“We say we will work with anybody, and form a coalition with anybody, that has revolution on their mind.” –Fred Hampton
On December 4, 1969, I woke up to the news that Chairman Fred Hampton, the dynamic young leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, had been killed that morning in a pre-dawn police raid. He was 21. Taking his life had been the purpose of the raid.
That day marked a shift in my life. I was already showing up to protests and devouring movement culture, but now I joined organizations, planned actions, and sold the newspapers of the Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords Organization outside my high school.
Fred Hampton’s influence is still present in my organizer DNA and in my art. Key to that influence was the Rainbow Coalition, an alliance the Panthers fashioned along with the Young Lords and the Young Patriots. The latter was a white gang drawn from the southern migrant stream–poor, angry youth steeped in racist symbols. Instead of attacking the Patriots (or looking for some imagined middle ground) the Panthers argued that the conditions of police brutality, degraded housing and limited prospects they all faced could only be challenged with political unity. Before long, all the groups were setting up breakfast programs, clinics and police-watch patrols. The Patriots dropped their confederate flags.
Chairman Fred’s vision can be summarized in the principle “make a better offer.” Making a better offer – organizing around what we hunger for – is a longer road and a more complex task than lobbying for what might seem more “politically realistic”. But it’s a hopeful road, one that can take us to a place where we would want to live.