- Bobby Sealethe original 1966 founding chairman and national organizer of the Black Panther Party.
- Bernardine Dohrnlongtime activist for peace, racial justice and children’s rights. She is a former law professor at Northwestern Law School.
- William Ayerslongtime activist, retired education professor and author of many books, including Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom and Fugitive Days: A Memoir. His latest is titled Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto.
Fifty years after the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago, we continue our conversation with Black Panther Bobby Seale, arrested for inciting a riot and gagged during the Chicago 8 trial stemming from his speech at the protest, and SDS activists and organizers Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. They discuss decades of police repression, the police murder of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and the prison strike now underway nationwide.
More from this Interview
- Part 1: 50 Years Ago: Antiwar Protesters Brutally Attacked in Police Riots at 1968 Democratic Convention
- Part 2: Bound & Gagged: Black Panther Party Chair Bobby Seale Describes His Trial After 1968 DNC Protests
- Part 3: 1968 DNC Protests, 50 Years Later: Organizers Recall Coalition Building & Running Pig for President
- Part 4: Bobby Seale, Bill Ayers & Bernardine Dohrn on Police Repression, Fred Hampton Murder & Prison Strike
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, with Part 2 of today’s edition of “50 Years Ago.” That’s right, 50 years ago this week, the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago became a national spectacle, as a major political event turned into chaos that culminated with a police riot, much of it unfolding on live national television. While Hubert Humphrey was nominated as the Democratic candidate in 1968 inside, despite the fact he didn’t run in any primaries, outside was where the news was, where police were clubbing and tear-gassing thousands of protesters.
For more, we continue our interviews with Bobby Seale, founding chairman, Black Panther Party, was in the protests at the beginning in Chicago; Bill Ayers was arrested on August 27th, 50 years ago; and Bernardine Dohrn. Both Bernardine and Bill longtime activists for peace and racial justice, former SDS—that’s Students for a Democratic Society—and Weather Underground members. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, I’d like to begin with Bobby Seale again to follow up, Bobby, on the conversation we were having at the end of our previous segment, when you were talking about how once Richard Nixon was elected president, he ordered his aides to begin an immediate eradication of the Black Panther Party. One of the interesting things that most people are not aware of is that, years later, a report came out in The New York Times that the FBI had conducted a secret poll among black Americans and found that more than 25 percent of African Americans were supporters of the Black Panther Party, felt that the Black Panther Party was fighting in their interests. A significant portion of the African-American population of this country was supportive of your revolutionary organization. And yet, as you were saying, Nixon immediately ordered that you be crushed. Could you talk about what happened in that first few years of the Nixon administration to the Panther Party?
BOBBY SEALE: Exactly. The year of 1969 is the year. Now, remember I said he had a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover. And J. Edgar Hoover, in December, the first week of December, stated nationally on television that we were a threat to the internal—the Black Panther Party is a threat to the internal security of America. Come—what was it?—February 17th, February 17th, Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were murdered at UCLA. They were the leaders of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles, California. Now, Bunchy Carter really had gotten out of his gang group, because he had—he ran a 3,000-member gang, and he created a political organization called Wretched of the Earth, that later become—and he later became—they headed up the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party in the Los Angeles community area. But what I’m trying to say here is that that was the first attack on the part of the power structure, using the US Organization, etc., in a conflict situation to kill and murder the leaders of the Los Angeles chapter the Black Panther Party. Through that process, in the next three or four months, they attacked more than 22 offices. I’m talking about in Indiana. I’m talking about they blew up the office in Des Moines, Iowa, literally. They got the Ku Klux Klan to blow up that building. And I’m telling you, in San Diego, Brother Bell was opening up the San Diego office at 8 a.m. in the morning, and the police and the FBI came, jumped out of cars and came in the place and shot him dead, killed him, murdered him.
