Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Organizers Respond To The u.s. As An Abuser
All three of the organizers featured in this section were spoken with because of their specific type of organizing, which meets at the crossroads of community self defense and community offense and the consequences and potentials of such action. And there are consequences to both defense and offense. Thomas Heynes, Outreach Worker Supervisor of G.M.A.C.C. knows this with intimacy.
G.M.A.C.C. provides a crisis management system to youth and adults at-risk to facing both violence from the repressive state apparatus of the police and the violence from gang struggle. Other resources that G.M.A.C.C. provides include preventing gun violence workshops intended to persuade people from dangerous gun lifestyles, job placements (including within G.M.A.C.C.) and “the [lifestyle] change[s] of bangers [which] motivate others,” said Heynes.
Bangers, specifically bangers who want to change their lifestyle learn quickly that reaching out to G.M.A.C.C. puts them in communication with people who not only empathize with them (lots of social justice organizations can emphasize but crisis management without the right experiences and skillsets in certain communities can straight up result in organizers getting murdered) but relate to their experiences and have the knowledge and tools to help them transform through their vulnerable situation (and not die).
When asked about the system of oppression and institutions that have disenfranchised and alienated black people from the workforce and how white pride gangs like the ku klux klan perform actions with consequences that that are often not fatal for them but would be for a black gang members, Heynes made it clear that it is the very system itself that is the ultimate grand dragon of the kkk. “Just because a person doesn’t wear a sheet over their head doesn’t mean they aren’t a member of the kkk. You have lawyers, doctors and ideology that exists [as part of the ignorance and oppression],” said Heynes.
Heynes believes that the solution to stopping white supremacy and all the forms of gang violence that are nested within it are the lawmakers. By ensuring that the black youth are kept out of prison and the morgue and cemetery politicians would have to see that the violence in the streets now lies solely in the hands of the police and white gangs. Heynes said, “How you combat [stories of black violence] is changing [the black street] self before you change the state.”
But what happens if the black street self makes these changes and the state still inflicts violence upon black bodies (and other persons of color) and ideology technologies (trump’s bad hombres remark is one example) in a sense, dog whistle white pride devotees, which allow racism to be empowered? Heynes believes that it obviously reveals that the u.s. operates in inequality and this understanding could persuade mass media and the american public to demand an end to mass incarceration and other oppressions. Non-violence exists as a central belief of Heynes. To him, revolution can’t be won by the gun. Of course, he did note that if an officer points a gun at him in a moment of racist fear, he would in all cases grab the gun – the objective is to live rather than die.
To make his position clearer, Heynes spoke about Nelson Mandela. Or rather, he spoke about the limited potential that individual actors have and the almost unbreakable power of popular movements that they can help spur. Nelson Mandela of course engaged in guerilla style warfare to fight against apartheid. He planned and participated in numerous bombings against the state and social apparatuses of South African oppression and pleaded guilty in court to these public acts of violence. Behind bars he sanctioned bombings as well, including the 1983 Church St. car bomb that killed 19 people. Heynes asked if Nelson Mandela won because of violent fighting – and then he answered with a firm no. “He was just someone that was noticed and there were many [activists] that were unnoticed,” said Heynes. He added that there were a lot of other activists who peacefully established the end of apartheid and that it was the sympathy extended to Mandela’s circumstances that led to the international outcry that made inevitable the end of the system of oppression in South Africa.
But Hynes does not see persons who participate in violence to end oppression as enemies – he sees them as misguided. He encourages leftist organizations and gun clubs to keep pushing forward. He even commends their contributions and good work. In the spirit of connection, he noted, “Hopefully we can create systems that can help end structural oppression.” But he does see the praxis and nature of some of these organizations as problematic. “I’m against guns. I’m against any type of violence,” said Heynes.
Babu Omowale, co-founder of the Houston chapter of the Huey P Newton Gun Club, by the very nature of being in a leadership position within a gun club named after a deceased Black Panther, noted his dialectical opposition to Heynes’ position. He said that “People who operate from the view that [an unrelenting commitment to non-violent organizing is the best organizing strategy] are either very brave or very stupid.”
But this view of persons and organizations that are committed to only non-violent strategies does not mean that Omowale and the Huey P Newton Gun Club view non-violent organizing strategies and outcomes as realities that lack efficacy. Omowale understands that just as Mandela alone did not establish an end to apartheid in South Africa, Martin Luther King Jr. and other actors who engaged in total non-violence are not the only people who fought for and established civil rights for people of color. “Huey P Newton Gun Club would rather people use nonviolent measures but when non-violence doesn’t work you have the Black Panthers and Huey P Newton Gun Club,” said Omowale.
