Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Huey P Newton

What is history but the account of the victor; What is system but the means set by the established order to maintain status quo. This has been the case since the beginning of time, standing example of Darwin's "Survival of the Fittest" theory. However, every now and then, someone somewhere rises from the group to make a statement against this status quo. They go by various euphemisms leaders, revolutionaries, terrorists etc. Depending on their means, they got preferential treatment from those in power. For example, someone like Gandhi/Martin Luther King who advocated non violent means of protests were dealt with consideration. No discredit to their contribution or their ideologies, just that the power centres had too much affinity to violence. Others who advocated "violent retaliation", regardless of their causes were dealt with severely. These stories unlike movies almost never ever have happy endings. When the battle is over, these protestors were allotted a place in history; a place as perceived by the mighty.

There are as many names that fits this description as there are stars in the sky. This post is about one such personality who fought the system and made it do it worst to stop him. He proved that a young 22 years old can bring the system to its knees if only he had the inclination to do so. The name Huey P. Newton for sure is not renowned in India. Possibly, few people even in United States know him these days. A lesser known slice of American History leading up to 1960s will help us understand the enigma that is Huey P. Newton.

"Founding" of America

America!!!!The "land of opportunities" as we all know was discovered by chance. General Colombus, more merchant than a voyager on his quest to reach India by traveling west, jumped upon America. His expeditions were funded by wealthy Spanish Queen Isabella I of Castile and to pay of his investors, General resorted to what can be mildly termed as annihilation of the native people who welcomed him with open arms. He did this all and called himself a religious person with apparent support of the "church". Started by the General, the exploitation of the native Americans was continued by many many English plunderers and from few hundred millions in number, the native population dwindled to few hundreds. Another badge of honour for the White colonists.

African Americans and slave trade

Now that we've established the American's regard and consideration to other lives and possessions lets move on to the subject. Today's African Americans descended from slaves brought to America for sale or as prisoner's of war. This slave trade started around 1619 when the first of the ships carried Africans to work in plantations for a limited period of time (fixed at 6 years). After 6 years, they were set free and allowed to start life on their own in America. This system was soon changed by the 'pilgrims' because millions and millions of acres of land was not much to be shared with the African settlers. They perceived the free African labourers as competition for resources and made them slaves with no civil liberty whatsoever. This was rampant in most of the Southern States where work intensive crops like cotton were the primary cultivation. The slaves made these cotton very cheap and made them compete successfully in the world market. Soon commercial interests took over and slaves made good business sense. The hardships faced by the African Americans were as bad as the Native Americans if not worse. It took more than 100 years for America just to make Slave Trade illegal, again a commercial decision rather than moral one. That was just the beginning of the new famous African American Civil Rights Movement.

Civil Right Movement

After Abraham Lincoln successfully quashed the Confederate States of America (or the southern states) ending the civil war, the powerful White majority took control of the government and gradually started suppressing the African Americans by various means. They include
Racial segregation. By law, public facilities and government services such as education were divided into separate "white" and "colored" domains. Apparently, those for colored were underfunded and of inferior quality.
Disfranchisement. When white Democrats regained power, they passed laws that made voter registration more inaccessible to the minority. They were forced off the voting rolls. The number of African American voters dropped dramatically, and they no longer were able to elect representatives. From 1890 to 1908, Southern states of the former Confederacy created constitutions with provisions that disfranchised most African Americans and tens of thousands of poor white Americans.
Exploitation. Increased economic oppression of blacks, Latinos, and Asians, denial of economic opportunities, and widespread employment discrimination.
Violence. Individual, police, organizational, and mass racial violence against blacks (and Latinos in the Southwest and Asians in California).

As a natural response, the oppressed protested and did it with flair. This oppression united them and several prominent individuals came through. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr are just a few named here. This movement which began at the beginning of the 20th century continued well into 1970s. It is under these circumstances that our man Huey Newton grew up

Early days of Huey Newton

Youngest of 7 children, Huey Newton's family was typical of any African American family in United States at that time. Brought up in Oakland, Newton attended the local school where the system sowed the seeds of anti-authoritarianism. Being repressed in school, he responded in kind. He soon became a nightmare for the school authorities and by 14 got his first conviction for gun possession and vandalism. Newton was a self made man. The school system didn't seduce him enough for conformity. Soon he joined college and read extensively the works of Che, Mao and Malcolm X. Newton attended Merritt College intermittently, eventually earning an Associate of Arts degree. He also studied law at Oakland City College and at San Francisco Law School.

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense

Huey Newton became actively involved in college organizations and became a member of Afro-American Association in college. It is these college days that saw the first glimpses of the fireball that he would soon become. In October 1966, Newton co-founded the The Black Panther Party for Self Defense along with Bobby Seale. They started the party to address the plight of the African American community at the hands of the local police. having realized that the community needed a boost to stand against the tyranny, he advocated the practice of carrying loaded guns which was legal in Oakland at that time.