So, I’m just saying, through that period I’m talking, by the end of that year, with the murder of Fred Hampton and then the shootout in Los Angeles four days later after that, etc., I had—in my organization, I had 28 dead Black Panther Party members, 69 wounded. In defending ourselves—we defended ourselves in many of these attacks—by the end of that year, 14 policemen were killed, because we shot back. When they came in shooting at us, we did not play. We shot back. Fourteen was killed, and 33 policemen were wounded. So this is a war situation that the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard M. Nixon’s administration launched on us throughout the year of 1969.
But the last shootout was—the last shootout was in Los Angeles, California, two days after Fred Hampton—four days after Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed and murdered. And other Black Panther Party members were Bobby Rush, congressman—now-Congressman Bobby Rush—but Bobby Rush and Fred Hampton, that did chapter. And so, that was the culmination. But by that time our networking was so great with the people supporting us, everybody came out. I’m talking about 200 organizations, including the NAACP, Urban League, SCLC with Reverend Ralph Abernathy and others, etc., and all across the country. Sammy Davis Jr. was out on the microphone: “Let the Panthers surrender in the Los Angeles situation,” because that shootout—you know they would—now, I was in jail when this was all happening. You have to understand that. But I’m giving directives through the lawyer to tell the Los Angeles group to surrender, etc. But it was just a horrendous thing. But that was the last shootout.
But they had planned a shootout for the Berkeley—my office, the headquarters of the Black Panther Party, that was now in Berkeley, California. A young white police officer had overheard, for two months, the FBI and detectives in the big conference room talking about their plans to attack the headquarters. What he did after all those shootouts was going on, this young white police officer really didn’t like the situation. He stole—he stole the plans to attack—for them to attack the headquarters of the Black Panther Party office, and he gave them to our lawyer, our chief counsel, lawyer Charles R. Garry in San Francisco. And we put them on the front pages, of the next planned attack. And they also had one planned for Seattle, Washington. But in other words, that networking we did with all those people, all those—all that time that we did fortifying of our offices so we wouldn’t be slaughtered etc. and so on, and all that stuff I made the party members do and put together, kept us down to a minimum of the amount that was dead and killed. And this was just a period of them moving to terrorize us out of existence. But it didn’t—it did not completely put us out of existence at all at that time, because—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bobby—
BOBBY SEALE: —ultimately, I won all my cases. I won the Chicago case. I won the Connecticut case. I was out of jail. And so, half of my organization was still existing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bobby, I want to turn to a—
BOBBY SEALE: And then, we were—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bobby, I want to turn to a clip from the documentary The Weather Underground about the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton in 1969—
BOBBY SEALE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in Chicago. Hampton was chair—
BOBBY SEALE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —of the Illinois chapter of the party and deputy chair of the national party. On December 4th, 1969, Chicago police raided his apartment and shot and killed him in his bed. He was just 21 years old. Black Panther leader Mark Clark was also killed in the raid—
BOBBY SEALE: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —while authorities claimed the Panthers had opened fire on police who were there to serve a search warrant for weapons. But evidence later emerged that told a very different story: The FBI and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chicago police conspired to assassinate Fred Hampton. This clip begins with Hampton, and later we hear Bernardine Dohrn.
FRED HAMPTON: So we say—we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary.
WALTER CRONKITE: In Chicago today, two Black Panthers were killed as police raided a Panther stronghold. Police arrived at Fred Hampton’s West Side apartment at 4:45 this morning. They had a search warrant authorizing them to look for illegal weapons. The State’s Attorney’s Office says that Hampton and another man were killed in the 15-minute gun battle which followed.
BOBBY RUSH: The pigs murdered Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton while he lay in bed. Their lies, their oinking to the people won’t—can’t bear up to the evidence that we have that they murdered our deputy chairman in cold blood as he lay in his bed asleep.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: The Panther Party organized tours of the apartment that they were in when they were murdered, and I went with a group of people from the SDS national office, which is a couple of blocks away.
BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: Don’t touch nothing. Don’t move nothing, because we want to keep everything just the way it is.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: It was a scene of carnage. It was a scene of war. You see this door ridden with bullets, not little bullet holes, but shattered.
BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: The room where first brother Mark Clark was murdered at.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: You walk through a living room into the bedroom, and there’s a mattress soaked in his blood, red blood down the floor.
SKIP ANDREW: Anyone who went through that apartment and examined the evidence that was remaining there could come to only one conclusion, and that is that Fred Hampton, 21 years old and a member of a militant, well-known militant group, was murdered in his bed probably as he lay asleep.
THOMAS STRIETER: This blatant act of legitimatized murder strips all credibility from law enforcement. In the context of other acts against militant blacks in recent months, it suggests an official policy of systematic repression.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered.
It’s two-and-a-half weeks since Fred Hampton was murdered by the pigs who own this city. And for people to be able to enjoy Christmas time in this country, without remembering and without making a choice about the struggle that’s going on in the world, without taking action about a blatant murder that takes place in the city against a revolutionary black leader, is an obscenity.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the documentary The Weather Underground, produced by Sam Green and Bill Siegel. Bernardine Dohrn, could you talk, now 50 years later, in retrospect, the impact of the murder of Fred Hampton and the massive repression against the Black Panther Party in the wake of the Democratic National Convention of ’68 and how that affected you and other members of SDS at the time?
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Well, as as Bobby said, this was part of a systematic program that the FBI and local police departments had cooked up to suppress the Black Panther Party. We didn’t know that literally, but we knew it in practice, because you could see it unfolding over the course of the year. To come into Chicago to shoot in his own bed—to drug and then shoot in his own bed young Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and the other people who were in the room who were wounded, to lie about the fact that they had shot guns from inside out at the police, and have that disproven by the People’s Office and others the next morning, was all right there. It was right in front of you. There was a—this was a legal assassination, part of a campaign that had gone on for a year.
And our question to SDS and to ourselves was: What is the role of white people? Are we going to support a legal defense committee that, eight years later, will prove this? Are we going to try to hurl ourselves into the struggle, up the level, as we said at the time, of struggle and put ourselves between the bullets and the Panthers? And that’s how we saw the situation at the moment. We felt it was the responsibility of white people to step up, to open another front—you could say it many different—of struggle. You could say it many different ways. But as part of the global struggle, as part of the antiwar movement and as part of the fight against racism, it was our responsibility to do everything we could to stop this murderous campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Bernardine, that was your voice in that documentary. That was you responding right after the killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, you in Chicago.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Yes. Yes, it was.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about—as we move into, you know, movements from then until now, talk about the impact—and I’d like all of you—we just heard Bobby Seale saying this, but you and Bill—to talk about the impact of these killings of the Black Panthers—in this case, Mark Clark and Fred Hampton—on you, and what it led you to do.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Well, it became up close and personal, as you can see. Fred Hampton, we knew him. He was a young, brilliant organizer and activist. We knew the Panthers. We shared a printing press. They used the printing press in our office. We agreed and disagreed about different strategies and different actions, but we were in the struggle, in the broad sense, together. And so, to have him assassinated in his sleep by the Chicago Police Department, with FBI help and infiltration, was infuriating. And it went on at the same moment, of course, as the bombing of North Vietnam, accelerated that Christmas season. So, for us, the war in Vietnam and the war against the Black Panther Party were the two pillars that propelled anybody with a conscience to step up and do what they could and then to do more.
AMY GOODMAN: And Bill Ayers?
BILL AYERS: Well, I think that Fred—you know, Fred really was a turning point for me. And Bernardine said we went through the apartment where he was assassinated. And then later we went to the church where he was laying in state. And I remember, again, this overwhelming sense, which Bobby captured beautifully, that the black community was there. I mean, we went through the church. There were thousands of people lined up to see Fred’s body lying in the church. And it—
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Can I just say, it was a—
BILL AYERS: Yeah.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: It was a replication of what had happened in Chicago with Emmett Till and the outpouring from the black community to object, to stand in solidarity with his mom and his family against legal lynching. And here we were, 40 years later.
