Ógra Shinn Féin
40 years on and the Black Panthers still provide inspiration and lessons for young progressive political activists.
The 1960’s was a time of great social change and upheaval, with the Cuban Revolution in its infancy, the Cold War at it’s height, the daily massacres in Vietnam being flashed across television screens, and the black civil rights movement in the US steamrolling forward.
In the north of Ireland, young people, students, workers and those who couldn’t get a job, joined together to demand civil rights, they where inspired by the positive and defiant actions of the black community in the USA.
The fraternal links between the Irish and black American’s have historic links, with an escaped black slave Frederick Douglas arriving in Ireland in 1845, to campaign in support for the anti slavery movement in the US, receiving backing from Daniel O’Connell.
The 1960’s was a time to take action, struggles across the globe showed that they could only be won by confronting the oppressor and making their demands felt loud and clear.
Against this backdrop, an organisation in Oakland, California, the Black Panther’s arose in defence of the Black community and to ensure that civil rights be achieved and the racism that oppressed, and marginalised their people be confronted and ended.
Throughout the civil rights movement in the USA, the white supremacists under state orders, and in state uniforms, baton charged, brutalised, jailed and even murdered those who marched in support of equal rights for the black community, a similar trait that would later manifest on the streets of Belfast, Tyrone and Derry.
Defence for the black community was needed in such times, and the Black Panthers stood up and where counted when their people needed them. This was a major factor in a huge upsurge in support for the fledgling organisation which soon spread, empowering black people and communities across the USA.
The Black Panthers, where not simply a defence movement, yet placed community led socialism at the very heart of their struggle, they believed in organised empowered communities, where citizens where cared for and accommodated on a need’s basis. They soon began to organise many community projects, which enhanced and built a community spirit, and while providing training, and education, they also provided food kitchens, and refuge for the most needy in their communities.
While many in the Black Panthers where Marxist/Leninist, they did not stick rigidly or dogmatically to Marx’s teachings, and very much applied their ideology in a modern pragmatic context.
Irish Republican’s similarly organised their struggle through the oppressed nationalist ghettos in the north, and while our ultimate objective is a 32 County Socialist Republic, when the Provisional IRA arose in 1969, their primary role was in defence of the nationalist community who where being subjected to genocide, with whole nationalist streets being burned out and many being brutalised and murdered by unionist death squads aided by the unionist state.
The similarities in the response by both the Unionist State and US authorities are shocking.
Indeed the Black Panther’s kept a close eye to Ireland, the emerging civil rights and war of national liberation, with Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panther’s saying at the time,
“All our sympathies were with the IRA -- even with the Provisionals -- because they took such a clear-cut position on armed struggle,"
The Black Panther’s received massive and sustained harassment and repression from the US authorities, and coupled with that it has been widely suggested that the State allowed and even directed a huge influx of narcotics into black communities in order to destroy any attempt at an organised and empowered community, the same has been said of British Intelligence in Ireland, with drug dealer’s receiving immunity in return for their attempts at disempowering communities and passing on information.
While the Black Panther’s no longer exist as an organisation, their ideology and legacy prevails, they stand as a monument to black power, and a risen people who confronted the state head on, exposing their institutionalised racism and ensuring that it could never happen again.
The Black Panther’s played a huge role in building confidence and empowering of the black and working class communities not only in America, but across the globe.
All Power to the People!