Early Successes

One of the first measures taken by Newton and Seale was to control the oppressive and racial measures taken by the local police against the African community where they brutally tortured and vandalized local shops and workers. The legal system short sold justice to them and the African American community soon became the play field of the white dominated system. Panthers displayed their guns in public confronting police officers and in some cases even faring them. This came as a huge shock to the police who almost always had their way with the community. Soon, panthers started patrolling the police, following them daily and confronting them if they crossed the line. The news about panther's run-ins with the authorities and its success in shutting them up soon reached far and wide with the party opening various chapters across the country. Realising that a movement must identify itself with its people in order to succeed, Seale and Newton proposed a number of survival programmes to connect with the community. Foremost among them was the "Free Breakfast for Children" that operated out of Oakland church initially. Soon this developed into various schemes like Free medical Clinics, Self-Defense lessons, First aid lessons all a hit within the community. The Panther's quickly progressed from Survival programmes to serious political activism showing their opposition to various bills and motions which they felt would undermine the right of their community. One memorable move was the protest against the State's move to ban carrying loaded guns in public. This was aimed at the Panthers who started reaching cult status with their attire and guns. Bobby Seale lead a march California State Assembly Hall. He along with others was arrested and sent to jail. This gave the Panthers much needed visibility. Soon Seale and Newton came up with the now famous 10 point programme which started rubbing the authority the wrong way and acted as a catalyst for one of the most cowardly, inhuman and illegal acts committed by FBI against its own citizens.

Ten Point Programme

      We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our own communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions which exist in our communities.

      We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every person employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the American businessmen will not give full employment, then the technology and means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.

      We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.

      We believe that if the landlords will not give decent housing to our Black and oppressed communities, then housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people in our communities, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for the people.

      We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.

      We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide our selves with proper medical attention and care.

      We believe that the racist and fascist government of the United States uses its domestic enforcement agencies to carry out its program of oppression against black people, other people of color and poor people inside the united States. We believe it is our right, therefore, to defend ourselves against such armed forces and that all Black and oppressed people should be armed for self defense of our homes and communities against these fascist police forces.

      We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desire of the United States ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the United States government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.

      We believe that the many Black and poor oppressed people now held in United States prisons and jails have not received fair and impartial trials under a racist and fascist judicial system and should be free from incarceration. We believe in the ultimate elimination of all wretched, inhuman penal institutions, because the masses of men and women imprisoned inside the United States or by the United States military are the victims of oppressive conditions which are the real cause of their imprisonment. We believe that when persons are brought to trial they must be guaranteed, by the United States, juries of their peers, attorneys of their choice and freedom from imprisonment while awaiting trial.

      When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are most disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

This is as close to the "Bill of Rights" and any one can get. It asked for the most basic things anyone can expect from their society and government and in some ways it is sad that legal citizens of a nation are deprived of the most basic rights. But all this was too much for the power centres who perceived the Panthers as subversive and radical.  The FBI under orders from its chief J Edgar Hoover, directed its agents of COINTELPRO towards neutralizing the Panthers.


Soon alarm bells started ringing in the FBI head quarters. FBI was already on full drive with its COINTELPRO operation. Panthers were very much on the FBI radar and Hoover dispatched his meanest animals to reign them in. COINTELPRO is one of the most controversial programmes and serious infrigement of the rights of Americans. FBI's action against Panthers highlighted the extent to which they went to neutalise the Panthers. The FBI used four main methods during COINTELPRO:

   1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.
   2. Psychological Warfare From the Outside: The FBI and police used a myriad of other "dirty tricks" to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists.
   3. Harassment Through the Legal System: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, "investigative" interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.
   4. Illegal Force and Violence: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. The object was to frighten, or eliminate, dissidents and disrupt their movements.

The Decline

In October 1967, Huey Newton was arrested for murdering an on duty police officer. This created outrage among the African American community and started the "Release Huey" movement. The circumstances of the murder was vague and the prosecution did not have clear evidence to prosecute Huey. Newton was convicted in September 1968 of "voluntary manslaughter"  and was sentenced to 2–15 years in prison. In May 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent mistrials, the State of California dropped the case. Huey's time in jail robbed the Panthers of much needed leadership and direction which Huey oozed. By the time Huey was released, FBI's covert operation made its impact. There was conflict among the Panthers some rising over differences of opinion and many initiated by the moles of the FBI. By 1972, Black Panther Party for Self Defense was a pale shadow of what it was 6 years earlier.

