I later became involved with the local chapter of the Black Panther Party, delivered the newspapers to our city of New Bedford MA from Boston, delivered clothing and food and was involved in the free breakfast and lunch program the BPP started in one of the black churches. At no time was I pushed out of the BPP.
From this experiment we developed a strong coalition called the Chicago Council of Community Organizations, again with Black and white organizational participation. When we hosted the New Politics Convention that nominated Dr. Spock and Dick Gregory for president and vice president, it was the UO that organized a Black caucus that held a grass root convention in Englewood.
Organizing in uptown (JOIN) and Englewood were the two main organizing projects of the UO. I always felt that we made a contribution to a lot of stuff. When you name the Black folk that were part of this experiment like SNCC folk, Earl Durham, Larry Landry, Alexander Ben, Rev. Archie Hargraves, T.W.O. organizers, Renee Davis, Bernadene Dorhn, Jane Adams, Mike James Al Rabe(sp?), folk from the Westside Organization, Oped Lopez, Maria Verela, etc. paints a different picture then the one you painted.
People left this experiment to almost everything that happened throughout the seventies. Not only Weathermen, but the The Midwest Academy, the Black Panther Party, The Farm Workers Union, those brothers who carried guns to the court house in New Mexico, Unversity Without Walls, etc. I actually think we came close to putting in practice what SNCC was talking about. I really think the Black Power discussion was dominated by the talkers while the organizers as usual were trying to subject the theory to practice and I think the Chicago experiment was an honorable attempt to make sense of nonsense.
I hope this small contribution don't cause too much anger. It is interesting to note that whites have yet to bounce back from environment, solidarity movements, women movements, labor, people of color (except Black), trees, whales, egles, snakes and almost anything but Black people since Black Power."
I have been working since SNCC with a "bottom-up" organizing concept a concept seeking to mimic much of what Ms. Baker pushed SNCC to do and what I think we came close to in Mississippi. At a time when the civil rights movement was sitting-in, marching, boycotting and freedom riding for public accommadations, Ms. Baker asked Bob Moses to go to Mississippi to talk with civil rights leaders there and ask them what SNCC could do to help. Amzie Moore, E.W. Steptoe and C.C. Bryant told him to help register Black folk to vote. When this proposal was placed before the SNCC staff and executive board it almost caused the death of SNCC. It was saved by Ms. Baker who suggested that SNCC have two wings, one direct action and one voter registration. In my mind this was the birth of"bottom-up organizing".
When the Oakland Black Panther Party complained that they were having problems gaining acceptance in the community after they went to the state house with guns...SNCC suggested a door-to-door survey to find out what the community wanted. The breakfast program was born. Again "bottom-up organizing."
In Mississippi the national focus for the civil rights movement became the right to vote and the cry "one man one vote" made it all the way to South Africa. In the case of the Panther Party the breakfast program produced a milieu in which community participation and acceptance was possible.
I think "bottom-up" produced Black Power. Before Black power most left and progressive thinking folk would have and did appreciate SNCC's battle cry in Mississippi, "let the local people decide." This meant that the script was flipped. All of us Black, white, educated, lawyers, doctors and all staff had to follow the leadership of the community. Now what would this look like in a pamplet written for the grass root community in a "bottom-up" organizing culture:
With this understanding whites deserted the Black movement for power and they have yet to return to this concept of organizing in the Black communities.
But the form of Black Power that was declared by Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture, that came later after me and Sam had left and come to California in '66. That form of Black Power where you separate yourself from your allies, regardless of what color they are, I don't go for that.
At least this is my experience. The Freedom School teachers for Shaw were delayed getting into town and starting the Freedom School there because the SNCC field secretary assigned to the town, a local man who had only a high school education, never showed up to lead us into the town, which had not previously experienced an CR activity. I met with him once later in the summer, and he told me he simply could not imagine how to deal with a dozen college educated white Northerners.
Throughout the summer, we encountered similar feelings on the part of some but not all of the SNCC staff, and at the end of the summer, at a debriefing in Jackson, these feelings surfaced with an explicit request that however much we wanted to stay to help with the struggle, would we please return to the North. We were told that many of the staff felt that we whites would overwhelm the organization, that the struggle was one that black people had to do by themselves if it was to be an authentic freedom movement. I didn't take notes, but I've always remembered what happened and was said this way.
I didn't have any choice; I had to get back to my wife and kids and graduate school, but I wanted to stay and continue to be a part of the struggle for the same reason I joined, to share the risk in the hope that I could help. I couldn't help if the local folks who's struggle it was couldn't feel it was their struggle, so I had to find other ways to work for social and economic justice.
A year later when Stokley came up with the slogan, I knew where it came from.
Black Power and Black nationalism have existed in this country ever since I can remember and probably a long time before I was born with Marcus Garvey and other groups. I think it has some good points and it has some bad points. I think one of the good points is that it more or less motivates Black people to rely on themselves. As Black people the one thing that we don't have that most other groups have is that they have a culture that they brought with them, that's been able to thrive through the centuries.
Yet I don't think this should be carried so far that you waste a lot of energy by getting too involved in their Blackness or whiteness or Asian- ness. For example, there was some Muslims from the Middle East who went to Black Muslim Temple #7 in New York one day to see what went on there. But there were not let in because they were too white. There was a big brouhaha.
So it made absolute sense to me, but I was struck by the vehemence with which it was attacked. So I did have to wonder, well, what did people think we were trying to do if that wasn't it? I was stunned by the vehemence, by the attacks, overnight it seemed to me. From "Friends of the movement." I was also struck by how much of the older leadership of the movement hurried to denounce it.
I was also struck by the fact that we weren't, we couldn't quite define it in a way that captured what we were talking about, in the context that we were talking about it, without succumbing. I wanted to defend it in a way that people would understand you bring people along we used to say in the South, you bring people along in their understanding. I was struck by how you couldn't do that on that term Black Power. refuse to say that it was a mistake. I wish that we'd been talking about power back in '62, you know, and bringing people along with us in that thinking.
There's also the thing about North versus South. They were then, and probably in a way they still are, different universes. People in the North don't hear you when you talk about people in the South. One thing that used to drive people nuts when I was in New York was that I would get annoyed and I would say, because of all the criticisms about the Southern movement, and these are among Black people now I'm talking about because what also is happening is the nationalist movement is solidifying in New York as it is in other large Northern cities. I would sit for hours, and finally I would blurt out, "You know, you people can't organize your own apartment building. Forget the block. You can't organize your own apartment building. Maybe your own floor you can't organize, or you won't organize. How dare you, critique an experience you know nothing about."