black
women’s vulnerability. I wonder if she had thoughts
on the Daniel Holtzclaw case and the sexual
assault of 13 Black women? – Okay, what was the first part? Silence of what? – [Becky] Silence of Black
women’s vulnerability. – If you had thoughts on the silencing around Black women’s vulnerability. Okay. – I don’t know that I have anything else. I’m not familiar with that case, I’m embarrassed to say, so I can’t. – I can speak on the case,
but maybe you could talk about what it meant to be. I don’t know I’m trying
to help this person with their dissertation. (audience laughs) The particular ways in which
black women are vulnerable in the Panther party. – Oh, she’s talking
specifically about Black women– – And then we can talk
about the Holtzclaw case. – I know that there are things out there where people have
asserted different things about Black women in
the Black Panther party, and I didn’t personally
experience any of that. And to draw an analogy, this isn’t. Maybe you won’t be sympathetic to this, but I recently went to
Cuba with my daughter, and with a dear sister
friend from the party. And we were at the women’s center, and we were talking with a
woman who’s on central committee of Cuba and somebody asked, “What do you do in terms of
domestic violence in Cuba?” and “Do you have shelters for the women “who are abused and do
you have special ways “to do this, that, and
the other for them?” And the woman’s response was, “In Cuba, “domestic violence is illegal.” And she kept saying that back. And then finally, it was like, okay. So if there’s domestic violence, the man is locked up and
the woman is, you know. And that’s basically how
I feel about it, too. If I saw something like that, I definitely wouldn’t be silent on it. But without knowing what specific thing she’s talking about,
I don’t know what else I could say. – Well, maybe you could talk a little bit about women who are pregnant and who are locked up by. I mean, because one of
the things, at least, in terms of some of the,
more high profile cases that we know about with Panther women, who are locked up, they
were oftentimes pregnant. And so I know this year,
the governor of New York just passed, or I guess last year, legislation that if women
who are incarcerated, they couldn’t be shackled
while they were in labor. That’s a really radical, not radical. That’s a radical thought, I suppose, even though it’s the most, you know, for anyone who’s been, whatever,
I don’t have to explain why that’s so necessary. But it does strike me as there are ways in which Panther women
experience state violence because they were mothers or
because they were pregnant that we don’t, you know, talk about, but that are unique or maybe, kind of specific vulnerability that women. I don’t know if that’s what this person. – I don’t know if that’s what that, see, I can’t– (audience mumbles) Yeah. – Okay, well, no one wants. Well, I mean, the Holtzclaw case, again, this idea of time lag, but I think some people are
more familiar with it now. He was a police officer who
systematically raped African– – Oh, the man in the midwest, okay. I know that.
– Yeah, yeah. – In Oklahoma City. – I didn’t remember his name. And he just got locked
up for a million years or something? – 265, 65 yes, yeah. But I mean, primarily,
I mean, I don’t know, this person asked me this question, but I do feel familiar with the case and feel comfortable talking about it. I mean, again, talking about time lags, like this is a case in which
you have police violence. – Against women who were sex workers, so they weren’t, so nobody
gave any credibility to their– their points, right?
– And the reason that it came – came forward was
because one of the women was they call her like a grandmother, but it’s an older woman who had no record. And so she was the one
who felt comfortable going to the police. But I mean, again, the way
in which certain stories or certain victims of state violence get left out and left behind. And lot of it has to
do, the reason we know about these cases is a
lot of the organizing of Black American women
in Oklahoma City are just for justice in
particular, really led the way to create visibility around this issue. But what’s unusual is
that an all-white jury found him not guilty of all the charges, and so we have to, you know. Some women were believed more than others. But that an all-white
jury found him guilty, and this is the kind of
unprecedented obviously sentencing. Yeah, so, I mean, it’s yeah. Okay, so back there and then over here. Last, like second to last row. – [Student] So I heard you say earlier that you think one of the problems with police right is
how much they’re letting racism creep into their practices, and how maybe there could be a system of policing where that didn’t happen. And so I guess I’m curious,
a couple of things. One, if you think, as well,
that like prisons should exist and could be more just. And sort of just an extension of that, like what a just system of policing and justice and incarceration, whatever it might look like could be. – Well, I mean, I personally believe that there are certain crimes
that need to be punished like the police officer
who raped all these women. I think within that context,
prison is justifiable. It’s just that we’ve
gotten to the point now where prison is an
industry in this country. They’ve privatized the prisons so that in many instances
they’re no longer a public institution and because, and because there’s profit to be made, it’s almost like it’s in people’s interest to keep putting more and more people in so you can make more and more money. It sort of brings back to mind the period right after the reconstruction where really horrible things
happened in the South, and one of them was a
whole thing of peonage, where on one hand they would make it illegal for a Black person to be idle, but there were certain restrictions on what work you could do. So if you, let’s say you got arrested because somebody thought you looked at a white woman the wrong way, you could get locked up for 50 years. And then you would be sent to work on somebody’s plantation