One measure taken by FBI must be mentioned. In Phase 3 of COINTELPRO operations, FBI encouraged the sale of drugs by the Mafia in the ghettos where most of the African American lived. Drugs was sold at subsidized rates to destroy an entire generation. However their efforts to contain the sale to the ghettos was not successful and drugs started flowing out into other towns. The current drug mess America is in can be tracked right back to this soulless move by the FBI.

Life After

After the decline of the Black Panther Party, Huey moved on to support various social welfare projects and also completed his doctoral dissertation, "War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America" - a history of the FBI's COINTELPRO and other operations to destroy the Panther Party. On August 22, 1989, Newton was fatally shot on the 1400 block of 9th street in West Oakland by a 24-year-old Black Guerilla Family member, Tyrone Robinson. Robinson was convicted of the murder in August 1991 and sentenced to 32 years for the crime. Official accounts claimed that the killer was a known drug dealer in Oakland. Robinson contended that Newton pulled a gun when the two met at a street corner in the neighborhood, Sergeant Mercado said, "But investigators said they found no evidence Newton had been armed." The killing occurred in a neighborhood where Newton, as minister of defense for the Black Panthers, once tried to set up social programs to help destitute blacks. Newton's last words, as he stood facing his killer, were, "You can kill my body, but you can't kill my soul. My soul will live forever!"

It is an absolute shame that the memory of someone who can share the dias with luminaries like Gandhi, Luther King and Mandela any time of the day is only shared by historians and close friends. Any remembrance of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party will be followed by COINTELPRO which will make the rulers uncomfortable. They did their worst to stop the man and his mission. However, that need not stop us from celebrating the spirit of one of the greatest revolutionaries of our generation in commemoration of his 21rd Death Anniversary.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Opinion Poll, A thing of Beauty

CNN IBN brought out the results of an "Opinion Poll" it supposedly conducted in "Naxal affected areas" (God knows what that means). The results are not a problem, however, I don't agree on the credibility of the channel and the poll is a different matter. Things that caught my attention is the way the questions were formed with most of the options over simplified and in some cases totally hijacked to support an agenda

Above is the supposed show stopper as portrayed by the network. It opined that the people in the tribal belt (I prefer tribal belt to Naxal affected areas) suggest pushing development as a way to handle naxals. The war between the government of India and the Naxallites has been over the allotment of vast mineral rich areas occupied by tribals over hundreds of years to private mining companies. This is what was/is protrayed by the Union Government as developmental measures.

Here are my contentions
  1. The question was "How to handle Naxals". Since the government is drawing a full fledged war against the naxals despite its claims about peace talks and all, the options should've been from peace talks to full scale war. How in the name of hell, "Push Development" can counter naxals who's aim is to "Take Control of the Indian Government" by 2050 (as claimed by the netas and babus when they started this war against naxals)
  2. Since the channel claims it questioned people in the tribal belt, I can safely assume that most of them if not all would be the aadivaasies. I can also very reasonably assume that "pushing development" means letting in big companies build their factories and facilities. This means the end of the "way of life" for the locals. No sensible person will say he is ok with a move that will destroy his livelihood and  throw him out of his own home. I can infer two things here. Either the learned friends from CSDS who conducted the polls did not explain the questions and options properly, or the "poll" must've been a summer project of an MBA student who cooked up the results.
  3. Second option is "Coercive Measures". What is wrong in being open about it. This is nothing but KILLING the citizens of our country without trial or hearing. That should be much easy when the army comes in as expected and planned by the central government. Wouldn't that be a sight. Indian Solders killing Indian citizens.
Other "Results"

Some of the other results go on to say that the Naxals are waging a war against the state in the name of welfare of the poor and the government is merely setting things straight. It goes on to say that the about half of the respondents support these measures.

As thought the result in bright colours and images wasn't enough, the report tries to emphasize that people support "DEVELOPMENT" over other means to curtail naxals. An exercise in wishful thinking I guess.The real comic portion of the whole poll is the question about the local's faith in the democratic process. 60% seems to have said that they still have faith in the democratic process. If I am not wrong, democratic process starts with people choosing a candidate to represent them in the legislature through vote, the elected members enacting various policies/projects for the welfare of the public through informed debate in the assembly, and going back to the public to collect feedback on the effectiveness of their policies, making changes accordingly. This is to be supplemented by an independent judiciary and press to ensure that no man need to be afraid of the other.

All along I thought this is the democratic process. I feel it disgraceful to comment on this further.

In an era where the editorials are sold by inches and infomercials and filmy bullshit hog most of the live news feed, this is no surprise. I personally feel this poll is an insult to those proud tribal people who live there for over hundreds of years, sustaining their way of life and still maintaining balance of nature.

It will be an absolute shame if those real people are not allowed to continue their way of life and forced to leave way to polluting mining companies and these shameless so called independent media contribute to it.