BILL AYERS: Yeah, and I think one of the things we learned in—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s really important, because Emmett Till, of course, killed August 28th, 1955, and that’s why August 28th—also one of the reasons it was chosen for the March on Washington in 1963, when Dr. King gave his famous speech.
BILL AYERS: And Fred Hampton’s mother Iberia was actually Emmett Till’s babysitter. They were both from Money, Mississippi. It’s too ironic for words. But one of the things that I think Bobby brought out, and I think it’s important, is that one of the things we learned at that moment was that being allies to the black freedom movement wasn’t enough. The Black Panther Party said to us again and again, “We don’t need allies. We need partners. We need—you know, we need not charity, but solidarity.” And at that moment, I think many of us moved from thinking of ourselves as dissidents and organizers to thinking of ourselves as revolutionaries, people who wanted to be arm in arm with the struggle to transform this country from an imperialist, racist monster into a peaceful, joyful and just place.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I wanted to just go for one minute to Aretha Franklin inside the convention. She’s going to be buried in Detroit on Friday, the major funeral for her. People are already gathering. But she’s singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” inside the Democratic convention in 1968.
ARETHA FRANKLIN: [singing] And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have Aretha Franklin singing inside, criticized by the white establishment for jazzing up the song. But two years later, in 1970, Aretha Franklin offered to post bail for Angela Davis, who was jailed on trumped-up charges. I want to turn to an article in Jet magazine from December 3rd, 1970, headlined “Aretha Says She’ll Go Angela’s Bond If Permitted,” in which Aretha Franklin is quoted as saying, “My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.” Bobby Seale, do you remember when Aretha Franklin, you know, to say the least, world-renowned, the woman who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” inside the DNC, is offering bail money for Angela Davis? We just had Angela on after Aretha died, talking about what this meant to her.
BOBBY SEALE: Yes, yes, yes, I remember all of that. Sammy Davis Jr. also. I mean, there were so many. I had Marlon Brando. He was there. I’m trying to tell you, we had evolved in the organization and so much support in the community, monetarily and socially and politically. It was all the way up to the point I finally come out of jail, and we won the cases in New Haven and everything.
And then I ran for mayor of Oakland, I’ll never forget. And then, when we was talking to—what happened is, the Election Day, that was getting ready to come down, was on April 15th, an off-year election; running for mayor of Oakland, I was. And we looked up, and the sports arena, that holds 16,000 people, Sister Aretha Franklin was scheduled to speak that day, April 15th, on Election Day. And so, two months before that, I finally got a chance to get people to get me in touch with the sister, and I begged her. I said, “Sister Aretha Franklin, please, tell your producers to postpone your appearance here in Oakland, California, at the sports arena, because April 15th is also welfare check day.” I say, “These sisters are going to be out. They’re going to get that welfare check. They’re going to go buy you a dress. And they’re going to forget about coming to the polls. And we’re organizing.” And she says, “Yes, Brother Bobby, I will definitely do that.” And she did postpone it for me. And I had to really hug her through the phone and say thank you, you know? So, Aretha was a great supporter in many ways.
I got others who were there. I mean, everybody came out on our side, really, for all those shootouts, I’m telling you—the NAACP, everybody. Roy Wilkins helped us put together—I’m telling you, I had coalitions, and this is what the power structure was really scared of, this unity across that. And this is what I do now. I’m going to colleges and stuff. In fact, I’m going to—we’re going to be—the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party are going to be in Chicago come November the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. And I’m trying to get one of the colleges there to pay me to come and speak on the 2nd of November. This will be a reunion session of the founding of the Chicago chapter, Chicago, Illinois, chapter of the Black Panther Party, coming up within the next two months or so. So, it’s just this history, this human involvement history, protest movement that we evolve, us all—I mean, Sister Angela Davis, all the party members I know. I can mention party members like Audrea Jones. She used to run the Boston, Massachusetts, state chapter. Tupac Shakur’s mother, she used to run the Harlem office in New York, etc.
