June 29, 2014

A Black Dyke Reflects on the Panthers

[It's Pride, at least here in NYC. In honor of that fact, I am posting here an article that Comrade Google suggests is not otherwise available on the Internet. It appeared as one of a stunning roundup of pieces by Black LGBTQ writers in The Advocate in one issue in the 1990s, under the irresistible title "Black Out."

By me, they should all be online, but I am posting this one for obvious reasons. It is by Alycee Lane, then a grad student at UCLA. In it she discusses what the Black Panther Party had meant to her—as an elementary school "baby dyke" in Buffalo and then later as she learned about Huey Newton's famous speech in which he welcomed the women's and gay liberation movements and called on the BPP to work with them. That was in 1970 when the modern queer movement was first erupting in all its Stonewall-fueled glory—and when many other self-styled revolutionary and socialist organizations shied away from it, or adopted appallingly homophobic stances. 

There's a lot about our history to be learned from this short piece, and there's always a chance that it won't be up at Fire on the Mountain forever, so if you agree with me on its importance, I encourage you to save it and to make sure others have access.]

The Black Panther Party And Gay Liberation

By Alycee Lane

I really wanted to be a member of the Black Panther Party when I was younger. I imagined myself one day galvanizing the other kids in my neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., and conducting a righteous raid on that one house I passed on the way to my integrated school—that horrifying white house that donned, hatefully, a sprawling banner stained with the curse WHITE POWER. Yeah, I was going to conduct a righteous raid. I figured this was the Panther thing to do, especially since I had seen the brothers walking proudly with their guns, policing the police, who were, in my young opinion, somehow connected to the curse.

In spite of their guns and "baaad black man" attitudes, it never occurred to me to feel intimidated by or afraid of the Panthers. For they never failed to greet me with love—"Good morning, little sister" and "How are you doing in school? Making those grades? Learning about your history?" I simply wanted to be with and be like them. I didn't know about the Panther

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June 28, 2014

For My 'rades in Jackson, A Poem of Mississippi Summer

[Some comrades of mine are among those gathered this weekend in Jackson MS for a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, or Mississippi Summer as we called it then. I post this poem for them.

I wasn't in Mississippi that summer. I was fourteen, not what the organizers were looking for, and my mother didn't think much of the idea either. So I followed it in the news.

When James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman disappeared on the night of June 21, we all pretty much knew what had happened. By a week later, 50 years ago tonight, there was no doubt.

This poem by John Beecher, a white southerner, a communist and a people's poet, locates Summer, 1964 in the long battle for freedom. For me the closing stanza conjures up 1964 as little else can, save only the civil rights anthems we sang, North and South, as the freedom struggle advanced.]

For the 60th Anniversary of the Beecher Memorial
United Church of Christ in New Orleans, Louisiana,
October 25, 1964

Old church with the same name as my own
you and I were born in the same year
It has taken two generations to bring us together
Now here we are in New Orleans
meeting for the first time
I hope I can say the right thing
what the man you are named for
might have said on one of his better days
He was my great-great-uncle
but come to think of it
he was instrumental in my founding too
Rolled in a tube at home I have a certificate
signed by Henry Ward Beecher
after he had united my grandfather and grandmother
in the holy bonds of matrimony
at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn
The year was 1858
and James Buchanan was President
The South was riding high
making the North catch and send back its escaped Negroes
and it looked to most people
as if slavery was going to last forever
but not to Henry Ward Beecher
which I suppose is why you named your church for him
He certainly helped change all that
together with his brother Edward and his sister
whose name was Harriet
and Mr. Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant
and a large number of young men
who wound up under the long rows of crosses
at Gettysburg Chickamauga Cold Harbor and such places