to pick their cotton. So I think what you have to do is you have to separate whether prison is a function of legitimate
punishment for wrongdoing or if it’s something
that’s promoting somebody’s private wealth. And then once you do
it, people do have to, you know, like the whole
thing of putting people in the hole. I think that you, not
only should young people not be put in the hole
the way that present, but I think it’s abusive with adults, because you just make people worse. Somebody who could be perfectly sane, up there in the hole for two years, and they’re gonna be stark, raving mad when they come out. So I think that there does
need to be prison reform, but I don’t think that, I can’t perceive of a society where there’s no punishment for wrongdoing. I just think that the people
who are punishing people have to have, they have
to follow certain rules for proving that someone is a wrongdoer. And there has to be a really fair trial. And no one else should be
profiting from their punishment. Does that answer your question? Okay (laughs). – Oh, the green, and then the red. Thank you. – [Student] Hi. My name’s Erica Jones, and
I teach high school history. And I just want to say
thank you so much for coming and convening this conversation. And one of the questions
that I had for you is I’m just thinking about the comment that you made earlier in terms of being, you know, sort of delighted by seeing so many white people come out
and march for Michael Brown. And one of the things that
I’ve been thinking about is just I love the fact that you know, the Black Panther party was
so unapologetically Black, and I was hoping you
could actually speak to, you know, some of the
tensions with, you know, sort of white involvement
and anti-racist movements. And I’m thinking
specifically about, you know, for instance, there’s
several you know, protests and sort of candle light
vigils for Michael Brown. And I’m thinking about ways in which many Black people see that
as, you know, sort of ownership of a safe
space in order, you know, to seeing liberation movements as being that safe space for Black people. And ways in which that can be
disrupted by white presence, and sort of a re-centering of whiteness and you know, perhaps even a
co-opting of those movements. And I was hoping you
could speak a little bit to that tension in so far as thinking about white ally-ship, but also you know, maintaining safe spaces
to practice liberation for Black people. – I don’t agree with that at all. You know, I was just saying that I think that things will, I think
that you’ve got to have white people agree that
Black lives matter, or you’ll still have the
same cycles in this country. That’s where I was coming
from with that comment. We had similar things to that in the ’60s. As you say, we were
unapologetically Black, but there were certain
movements and people that we had disagreements with. For example, I don’t know
if I should call any names. Well, Weatherman, I don’t know if you know what Weatherman was. Well, in Chicago, the
national headquarters of Weatherman was walking
distance down the street from our headquarters on West Madison. And on one hand, they were big allies, but on the other hand, they were always trying to push us to do
things that we didn’t think were the right thing to do. So for example, they had this period where they had days of rage. I don’t know if as a historian, I don’t know if anybody’s
ever read about days of rage, where they were going down to the downtown Chicago to the Loop to demonstrate and they thought all these
people would turn out, and they didn’t, so they trashed downtown. And they did a lot of damage. And as they retreated, they
ran up into public housing. And none of them were shot. None of them were shot. None of them had any long-term
implications to their lives, and some young Black
guys were actually shot by the police, who were
supposedly pursuing them. So we had to have some serious
words with them about that. And it may have even been more than words, but we had to seriously
register our disagreement with that, because on
one, you know, one hand, they saw themselves as
pushing the right thing, but what they were doing
was being insensitive to who was paying the price for that. Or even if you look at
once they went underground, they went underground
when Fred was murdered. And they were underground
for a number of years, and they were bombing places, and then when they turned
themselves back in, they, I haven’t seen
anybody pay any, you know. I’m not saying that they
should have been given life sentences, but can you imagine. If they’re still Panthers,
there are Panthers who are still locked up. Can you imagine the tables
having been turned on that, what would have happened
to us if we, you know, if we had done something like that. So I agree that there are
different sensibilities, and I think that we do have
to own our own movement, and we do have to be true to what we see. What I see in Black Lives Matter is that Black people are leading it. Whether white people want
to support it or not, I think it’s great for them to support it, but what’s important is that it’s these young Black women who have
initiated this movement, and that people are following it. That in and of itself
to me is progressive. – [Woman] Thanks. So I’ve been thinking about
how to ask this question. And I want to try to
get you to talk a little bit more about being a woman in the party. I know that a lot of things are controlled by a male-dominated media, and you know, the images
we have that the party was a vanguard in feminist thinking,
as well as in other ways, but at the same time, it’s kind. When I was in New Haven in 1969-70 and attended many
meetings, public meetings, I can’t remember a single one that had a female person up on the stage. I can visualize these images. (they mumble over each other) – Of that period is one
of my dearest friends, a woman Audrea Jones. Women were directing that.
