Black Panther Party Founder: Trump ‘Even Worse’ Than Nixon
By Evan Lips | February 28, 2017, 7:08 EDT
CAMBRIDGE — Bobby Seale, the 1960s revolutionary civil rights activist, told a crowd that he believes recently-inaugurated President Donald Trump is far more dangerous to the social justice movement than former President Richard Nixon could have ever hoped to have been.
“When I look at Trump today, I say ‘oh my God,’ because Trump is even worse than Nixon,” Seale said at one point during his hour-long speaking engagement ahead of a book signing , just after he recalled how in 1969 Nixon ordered then-F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover to bring the hammer down on Seale’s Black Panther Party.
Seale had just finished rehashing his experiences with Nixon’s administration following the California Republican’s win in 1968. This past October, the Black Panther Party celebrated its 50th anniversary. According to Seale, Nixon’s decree to Hoover involved making sure that Seale’s rebellious organization did not live to see the end of 1969.
“I got this copy of audio, it has Nixon’s voice, ‘J. Edgar, when are you going to get rid of these Black Panthers?’” Seale told the audience, who assembled at Lesley University’s Washburn Auditorium to hear him speak.
Seale said the audio clip had been archived by Vanderbilt University and given to him by a member of the school.
“That good ‘ol historical smoking gun evidence that goes straight to the president of the United States of America,” Seale said. “This is the president of the United States of America telling J. Edgar Hoover, the head cop, to get rid of these Black Panthers.
“I mean, look at me — we were a threat to the internal security of America? I’m a United States citizen.”
Seale, 80, recently released a new memoir — Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers — and signed copies of his book following the event. He appeared to bristle at the notion that his organization was simply a militant group spawned by the civil rights era.
Seale recalled the day in May 1967 when he and other members stormed the California State House in Sacramento, armed with guns and legal notebooks, to oppose a law that had been crafted specifically to thwart the Black Panthers’ penchant for listening to police activity over a radio scanner and dispatching members armed with guns and legal information in order to prevent potential abuses of police power.
“They knew we could take the arrests, but they didn’t come in saying they’d make arrests — when I led the armed delegation to the state Legislature in 1967, we had a policy of taking formal arrests, we weren’t scared of the courtroom,” Seale recalled. “When 1969 came, and they started attacking us, that was something else, man.”
Seale reminded attendees of the formal name of the organization — the Black Panther Party For Self Defense.
“They attacked our offices, all throughout the year of 1969, [Attorney General] John Mitchell said by the end the year we’d be rid of these Black Panthers, but we won that last shootout politically,” said Seale. “It was a shootout because they were able to sustain. We had been on the front lines of Vietnam. We taught all our brothers and sisters how to fortify their offices, because we knew they were gonna attack us, and they did attack us, and we defended ourselves.
“By the end of that year I had 28 dead Black Panther party members and another 69 wounded. In defending ourselves, some 12 policemen were dead and another 39 were wounded.”
His organization’s activities, which included pushing for free school breakfast programs and free health clinics — not to mention voter registrations drives — were seen as a threat by Nixon, Seales claimed. The 10-point program he drafted with co-founder Huey Newton, Seale said, was never based on socialism.
“When I say that it doesn’t mean I run around propagating state-controlled socialism. I put two thumbs down to that crap, way back in the early days of Black Panther Party. Huey, he was a Marxist, and I always argued with him that real socialism has to be power to the people,” Seale said. “Empowerment, I believe had to be done through the legislative process, piece-by-piece, with us getting more and more control — that was my argument.”
Seale said today’s protests should have an end-game: electing supporters and those sympathetic to his cause to office.
“If you weren’t being practical and pragmatic — I was a pragmatic kind of person — I wanted to see real programs,” he said. “When I started the free breakfasts for children program, I didn’t call it socialism, they called it socialism.
“Boom-boom-boom-boom … and that program spread like wildfire, it spread beyond the Black Panther Party.”
As for 1969, Seale said he’s beginning to see parallels between that year and 2017.
“That was a piece of mean history, and today, we’re going to have another more profound piece of mean history, on a fuller, broader scale,” Seale said. “I mean, our climate change issues, economic issues and problems — he’s [Trump] talking about how he’s going to do infrastructure but I’m skeptical of what kind of infrastructure program. He’s talking about corporate people owning the structures, the frameworks, that they put together.
“I just got a strange feeling that there’s still going to be low-wage, low-paying jobs at whatever Mr. Trump is going to try to put together.”
Seale said the key for progressives is to turn the protests into election day wins.
“What we really need is the same kind of electoral fervor and involvement and unity and activity,” he said. “This next off-year election, we’re going to do the nitty-gritty, we have to do it. We have to get out there and get some of these legislative seats, especially at the federal level. We can probably take the Senate. And if we get lucky, and just get one vote over, the real programs and all the stuff Bernie Sanders talked about, we can push for those programs too, and that’s what has to happen.
“We have to have a real momentum. All the young brothers and sisters, I want you to get your education and degrees and decent jobs, but at the same time, learn, please, to evaluate and hitch your wagon to the people’s human liberation struggle.”
Can the lessons from the 1960s translate into results in 2017?
“My point is that we were on the right road,” said Seale, referring to his more turbulent, more activist days. “We did not run around in isolationist ways from other groups and other people, we related to the whole multicultural framework, which really boils down to a class struggle between the masses of the people and the avaricious corporate money controlling and running our political lives.”