Nineteen hundred and four was a better year
than 1858
and the building of this church was a sign of it
It was no longer a crime to meet and worship by yourselves
with your own preacher
your own beautiful songs
with no grim-lipped regulators to stand guard over you
nobody breaking up your services with a bull-whip
Yes this was some better
Booker T. Washington was in his hey-day
the apostle of segregation
"We can be in all things social as separate as the fingers"
he said and Mr. Henry Grady the Atlanta editor
applauded him to the echo
as did all the other good white folks around
and they said
"This boy Booker has a head on his shoulders
even if it is a nappy one."
Dr. Washington was 48 years old at the time
but you know how southern whites talk
a man is a boy all his life if he's black
Dr. Washington was a pragmatist
And settled for what he could get
When they announced that dinner was served in the dining car
he ate his cindery biscuits out of a paper bag
and when George the porter made up berths in the Pullman
he sat up all night in the Jim Crow coach
Because of his eminently practical attitude
Dr. Washington was successful in shaking down
The big white philanthropists
Like C.P. Huntington the railroad shark
or was it octopus
and Negro education was on its way.

Old church
since 1904
you and I have seen some changes
slow at first
now picking up speed
I have just come from Mississippi
where I saw churches like this one
burned to the ground
or smashed flat with bombs
almost like Germany when I was there in 1945
only these Negroes were not beaten people
They sang in the ashes and wreckage
such songs as We Shall Overcome
and Let My Little Light Shine
O Freedom! they sang
Before I'll be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
They sang I'm going to sit at the welcome table
I'm going to live in the Governor's mansion
one of these days
I heard three mothers speak
who had made the President listen
and "almost cry, or he made like he was about to cry"
when they told him how their homes had been dynamited
"It's not hard to be brave"
one of these mothers said
"but it's awful hard to be scared"
I expect see her statue on a column in the square
in place of the Confederate soldier's
one of these days

Slavery looked pretty permanent in 1858
when it had just five years to go
and now in 1964
the White Citizens' Councils and the Ku Klux Klan
think they can keep their kind of half-slave South forever
Their South isn't on the way out
It's already dead and gone
only they don't know it
They buried it themselves
in that earthwork dam near Philadelphia Mississippi
when they thought they were getting rid of the bodies

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June 22, 2014

SDS "Red Guards" Sum Up the Battle of People's Park, 1969

I am posting today a document from 1969, a summation of the Battle of People's Park in Berkeley, CA. It is one very cool document, for several reasons:

1. It reclaims another bit of the history of people's struggle from the Great American Memory Hole. Those who came up in the '60s will find their memories jogged, while younger folk will get a glimpse of a different period in our long battle to smash exploitation and oppression.

People's Park was created by radical students and community residents in Berkeley, CA on a trashed and abandoned lot on the University of California campus there. It embodied many of the strains of what we think of as The Sixties—a radical critique of the corporate multiversity and of capitalist property relations, a turn to "natural" rather than built environments, do-it-yourself approach to social change, direct action tactics. After a period of community meetings and articles in the local underground press, construction began on April 20, 1969. Residents donated tools, sod, plants, time and sweat.

California governor Ronald Reagan had run pledging to crack down on UC Berkeley students, whom he had called "communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants." Here was his chance. Overriding ongoing local negotiations involving activists, the U and the city, he sent cops in on May 15 to trash the park and erect an 8' chain link fence around the site.

A campus rally produced a march of thousands to liberate the park. Cops fought them off while Reagan's chief of staff Ed Meese ordered in hundreds of reinforcements from all over the Bay Area. The pigs used shotguns and rifles, killing student James Rector, who was watching from a roof and wounding over 100. Meese nrought in the National Guard, days of freeform street protest followed, and the park was eventually reclaimed.

2. The document is an impressive early attempt at summation in Marxist (and Maoist, to be more exact) terms of a major struggle by Red participants. In this case folks who had helped build the Park, and took part in the action summed it up, using the method of analyzing strengths and weaknesses, and looking at the class forces and political lines involved in the way the battle played out.

3. It is a glimpse at the birth pangs of new communist movement of the '70s. This can be seen most clearly in the polemics are delivered against other tendencies. Least effective (in retrospect) is the section targeting a Jim Mellon article on People's Park in New Left Notes (the newspaper of Students for a Democratic Society). Mellon was an early theorist for the trend that became the Weather Underground, while this paper is clearly aligned with the emerging RYM II trend. The authors of the article critique

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