Listening to BOBBY SEALE (1999)

Photo by Robert Altman, 1969

BOBBY SEALE * 17 March 1999 * unedited transcript

I interviewed Bobby Seale (official site) in person in Oakland for Vibe Magazine, on a commission by Peter Relic, who was editing the front section of Vibe that year. I think the transcript runs to 12,000 words. The published Q & A was about 700 words. There’s lots of great stuff in here about Black Panther Party history and philosophy, Bobby’s times in prison, barbecue and so on, after we get done with talking about what he’s up to at the moment…—Jay Babcock

Bobby Seale: I’m out here [in Oakland] for David Hilliard. David Hilliard is running for City
Council, 3rd district, to mount a real student involvement and people’s
involvement-type of campaign for him to win that particular political
office. It’s all about the continuing progressive Old Left-radical politics
today. We want to get these students involved in this campaign to teach
them techniques and methods of the old Black Panther party campaign, Old
Left radical politics, progressive politics. To teach students that they
gotta take over, that they have to be part and parcel of this kind of
stuff, they gotta take seats over all over this country and this is gonna
set an example for that. That they’re the ones who have to begin to
understand the need to control, run these political institutionalized
functions whether they’re city council, county seats, state legislative
seats, etc., and make laws, legislation and policy that reflect the real
true human liberation of the people, the empowerment of the people, whether
you’re black, white, blue, red, green, yellow, polkadot, we don’t care.
We’re progressive. In the 1960s we were an ALL power to ALL the people. We
didn’t care what you were.

People think we were just a strict so-called xenophobic-type Black power
organization. Not true. If people look and know our history…as an
African-American group of young people who were part of a young
intelligentsia of the 1960s, what we evolved were some of the most profound
progressive politics that emerged out of the Black community: to set up
coalitions, working face-to-face coalitions with all our white left radical
friends, with all the young Hispanics, young Puerto Ricans with the Young
Lords organization or the young Mexican-Americans Chicano brothers and
sisters with the Brown Berets and the Cesar Chavez farm labor movement. We
had a working coalition with that organization. AIM—American Indian
Movement—we worked directly with. All the young Asians, young Chinese and
Japanese worked with us, like the Red Guard out of Chinatown. Young Chinese
students and young Japanese. In fact, of all those ethnic groups, it was
always a few of each one of those ethnic groups that actually literally
joined our Black Panther Party. I’m just saying that, that’s the kind of
progressive, “All power to the People” politics that we put into the ’60s.
We crossed racial lines even though we were able to be an African-American
community organization that ran our own organization without any
intellectual or offbeat, abstract, academic dictates. We REFUSED to allow
for that, because our concept and our method was putting theory into
practice. Learning as we did.

And we want to show the youth—when I speak today—we want to show the
youth that if you participate, I want you to sign up for this campaign
because it is not about just a political seat, it’s about another kind of
movement, moving into this Y2K period…it’s not necessarily about the
continuing, old politics as usual of the Democratic and especially the
right-wing conservative Republican politics… There’s the Green Party,
there’s the Constitutional Party, etc. so on. For instance David is running
his total non-partisan, there’s no political party per se mentioned here in
terms of being listed on the ballot. So. We’re saying there are
multi-thousands of these seats. You talk about 50,000? or are you talking
500,000? …duly-elected seats in the United States of America, especially
on the local level. And this campaign is not the last of this era, it will
be another one evolving.

For instance in Winston, North Carolina, used to have a chapter of the
Black Panther Party there. The Party was over, what, in the late ’70s and
early ’80s? What in effect happened was the former Party members ran for
political office. Larry Little, the former Deputy Chairman down there, won
a councilmanic seat that represented that poor low-income African-American
community there. And since then, for 26 years, it’s always been a former
Black Panther connected to that seat. The people will not allow anybody
else. If you weren’t in the former Black Panther Party organization in
Winston/Salem, North Carolina—they call it , the old other conservative
council members call that particular seat “the Panther seat.”

In other words you have to remember those young Black Panther Party people,
young students and others, they put together a free ambulance program for
the people. They put together a free health clinic with a free pharmacy
program which all chapters and branches did. They put together free
breakfasts for children programs that served those people in that
community. So those people never forgot that. They remembered that. These
are tangible programs. This was not rhetoric, this was not talk. So this is
what I’m saying.

So we have various examples of former Party members still in political
office like Bobby Rush, who was an alderman there in Chicago for 12 years
and then became a Congressman. We have Michael McGee in Milwaukee, he is
still a councilman up there representing a heavy electoral group of the
African-American community.

What a lot of people forget is this is really the politics of the Black
Panther party. Even though we had a lot of shootouts and a lot of battles
with the police attacked us, when the politicians would send their law
enforcement agencies in on us, even though J. Edgar Hoover and all these
guys were out to smash us, try to terrorize us out of existence, they
killed 29 of my people in this country, particularly in the year 1969. 14
policemen wound up getting killed in those attacks. They attacked our
offices, they attacked our homes and we vowed to defend ourselves. Cuz in
our sense, all we were doing was defending our Constitutional, democratic,
civil, human rights: one, to organize the people, political electoral
community power…

People used to say “you’re outside the System.”
You can’t be outside of something that’s oppressing you.
You have to get right into the middle of it, change its structure,
change its direction, change the laws, change the
policy to serve the empowerment really and truly of the people.
And THAT’s the kind of politically revolutionaries we were in the 1960s.

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