I’m trying to tell you, I’m trying to get these young folks to understand what the resistance was in the ’60s and its broad relationship to stopping the war and standing up for constitutional, democratic, civil, human rights, you know? And like people talk talk, but even our Ten-Point Platform and Program, I put the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America at the tail end of my Ten-Point Platform and Program when we founded the Black Panther Party in October 1966 in Oakland, California. And the last line in that thing says, when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursues and invariably evinces a design to reduce a people under absolute despotism, then it is the right of the people to alter or change that system and provide new guards for their future security and happiness. And that is exactly what I was trying to do with the Black Panther Party. It was a political party.
And at the time I created the Black Panther Party, I had done a—I was working for the city government of Oakland, California—really, actually, most people don’t even know that—at the Department of Human Services. But I had done a demographic search across the United States of America to see how many black politicians existed in 1965. I found only 52, and a few other people of color, Asians and others. That’s all there was, all across the United States of America, from the local city to the federal. There was only 52 people. I said that’s the real reason I created the Black Panther Party as a political party in Oakland, California. How can we take over some of these—many of these local seats? Young brothers was running around hollering “Black Power! Black Power!” I said, “You’re not going to get any black power until you take over some of these political power seats.” “What you talking about, political power seats?” I say, “These city council seats, these county seats, the county sheriff seats,” I says. “But them the white man’s seats.” I say, “You better probably make them some colored people’s seats,” I said, because you ain’t gonna get.
And later, I founded the Black Panther Party with that Ten-Point Platform and Program, me and Huey Newton, in my War on Poverty office, where I worked for the city government of Oakland. That’s where we wrote it. That’s where I turned out all the copies, the first thousand copies of that Ten-Point Program, etc. Me, “Big Man” Elbert Howard, Huey Newton and then other people joined the party, Eldridge Cleaver and Kathleen Cleaver, etc. I broadened my central committee, etc. and so on, and it evolved. And we were part and parcel of our whole 1960s protest movement, right on up through the Democratic convention and past the Democratic convention, trying to get more and more political power seats. But anyway, the movement of that—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bobby, I’d like to bring—
BOBBY SEALE: —by the end of 1970, there were 7,000 black people duly elected to office. By the end of the '80s, it was 15,000 duly elected to office. And 10 years after that, we had 20,000-plus. And today, the two people who were close who were United States congressmen are Congressman Bobby Rush from the Illinois state chapter of the Black Panther Party, who's been a congressman for 25, 30 years, and the other sister, she was just a community worker primarily, but is Congresswoman Barbara Lee. And across from my shoulder here is the Federal Building, where Barbara Lee’s office is right here in Oakland, California. And the struggle continues. The human liberation struggle continues.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bobby, I’d like to go back to Bernardine and Bill on this whole issue of coalition building that Bobby Seale talks about, that the Panthers practiced. If you could take it up to today, to the politics of today, and the difficulty that many progressives and radicals have in building coalitions to effect substantive political change? And I’m wondering if you—not that you are drawing lessons for a younger generation, but the lessons you learned about the failings of building coalitions back in the ’70s.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Well, Juan, I think you know that our sense of young—of people engaged in struggle today, of younger people, is that they, as you said, don’t really need lessons from us. They have learned the lessons. They actually study history quite carefully. And they have analyzed their own concrete conditions. I’m fascinated that Black Lives Matter, for example, has a strong position about Palestine and the necessity for the liberation of Palestine and the end of U.S. support for Israeli domination of Gaza and Palestine and the West Bank. That, to me, is an amazing and interesting form of internationalism. The Black Lives Matter is also very educated about the struggles in South Africa today and what’s going on, and, you know, is in solidarity with struggles to maintain their independence and their integrity, like Cuba. I think this is a very—internationalism, for anybody in the United States, is a very important, radical edge of political organizing. And the Panthers did a great job, through the Ten-Point Program, but then through their political education, of bringing people who were already quite conscious, really, from the civil rights movement into a global understanding of who we are and what we’re responsible for. So—and I think the Young Lords were also part of that strategy, by definition, being—having one foot in Puerto Rico and one foot in the United States. And the Puerto Rican struggle here in Chicago is alive and well.
