Just Finished Reading: Seize the Time – The Story of The Black Panter Party and Huey P Newton by Bobby Searle (FP: 1970)
This was a strange and sometimes difficult read. Although I am becoming more familiar with US Urban Politics in the 1960’s and 1970’s some of the names and places are still a little fuzzy which can cause some confusion. More difficult to get used to, though I did eventually get the hang of it, was the use of urban black slang used throughout the book. Indeed, from the very beginning, the book read like an almost unmediated string of consciousness from the authors mind, jumping between topics before focusing back on his original thread to say nothing of seemingly random repetitions, which meant you really needed to concentrate on some sections of the book in order not to lose the thread. On top of this was the shotgun smattering of swear words and, naturally, the dreaded ‘N’ word that people get so touchy about these days.
But, once you got used to all of the above, the narrative (primitive though it felt at times) proved to be surprisingly gripping. Told very much in the first person – though focused throughout on the founder of the Party Huey P Newton – this was a detailed account of the birth of an admittedly revolutionary political party in modern day America. From the ground up to the States attempts to crush the movement we are given privileged access to the Parties philosophy – gleaned from Marx, Mao, Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon (of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ fame) – its actions on the streets of California ‘shadowing’ police cars and patrolling with guns clearly visible and clearly loaded, its many run-ins with the authorities in the guise of local police, FBI and others, the legal cases against many in the leadership and the almost fanatical reaction from local, State and National government to prevent the power of the Panthers spreading.
The crunch came, from the authority’s point of view, when the Panthers started to organise outside of their black urban base. If it wasn’t bad enough that a political organisation had organically emerging within this disenfranchised group they then began an outreach programme contacting and developing relations with Hispanics, Chinese and (the final nail it seemed) with the white urban poor with whom they had so much in common. Their philosophy saw beyond mere colour and recognised the fact that the urban poor of both races had far more in common and especially far more grievances in common than anything which appeared at first glance to separate them. It is easy to see why the National and State apparatus where eager to put a stop to this sort of thing – most especially because the Panthers were not afraid to publically show that they had the means to violently defend themselves if necessary.
This is definitely an interesting contemporary insight into the revolutionary phenomena in the modern West. It stayed with me for quite a while after finishing it and I can definitely see why it became a classic text in the African-American community. Of course what makes this even more interesting is its relevance to the recent Black Lives Matter phenomena and the continuing violence directed at Black America. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in US Black History and the founding of radical political parties in the modern world.