Omowale addresses the simple truth that non-violence is the answer until it isn’t. Black people in the united states were not just oppressed because of jim crow laws and a lack of equality and equity – black people in the u.s. were lynched, beaten by the police, raped, terrorized (by the klan and by people not in the klan) and harmed in a multitude of horrible ways (and the violence continues). Martin Luther King Jr. did very little through direct action to combat this type of white power. But the Black Panther Party did (and so did Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam) combat that party.
But as Omowale notes, it has never been a matter of non-violence versus violence in black empowerment and more broadly movements from and for people of color. It has always been non-violent organizations and organizations that practice both non-violent and violent organizing strategies participating in the same struggle. It would not be accurate to compare and contrast Martin Luther King Jr. with the historical Black Panther Party by arguing Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign versus Huey Newton’s supposed police murder. It would be accurate to compare the Black Panther Party’s school meal program, which Erin Blackmore mentions in “How the Black Panthers’ Breakfast Program Both Inspired and Threatened the Government” for History.com or their whole spectrum of social programs (Blackemore 2018), which includes but is not limited to, free medical clinics, community ambulance services, legal clinics, Seniors Against a Fearful Environment (SAFE), which is a security program for seniors that protected them from muggings, a youth education program, a free food program, the Black Student Alliance and a newspaper. Of course, a compare and contrast would not be about who did more or who did what better but it would help to understand who did what and what are some common organizing and community aid organizing efforts. On the matter of non-violence versus violence there is no way to compare and contrast. Martin Luther King Jr. did not prevent police brutality at all. He did not prevent lynchings. He did not instill fear in white pride advocates. The Black Panther Party did.
And just as the Black Panther Party patrolled neighborhoods to organize against state white supremacy in the form of the police and white pride in individuals and in gangs and prevent community crime, Omowale stated that Huey P Newton Gun Club does the same. And some people might not see this as respectable given that the police have some sort of perverted, ideologically alienated, white power interpolated conception of justice and they are the ones who have the authority to protect and serve (whatever that means in relation to perversion, alienation and white power). Omowale understands this contention against this organizing very well: “We’ve been at this point with W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey and we’ve been at this point with MLK and Malcolm X.”
Almost to the end of the second decade of the new millennium, things are different. Black Lives Matter, arguably one of the biggest organizations fighting for black justice, while not tactically organizing a gun club or militia is not opposed to the utilization of militancy for security purposes. Omowale talked about a rally of Black Lives Matter in Dallas, Texas where prior to the event, the klan threatened to cause a disruption. Black Lives Matter reached out to Huey P Newton Gun club and they provided security at the event. Omowale said that at the end of the day organizations need to think about end game.
The end game for Huey P Newton Gun club is explicitly revolution. He advocates that black power and black people relocate and create a concentrated living situation in parts of Texas and all of Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The next step is to simultaneously take over the politics (those involved in that struggle would take over state and city positions of power such as mayor and governor) and then take over the national guard. Taking over the national guard through physical insertion or through other efforts is critical because as Omowale says, “The national guard can only be activated by [the particular] state’s governor.” Of course, Omowale knows that the u.s. will not want the union broken and there are risks involved with these liberatory maneuvers.
Omowale reflected on what the politics of his desired black lead system might become and he said “Whether this [new government] relates to communist views or other views we need to be in service to the people.”
And Omowale in the end game recognizes that there are a multitude of players on the field fighting to end oppression. He spoke about both the Indigenous or First People in the u.s. and Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x people – and he addressed as a whole all minority groups – and he said that they have been taken advantage of and robbed of rights and sometimes property. He recognized that Indigenous people understand the importance of property rights and fighting for community: “To be a meaningful group in this country requires land ownership. Without land ownership, everything else is worthless.”
He suggested a certain kind of federalism in a system of post u.s. oppression in the statement “Every ethnic group needs its own militia [or anti-oppression-based gun club].” This does relate to the take over the national guard idea but Omowale recognizes that different ethnic groups will want to do things with differences relevant to their particular needs.
Omowale has thought about what it might look like for Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x people (including those of the aforenoted people who are immigrants or migrants). He noted that the aforementioned communities have vast people power as a minority majority. He believes that in the next fifty years the Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x community will take over much of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. At least in the beginning, “This will be done without the [Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x communities] firing any shots,” said Omowale.
The only specific advice for ethnic minority groups and more specifically Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x communities engaging in anti-oppression struggle is that he sees it as an imperative that they organize gun clubs in their communities and throughout the u.s. as a whole. “[Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x people] you should step up militancy because your people are being shot down in the streets. [People who are leaders] who have militant training [need to] pick up the responsibility,” said Omowale.