AMY GOODMAN: And Bill Ayers?
BILL AYERS: Well, I would just add that I think that what we’ve learned is that coalition building is hard work, but it’s necessary work. And what we have in Chicago today is 36 organizations that have been meeting since Trump was elected, hammering out a common agenda. And that means they have to meet and talk and learn. They have to speak to each other with the possibility of being heard. They have to listen to one another with the possibility of being changed. And from our perspective, it’s critically important, from the beginning, in coalition building, to understand the deep history of white supremacy, racism and empire building in this country, which means you can’t build a coalition that doesn’t recognize the special national oppression of African Americans in this country, of Native peoples, of Puerto Ricans and people of color. And I think that’s—
BERNARDINE DOHRN: You could add male supremacy to that list.
BILL AYERS: Absolutely.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: I think Black Lives Matter has been very strong about recognizing the history of male supremacy and the need for, you know, queer black revolutionary consciousness.
BILL AYERS: But a coalition doesn’t just happen automatically. It takes work.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Right.
BILL AYERS: And it takes consciousness. And so, people have to go into it with the idea that “I’ll be challenged, and I’ll be changed.” And I think the Rainbow Coalition that Bobby referred to was an excellent example. The R3 Coalition in Chicago today, which stands for Resist, Reimagine and Rebuild, is an excellent example from today.
AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to ask you about the remembrances of Senator John McCain. We took a look at it yesterday on the broadcast. But, you know, he proudly campaigned for every war, from Iraq to Afghanistan. He ran for the surge in Iraq against Barack Obama in 2008. And during that time, one of the campaign ads he used was one against you, Bill Ayers, linking you to Barack Obama, saying Barack Obama launched his campaign in your living room. And I was wondering if you could comment on John McCain and the history that’s being written this week leading up to his funeral, with both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama speaking at his funeral this weekend, President Trump not invited to be there. If you could talk about what John McCain did in your case in 2008 when he ran for president?
BILL AYERS: Well, I mean, most importantly, I think, it’s—we’re watching the revision, the rewriting of history, kind of the idea of lionizing John McCain, who was a war criminal and dropped bombs on the Vietnamese people, in a period when 6,000 people a week were being murdered, much of it from the air. John McCain participated in that.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Six thousand people a week in Vietnam—
BILL AYERS: In Vietnam.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: —Laos and Cambodia.
BILL AYERS: In Vietnam.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Yeah.
BILL AYERS: And what’s important is that—to now turn around and pretend that none of that happened.
What happened in 2008, very briefly, is that they couldn’t figure out—first Hillary Clinton and then McCain-Palin couldn’t figure out how to oppose this young, charismatic, obviously brilliant politician from Chicago. And so, instead of concentrating on Barack Obama, they concentrated on his friends. And it was classic guilt by association. So it was Reverend Wright, it was us, it was Father Pfleger, it was Rashid Khalidi—anyone they could say was a friend of Obama’s. And then they would say, “Well, we don’t know much about him, but look at who he hangs out with.” And the reality is that Obama was a rising politician in Chicago. We knew him. He was, as he referred to me, I would refer to him, as a guy around the neighborhood. We knew each other, but we weren’t intimates, and we certainly weren’t in political agreement. So, I think that that distortion was a crude attempt at an old American tradition, which is, if you can’t figure out how to oppose the politics and the policy, you try to smear somebody through guilt by association. And it was a failure both times. It failed for Clinton, and then it failed for McCain.
