Moving a Movement: Takeaways from Bobby Seale

Following the Great Migration and Jim Crow era, black and brown people in America’s inner cities continued to face subhuman treatment at the hands of law enforcement. People of color were dealt the worst hand when it came to community services, access to healthcare, and public education.

Fifty years ago, in October 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton decided to do something revolutionary–they founded the Black Panther Party (BPP). Originally named the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the BPP’s core purpose was to monitor aggressive police behavior and challenge unlawful police activity. Additionally, the Black Panthers organized a number of social programs including free medical clinics, housing services, and most notably the Free Breakfast Program.

Recently the #blackwedesdays community visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture for Power to the People – A Conversation with Bobby Seale and Stephen Shames.  During the Q&A, we had the opportunity to hear Mr. Seale’s thoughts on Black Lives Matter and other burgeoning movements, like ours, purposed to shed light on police brutality and empower people of color. Below are the takeaways, juxtaposed with some classic 70s soul (see links).

  • Tighten Up– Organization is key to any major movement. When asked about Black Lives Matter, both Mr. Seale and Mr. Shames seemed confused about who was in charge. They said they were happy to hear one of the leaders is backing HIllary Clinton, but they didn’t remember the name.  Perhaps the reason why Black Lives Matter leadership seems elusive is because it’s leaders also leading other organizations. For growing movements, establishing organizational roles is important. Knowing who specifically is behind a movement can heavily influence recruitment.
  • Whatcha See is Whatcha Get- Mr. Seale is a program person, stating “I don’t care too much for over intellectualizing.” In comparing Black Lives Matter to the BPP, that’s where the line is drawn. Black Lives Matter started out as a hashtag, formulated into a movement, and in a sense has become a brand. Simply tweeting”#blacklivesmatter” gives way to debates on the meaning of the slogan or what is says about someone’s character if they promote it. Look at Colin Kaepernick.  On the flip side, the Black Panther Party was truly powered by people (no pun intended), never powered on words alone. They didn’t just say “Power to the People,” they lived by that code. They came together with the intent to act, not just talk. In order for our modern day movements to be more functional, it’s time for less analysis, less pontificating, more action.
  • Stay in My Corner– All great movements are backed by other great movements, it’s called a coalition. Mr. Seale said he was curious to see what partnerships BLM has fostered with other groups. He wasn’t just talking about a joint event, he was talking about identifying a point person from a wide range of organizations that can communicate the interest of the movement to their audiences, that’s pretty powerful. Mr. Seale said he’d love to see Black Lives Matter initiate jobs, programs, feeding schemes, and more, but that type of work requires collaboration.
  • We’re a Winner– If Mr. Seale said nothing else, he emphasized the importance of civic engagement. You could be a librarian, a councilperson, a judge- a custodian, just get in there! Change is going to be hard to come by when the same people hold office and city jobs.  Even Mr. Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland in 1973. Black and brown millennials have a few more opportunities available to them than youth in the 1960s and 1970s, and because of that we need to get involved. Here in Washington, D.C. the Mayor’s office hosts several meetings to discuss city issues that welcome feedback from the public. Go to one. If you’ve got a great corporate job and you participate in #blackwednesdays, you don’t have to quit and run for governor, but you can certainly get to a governor’s event and suggest supporting legislation that will protect people of color. Not ready for the big leagues? Find out the requirements join your neighborhood board or community garden club. Work what you got! We win when we are represented on all fronts.

The hope of #blackwednesdays is to organize, activate, collaborate, and involve ourselves in our communities so that we can be voice for equality and progress, and give that voice to others.

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