If oppression from the u.s. state does not cease, Veronica Hinojos, Commander of the Louisiana chapter of the Brown Berets is one such person who along with her fellow commanders and militants in the nationwide organization are assuming leading roles in such a responsibility.
Hinojos makes it clear that she is acting and organizing in opposition to u.s. oppression and is defending her people when she says, “We [of the Brown Berets] are militants. We have uniforms. We have a code.”
And the Brown Berets have a history that goes back to the start of the Hispanic, Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x civil rights movement in the sixties. To make clear, the Brown Berets are Chicanas and Chicanos (and some of the younger members might identify as Chicanx) and they are persons of Mexican origin or descent. This is central to their fight to protect their people.
Of course, their people, means people of Mexican origin or descent but they want to protect all oppressed people. Some of this protection takes the form of firearm training and community defense. Like the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets address racists and fascists terrorizing neighborhoods. They along with the Black Panthers even provided security at Huey Newton’s trial. The Brown Berets like the Black Panthers are about non-violence and reasoned escalation to violence to combat oppression. But to Hinojos, “Our minds are the deadliest weapon we can have.” The Brown Berets used their minds to create the El Barrio Free Clinic, one of the first free clinics for a low-income Spanish speaking community. And as the South El Monte Arts Posse note in “¡La Lucha Continua! Gloria Arellanes and the Making of a Chicano Movement in El Mon-te and Beyond,” from Tropics of Meta, they also participated in the Poor People’s Campaign (Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign of course) in 1968 (South El Monte Arts Posse 2015), which exists as another example of the movement’s numerous praxial forms and organizing methodologies.
Many writers when addressing organizations like the Brown Berets, and the Black Panthers as well, concluded with “But they didn’t only do violence 😊!” And it’s really important to make those words see themselves in the mirror: Those words in the mirror are meek and reactionary. There are racists who will try to kill people in the Chicana/o/x, Hispanic, Latina/o/x communities. As Erase Racism notes, in Patchouge, Long Island in 2008, seven white young adults beat up Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant. If the Brown Berets saw the cowardly gang attack, the horrible and deeply tragic death of Lucero would have likely not occurred.
The Brown Berets again, do like to deescalate violence but they do understand the harm that racists cause. Some commanders (Hinojos does) advocate for open carry patrols but it is up to both the decision of the Commander and the individual militant. Hinojos spoke about her own experience with a racist person who was saying very disrespectful comments to her who then revealed that she had a relative in the klan. Hinojos told this person that they were stupid for revealing such information and suggested that she shut her mouth or fight. The racist backed down.
And this shut-it-down mentality that Hinojos has exists not just for individual racists but for the racist and oppressive system that is the u.s. Hinojos thought about the difference between what is legal and what is ethical and she said about the u.s. state “You know they are teargassing children but if I go down town and tear gas a child I will go to jail.”
Reflecting about the oppression at the border lead Hinojos to discuss what the border-industrial complex meant in relation to the Chicana/o/x, Hispanic, Latina/o/x communities that it addressed. “I’m very suspicious. History does not repeat itself. It never stops. It hides itself.”
With increased militarization and the reality of a police state in the u.s. the power that fuels the oppression of the u.s. state is vast. Many people think that quiet, persistent civil disobedience is the key, but as noted just previously, Hinojos knows history well: “Here’s the thing. I love MLK. He made a lot of changes. But look at what he had to go through. I’m not that patient.”
Hinojos referenced Pancho Villa and Che Guerva as militant influences to her politics and she said like the organizations they were affiliated with, the Brown Berets are revolutionary. She did not discuss an end game as Omowale did but “[When[ they come at us with violence – we are gong to defend ourselves by any means necessary,” she said.
Hinojos and the Brown Berets like Pancho Villa and Che Guerva all have plans and goals in mind and they are all revolutionary. A federalist system like Omowale suggests would enable cultural difference and power to flourish in a system of respect. And further, social anarchism operating in a federalist system would help facilitate the destruction of economic oppression and end social colonization. Tijerina, and the Alianza already waged war against the u.s. so if push comes to shove it might happen again. These possibilities of course would have to be worked out by Hispanics, Latina/o/xs and Chicana/o/xs, migrants and immigrants. One thing is for sure, these communities are in an abusive relationship with the state and there exists in the material oppression a call to arms. Crafting the future of community when that community is in control of its own destiny is natural. There is no crafting when there is no control. To get to the control and to the natural, the difficult and unnatural struggle of denying the thought that things will get better on their own or with gentle reminders that the state needs to be kinder (exhaustive reliance on civil disobedience at this point might as well be thought of as a gentle reminder). The u.s. state is an abuser and it is imperative that these communities figure out a way to overcome that abuser.
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