BERNARDINE DOHRN: You did a great job, Juan and Amy, yesterday about McCain. I thought it was terrific. It’s hard to do at the moment when somebody dies. But the lies that come rolling off about who he was and what he stood for—permanent militarization, escalation of war everywhere—you nailed it. It was great.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, finally, the prison strike that’s happening around the country now, that’s getting almost no attention, launched in prisons around the country to protest what prisoners are calling modern-day slavery. And they’re also demanding better food, fair pay for work. I’m wondering, Bobby Seale—we just have like 30 seconds—if you can just say what this means, back to Black Panthers time, focusing on conditions in prisons.
BOBBY SEALE: We still—us Black Panthers, we still have some 14 people who are still political prisoners, Black Panther Party member political prisoners from the ’60s protest movement era. And conditions in prisons is absurd, always have been absurd.
AMY GOODMAN: We just lost Bobby on satellite, as he talked about prison conditions today being absurd. Why don’t we end with you both talking about this, this protest that’s happening around the country—very few people are hearing about, the media hardly covering—people risking a lot inside, even their freedom if they’re near the day that they will be released, to say—to let people know on the outside what’s happening on the inside?
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Great consciousness among young people today about the prison-industrial complex, about the way in which law and order and police are the front lines, and incarceration and deprivation of civil rights and human rights are the middle ground, for creating a separate group of people, for taking away democratic rights, as you say, voting rights, among other things, but other rights, housing and so on. This is an outrage. We live in the city of Chicago. Right here, within a mile of this studio, there’s 6,000, primarily African-American and Latino, young men locked up in Cook County Jail, pretrial, preconviction. It’s an outrage. It’s an incredible system, and it destroys lives, it destroys communities, it makes it very hard for people to get jobs coming out. There’s a wide awakeness, I think, among young activists about the relationship to this prison gulag and the need for abolition, really, abolition of prisons, and a campaign to downsize the incarceration of people and people of color.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Juan, the coming together of the immigrant rights movement and the critical mass movement around detention and prison—wait, and, Juan, the combination of the movements of immigrant rights, the separation of families, detention around the country. Among those joining this prison protest is the Northwest Detention Center in Washington state, where many immigrants are held. In fact, there were immigrants there that were separated from their children at the border.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, well, the immigration detention industry has become sort of a subset of the overall prison-industrial complex, clearly, in many cases a civil subset, because most of the people are not facing criminal charges. But I wanted to get Bill’s perspective, as well, on this whole issue of the movements within prisons these days and also the attempts now, serious attempts, for change. Obviously, the New York City Council voted about a year ago that they’re going to close Rikers Island, the main city jail, although the exact timing of that has not been determined yet, but there’s definitely been a dwindling of that population. What the prison reform movement looks like from your perspective?
BILL AYERS: I think that what we’re seeing is the resistance in prisons. And it’s happening in so many fronts. Partly, there are the hunger strikes that happened a year or so ago. There are the fight back in North Dakota, in South Dakota. There’s the immigrant rights. And I think what we’re seeing is something that’s growing. And you’re right, certainly, that it’s not getting the kind of attention or coverage that it should get. It snuck into The New York Times yesterday. It’s being talked about across networks. It’s on social media.
I think we’re at the—I don’t know—midpoint. I don’t know. We’re in a point where the kind of gathering mass of opposition to mass incarceration is spreading. And I think it’s going to be a major part of the kind of movement and coalition of resistance that’s being built up. I see it, and I think that the courage of people, who have very little resources, very little to hold on to, to withdraw their labor, to demand justice and to ask the rest of us to step up is absolutely heroic and inspiring.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end—
BERNARDINE DOHRN: And, of course—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re—
BERNARDINE DOHRN: Yeah, just going to say, that was part of the Black Panther Party program, too, to end prison labor, slave labor.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s where we’re going to end, because Bobby Seale just popped back on the satellite, with this mass protest movement in the prisons that’s taking place, from the anniversary of the killing of George Jackson to the anniversary of the Attica uprising on September 9th. This is the period of this national prison strike.
