She was like the city itself, broken from a lifetime of struggle, barely standing. Yet, there was still a fire there, still a spark of revolution in her eye. As she spouted pseudo Black nationalist rhetoric, mixed with a tinge of astrology and conspiracy, I was overcome with a strong sense of grief. It was obvious that she had been using some kind of substance, that the ills of Reagan’s final blow to Black radicalism were flowing through her veins. Still, there was a fiery determination in her speech, a need to educate and liberate, a need to get free. Like the city, itself, she was broken and devastated from waging a battle against the state and yet, despite loosing, she soldiered on. She was Oakland.
Oakland is a city shaken from struggle. The increased pig presence reminds the onlooker that there is a deep fear of the population. This is the city that spawned the Black Panther Party, after all. This is the city that dared to stand against the fascist and demand liberation. The people of Oakland stand on the legacy of the Panther’s war with the White capitalist state apparatus. And though they were ultimately defeated there is still the residue of struggle here. It’s in the air. The children know they stand on hallowed ground, and every pseudo revolutionary from Riverside to Richmond VA is dying to come set up shop in the former base of the revolution. This is the city whose ports were shut down by the militant longshoremen in protest of Apartheid in South Africa, this is the city where the last general strike in US history was held, this is Oakland. And sadly like many sites of former battle it has walking wounded.
This womyn brought out both pride and grief in me, simultaneously. She was the perfect example of what happens when one gives their all to an organization believing that their every move is bringing revolution closer, only to have the rug yanked violently and suddenly from underneath. Like many rank and file ex-panthers she probably succumb to the onslaught of drugs in the 80’s and without enough focus on developing the rank and file theoretically by the organization, fell into confusion and disarray after the party’s destruction. But still, equipped with her pamphlets and rhetoric, she marches on, an army of one. Not all of the heroes from the 60’s can be found photographed on the shiny pages in the middle of long self-important autobiographies. Many of them are walked past daily, many found singing songs of revolution to themselves on the BART, asking for change. This system may have won the battle against them, stripping them of public dignity, but the spirit of revolution still burns bright in many of them. Still yearns to get free and set the world ablaze.
I have lived in the Bay Area for 5 years and Oakland for a few months and it has been one of the richest experiences of my life to be here, to develop politically here, to experience love, loss, struggle and strife here. There is no place like it. This meeting, although filled with mixed feelings, affirmed that for me.