– So my question– – [Woman] My question is can
you, did you ever encounter, were the men just already
so completely good and perfect about their feminist ideology that they were, those were never issues, that the men really didn’t
want to take the lead and they wanted the women to be equally. I just wanted you to say a little more about whether there were
times when those were issues or it was really
already kind of worked out in a way that it never presented itself. – Nothing has ever worked out, just as, even if your friend,
you have a white friend who says that they agree
that racism is bad. It doesn’t mean that you
won’t disagree on things. Nothing is every completely
worked out with people. Struggle continues. I wasn’t around New Haven, but I do know that there were women who not only were paying huge consequences in terms of being locked up. – [Woman] Oh yeah, absolutely. – But also who were leading that, but no. It wasn’t.
– I mean I guess – I was just curious, were there times when the
men were sort of trying to struggle to make the feminist case? Or it was really already made in a way that didn’t– – I guess, I mean, as a part
of my interviewing people, with trying to wrestle with this question, and you know, Elaine Brown
and the documentary says, that the men didn’t come
from revolutionary heaven, that they had to. And then Tracy talked about you know, a little bit about you
know, living together and really, and the struggles. – It’s that they always struggled. – Yeah, that it was, I mean that, I mean everyone’s a product of the same patriarchal society that they’re trying to imagine an alternative,
and yet there were real, you know, battles, I think, come about, when you’re trying to change. – You never heard a
woman speak at any rally. – [Woman] I don’t remember that. I’m not saying I didn’t,
but my own imagination. – I have to ask about that. I just can’t, I mean, I know Donnie Miranda was probably the most, the one who was the most vocal there, and he was somebody who submitted to the leadership of Audrea Jones. Because when this started, there wasn’t a chapter in New Haven. The closest chapter was Boston, and it was led by a woman. And they came down there, but you know, I didn’t mean to imply
that there were never any disagreements or
that people didn’t think they couldn’t do one thing or another. There were people who
were purged from the party for sexist things and for trying to take advantage of people. I mean, it’s a, life is a struggle. And being in the party
was a struggle, but, – I guess for me, what’s
been most interesting is we have these narratives of feminism. – Yeah. – And the Panthers are not
part of that conversation, or at least that historical remembrance. And yet there were real time debates. And the other thing I
guess I want to say is that from what my understanding is that a lot of times these
conversations pushed the party. Right, that women who were
befriending each other, who were fellow Panther members were really doing the newspaper, or through the education classes, having these conversations
and pushing the party to catch up with them. And that wasn’t easy. – No, it wasn’t easy. – But it was part of what was happening as people were defining themselves, and they’re trying to redefine a nation. And so I don’t think that– – At the same time, we were in New Haven fighting for Ericka Huggins’ life. – Exactly. – I mean, they wanted to send her to the, they wanted to send her and Bobby Seal to the electric chair. – Yeah. – So you know, you have to
keep that in mind, as well. – So one more final question. Hand up, over there. – [Student] I don’t need a mic. (audience laughs) (students mumble) – It’s a being taped, so (mumbles). – [Student] I need a mic. (audience laughs) – I just wanted to say
that I’m one of the youth who was in New Haven, and I did go to the
morning breakfast program. – [Lynn] In New Haven? – Yes, I did. And I believe it was on Congress Avenue. I forgot, I forgot, yeah. I lived in New Haven. And I was nine, eight,
something like that. And I did go to the
morning breakfast programs. I even came back after school, you know. I had to do my homework there, and stuff like that. And in the morning, the
men served us, right. And then when I came in the afternoon, for the after school program, that’s when I dealt with the women more so. They would sit us down and help us with our lessons and things like that. So what I noticed at that time was there were a lot of women in leadership, and it wasn’t because it
was like they were like who’s gonna run this and who’s. It had more to do with
whose jobs were what. And for instance, the teachers, you know, a lot of them had to be
somewhere early in the morning. The women, so the men were
the ones who took care of the breakfast programs
and stuff like that. But there was, I recall,
there was plenty of women who were doing things. I mean, they were organizing
and they taught me things at a young age, you know. And the men, it seemed
like the media was the one that showed all the men, you know. And sometimes it wasn’t
in a good light, you know. Lots of times the men were
out in the communities. They were just trying
to make sure that a lot of the police brutality and
stuff that was going down, they were kind of like
monitoring it and stuff. You know, so it was different
reasons why men were where they were at what time, and women were where they
were at what time and stuff. But it seemed like they were
working together pretty good. – [Woman] Thank you, that’s great. – And also people, you know, when it came to who’s gonna speak, everybody isn’t a public speaker. Everyone isn’t a public speaker, so I just can’t say anything more specific about that, cause I just
was never in New Haven. Yeah.
(woman mumbles) But I do know that there are assertions of, and I don’t deny
that there weren’t sexist things that happened. I just think that they were
dealt with differently. And that we struggled with them. – [Woman] Right, right. – Okay, thank you, thank you. (audience applauds) – Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you so much to our speakers tonight. Equal parts upsetting and inspiring, and lots of food for thought. You’ve received a booklet
with the next events for Black history month. We have a film showing
for 12 Years a Slave on Wednesday. Our webpage at Urban Demo’s at nyu.edu, has Urban Democracy Lab events. But once again, thank you. (audience applauds) (digital music)

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