Tag Archives: Black Panthers

If Occupy Miami is the Present, Is there an Occupy Future?

Occupy Miami Raid in Overton

New Orleans     It’s time to take another look at the state of the Occupy movement in the USA.  It’s not easy.  It’s an eyesore and a headache.

From city to city where Occupy still holds some ground (speaking in a spatial, rather than a political sense) they continue to be rooted out like the last vestiges of the Al Qaeda when they were presumed to be in unforgiving caves in the mountains.   The new paramilitary urban police forces that from any camera angle seem to have been displaced without camouflage from Baghdad alleys to city streets were pulled out time after time to forcibly evict, bully, and intimidate the pockets who were left in Occupy camporees around the country.

Oakland and New York City may have gotten the big headlines, but the current status of Occupy Miami is perhaps as good an example as one can find that is struggling to survive though pushed dangerously under the radar.  Cold and snow couldn’t do the job in Miami obviously, so they’ve had to call the troops in on wild joint actions between local police, FBI, and god knows what from the looks of it.  The big Miami newspapers and TV from what I can tell, and what I’ve hear from friends, have been mum on all of this, but over the last week the repression has been intense, dramatic, and, need I say, unprovoked.   The most gripping videos were taken at the scene of “Fort Peace,” where there was a tactical assault on the space that some Occupy Miami folks had been given in the Overton neighborhood.  Some were arrested though listening to the YouTube video it seems clear they were clueless.  The cops took them to a unit that deals with drugs and terrorism.  It’s all harrowing, but judge for yourself:




At one level this is the same downward slide experienced by the Black Panthers and other groups that became marginalized when movement forces allowed a tactic to devour a strategy and then had the trap clamped down on them.  Will we see more attempted encampments seek to revive the tactic as spring spreads?

I think perhaps not so much.

In the ways of our times Occupy may have ceased to be a movement and instead become a brand that resembles the movement though may have been expropriated, sometimes for good reasons.

We now have Occupy Banks which seems a coalition that is only tangentially related to the original Occupy forces but has given purpose and some traction from place to place by community, labor, and other forces long fighting in the vineyards against the foreclosure victimizing millions around America.  There were coordinated actions on Bank of America where there was an “occupy” action to great effect in rally the forces of good.

Occupy might not be a bad brand.  Unfortunately, we still need a movement to go with the sentiment.  That’s a bigger spring cleaning project than many may want to tackle.


Fair Grinds Dialogue: Dialing Back to Desire and the Panthers

Orissa Arend, Keith Medley, and Bob Tucker at Fair Grinds

 New Orleans  My old friend and fellow labor activist, now retired from the postal workers union, Stanley Taylor, late in the 4th ,Fair Grinds Dialogue, reminded the assembled, rapt crowd, that “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.  Some nodded approvingly, but for most his comment was simply more sound in the Fair Grinds Organizing Roundtable Room without any special significance.  In truth for most people around the room, around the city, around the country and the world, history simply does not exist at least in any real sense of finding the facts, exploring the past, and coming to grip with lessons along the way.

Stanley Taylor

All of which has begun to make these experimental “dialogues” at the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse in New Orleans more and more interesting and, frankly, more and more valuable.  The topic this session had drawn a healthy crowd of 30 packed tightly in the room not only because of a better organizing and outreach job from the coffee bar, but also because the subject  was compelling to a mixture of both the committed, who tended to be older veterans of the time, and the curious, who were younger, fresh faced and intrigued by the incongruity of the New Orleans they were trying to understand today and the New Orleans of leather, guns, and Black Panthers serving breakfast in the Desire Street project.

I had asked Orissa Arend, author of the book, Showdown in Desire, which covered in detail the gunfight between the police and the Panthers in the fall of 1970 at the project, to come and present to the dialogue.  She wisely recruited Bob Tucker, one of the people who she said was a “hero” in her book, and another old comrade of mine when he was consigliore to Mayor Marc Morial, to tell the story from the vantage of his own participation, which he did so engagingly and passionately.  She also recruited local filmmaker Royce Osborn and historian Keith Medley, who had written his own book about the famous Supreme Court “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson case that originated in my Bywater neighborhood only a couple of blocks from where we used to live.  Add another more than 25 folks, and we had an amazing evening as you can tell from the website and the taping that we have now posted up on YouTube.

Watching and listening from the doorway was interesting.  The 70’s veterans wanted to make sure the 20-somethings understood what a “pig” was and what the phrase “off the pig” might mean.  Others who barely missed the period with the benefit of a generation gone by had trouble understanding why the Panthers seemed so dangerous and threatening when they were serving up breakfast in housing projects.  To say it was a different time is simply talking to oneself.  The time meant everything to some and to others was as foreign as a tale from India or the South Seas.

Orissa told a dramatic story, as she read from opposite accounts of being the target of the long gun battle and the miracle that no one was killed.  The fact that these young late teens and early 20’s Panthers upon surrendering to their sworn enemies in the police, who only hours before had guns blazing, found themselves talking about the prospects for the fledgling Saints, let you know you were hearing something that was totally true and typically weird in the way that only authentic experience can be.

Somehow as miraculously as the Panthers escaping with their lives was the feeling, seemingly unanimous among the crowd, that a bridge had somehow been built in the dialogue that had value for whatever reason.  The Panthers may have been an example, as I argued, of the organizing where the “tactic devoured the strategy,” as their guns evaporated their butter, but for those that were there it was simply magic in a bottle with value in its own right.  Worth continuing to see if this was luck, or we just might be getting something right.

Orissa Arend reading from her book Showdown in Desire