The Irrepressible Politics of the Black Panther Party

This Sunday, if you’re in the Bay Area, join Black against Empire authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin for a special One City One Book event. They’ll discuss the history and politics of the Black Panther Party and how the movement links to today’s political landscape and struggles.

Sunday, October 29 at 1 p.m.
Main Library, Koret Auditorium
100 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA
Free and open to the public, visit the event page for more info

To prepare for the event or for your own conversations, consider the following questions, provided by the San Francisco Public Library.

BOOK DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1 How did the party’s hierarchical structure affect its dynamics and its ultimate impact?

2 What drew thousands of new recruits to the Black Panther Party’s message of violent revolution in an era otherwise marked by the peaceful protests of the civil-rights movement?

3 In an iconic photo that was displayed in most Black Panther Party offices, Huey P. Newton is depicted with an ironclad grip on a rifle. What do you see as the difference between the Black Panthers’ perspective on gun rights and that of the modern-day National Rifle Association?

4 How did government policies like defamation, espionage, and the embedding of provocateurs affect the party’s momentum?

5 One of the central arguments in Black against Empire is that what lay behind the Black Panther Party’s growth and influence, what made them synonymous with the Black Power Movement rather than the many other contemporary black nationalist organizations, was their ability to form alliances and coalitions—namely with moderate, more establishment black organizations, white student leftists, sympathetic revolutionary governments abroad and Latino, Native American and Asian radical groups in the U.S. How difficult was it to maintain and balance such alliances, to keep people within the party on board and to avoid being co-opted by less militant groups? What, if any, prospects do you see for any similar alliances being formed for contemporary revolutionary politics in urban America?

6 The rise of the Black Panther Party coincided with some of the largest urban uprisings in US history: Watts in 1965 and Newark, and Detroit in 1967. In the last two years we have seen similar rebellions in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere. In many cases in both the 60s and today, the spark has been a police murder or assault on a black person. What parallels do you see between these periods?

7 The Black Panther, the Party’s newspaper, played a central role in the movement. It provided information of relevance about local, national and international struggles. It was also used as a powerful propaganda tool against the state and for internal discipline within the Party increasingly for its announcements of Party members being purged. Its circulation reached 150,000. Discuss the impact and effect of a media tool controlled by the Party. What are the parallels to the media of today?

8 The sheer extent of COINTELPRO infiltration, agent provocateurs and state-sanctioned murder of Panthers only became known years after the Party’s demise, though the campaign of vilification and repression by the US government was clear to Panthers at the time. Today in the U.K., as in the U.S., the state is widening its conceptions of ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’, continuing to criminalize those who organize against state oppression. How did the Panthers cope with the widespread propaganda offensive against them? To what extent did heavy state repression galvanize support for the party and was it state infiltration that was more damaging? What lessons can contemporary movements learn from state interference with the Party?

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