BOBBY SEALE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, protesters gathered outside Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina to demand better living conditions for prisoners inside. Seven prisoners died during a riot at that prison in April. Meanwhile, at least six people are continuing a hunger strike inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. I want to turn to human rights activist, educator and founding member of the Black Panther Party, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, who died last month at the age of 80. Born in Tennessee in 1938, Howard was also the first editor of the Black Panther Party’s newspaper. This is Howard speaking about visiting with prisoners during the 1971 Attica rebellion.
ELBERT HOWARD: The Panthers were there. I accompanied Bobby Seale and several other Panthers, and we went and we listened to the grievances of the inmates. And there was very little that we could do on the spot, other than we got party authorization to offer the inmates assistance if they wanted to leave the country, because at that time we had some friends—revolutionary friends—who would give them sanctuary, if we could encourage them to come out. And that was about all that we could offer. … And the day after we were there, he [the governor] issued the order to take the prison back at all costs.
AMY GOODMAN: So that was Elbert Howard, the first editor of the Black Panther Party newspaper. He died. Bobby Seale, if you can take it from there and end our show with that, the significance of the rebellions, back from Attica in 1971 to what we’re seeing today in the prisons across the country?
BOBBY SEALE: Yeah, I was pulled in as one of the main—as one of the last negotiators at Attica prison. Me and “Big Man” Elbert Howard and a couple of other people was my entourage. And we, in fact, did get to go inside the prison, through a section called no-man’s land. It was a long hall, and we would go out to the right to an empty yard and go to another yard, where all the other prisoners was and their negotiating tables were, etc. One of the prisoners was saying, because we had a United Airlines pilot, who was also a member of our organization, the Black Panther Party, they had heard about this, and they were wanting to know if I could get a helicopter in to come over the fence. I says, “Are you kidding?” I said, “I doubt that’s going to happen.”
At any rate, I did listen to all their things, and then we went back out. Of course, I flew to Oakland, California and, set up a meeting with me, Huey, the lawyers and another committee as to what else we could possibly do. And then, of course, we decided that we was going to hold some kind of a protest rally or something. But by the time I got back to, you know—and we came from the airport, and we went to the motels where the lawyers and other people were. And then we were headed to Attica prison. And as we were headed to Attica prison—that was that Monday morning—live on radio—boom, boom, boom—the attack went down. With that attack, then we stopped. We didn’t go any farther.
At any rate, following that, they released in the press that Bobby Seale had went in and told the prisoners to stab and cut the throats of the guards who were being held hostage there, etc. And that’s what they put out. So, the—I think Rockefeller, whoever was governor, etc., they were ready to put me back in prison, etc., etc. But the honesty of the coroner’s report came out and says no prisoners’ throats were cut; every guard who was a prisoner and a hostage was shot by the weapons and the guns of the guards who went in to attack and stop the prison revolt—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, but—
BOBBY SEALE: —the prison resistance.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but a very critical point that that uprising from September 9th to September 13th, when Governor Rockefeller called out the National Guard, they opened fire and killed 39 men in the prison, both prisoners and guards, critically wounding scores of others and injuring hundreds more. That’s going to wrap up this show. But, of course, we’ll continue to cover the prison strike and so much more. Bobby Seale, founding chairman, Black Panther Party, thanks so much for being with us from Oakland. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, thanks for joining us from Chicago, longtime activists for peace and racial justice, former SDS members, Students for a Democratic Society, as well as in the Weather Underground. Bernardine Dohrn was a professor, a law professor at Northwestern Law School, and Bill Ayers, a retired education professor and author of many books, a education professor at the University of Illinois, both speaking to us from Chicago. And, Bobby Seale, an early happy birthday, when you turn 82 in October. Thanks so much, all, for joining us. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. Thanks so much.