Black Panther Party Alumni, Punk Artists Join Forces to Revive Radical Roots
It all began here in Oakland 55 years ago: the rise of what would become a global movement for equal civil rights under the law, for oppressed brothers and sisters of every stripe. With a “radical” idea of what equality looks like and a 10-point platform, the Black Panther Party was born.
What Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale dared to dream in that fateful October of 1966 shifted perspectives around the world, literally and immeasurably. Yet, as we take stock of where we stand today, we must admit that still…little has changed.
But a movement of worth is one that never really dies. It may slip into obscurity for a time, but it lingers and simmers beneath the complacent crusty surface like lava drawn to the cracks, for that moment when the message can break through and take hold once again. This very well may be that moment.
On queue, the BPP returns adapted, transcendent and radical in old and new ways, and in the true spirit of the Rainbow Coalition, they’ve reached out to harness the power of some equally radical and unexpected friends. This 55th BPP anniversary also marks the official public launch of the All Power to the People art collaboration project that showcases the Party’s revolution through the eyes of today’s punk artists.
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It’s all the cool you’d expect from such a collision of worlds, but the intention and purpose behind the project is a much deeper well. As Black Panther Party alumni Dr. Saturo Ned explained, teaming with Sacramento-based Destroy Art in the APT2P project is a way to honor the Rainbow Coalition and “to reestablish that with the knowledge of what was done before, how we accomplished it and use all the wonderful tools we have to take it to the next level.”
Punk-based artists have been given license and the chance to interpret BPP’s revolutionary art and the artwork is being sold as posters, apparel, coffee mugs and more. Half the proceeds of all sales go back to the Black Panther Party Alumni Legacy Network to help fund education and community initiatives that have remained steadfast Party priorities. People living in today’s fractured and drastically unequal social and political power landscape are searching for answers, for a road map — and those who have walked the talk before are again rising to the occasion with renewed commitment to foster and mentor the next revolutionaries.
Before the official AP2TP art collaborative launch, I spoke with Dr. Saturu Ned, as well as Craig Vincent and Farida Mazlan of Destroy Art Inc. to find out how their worlds collided and what they hoped the partnership would accomplish.
Vincent and Mazlan have enveloped the Party principles beyond the scope of art — the two have attended BPPALN classes as a way to grasp the movement’s real history and learn what social change based on the 10-point platform truly means. There is a sense of deep mutual respect between the Party members and the ‘punks’ carrying today’s message. When I asked Ned what moved the alumni group to team with Destroy Art, he said:
“When people say, ‘Why this group in particular?’, this is actually what the BPP did. … The picture I’m painting here is that we always were about the total community, bringing everyone in and looking at: What are the same issues that affect you that are affecting us? We’ll waive all the layers of uncouth and we’ll come to a space where we all want the same thing: land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. So, we’re gonna work together — we’re gonna exchange principles and ideas.
Things that have worked for us, you’ll take them to your community, and we’ll be there to support you when it’s there. This collaborative that I’m talking about — the cutting edge that Destroy Art and AP2TP, and Craig and Farida, bring to the table, at this point in time are a continuation of where we went. So they are actually leading the way.”
Vincent elaborated on punk movement roots in social justice, noting that teaming with BPP seemed natural in that light. He said:
“Something about punk rock, which is where I really come from — it’s really about the truth. The good, bad and ugly truth. And it can be obnoxious, but it can be compassionate. We do a lot of social programs — punk rockers, believe it or not, are big advocates for social justice.”
He said he’s worked with groups in Oakland to support unsheltered people and assist with harm reduction, and through that work became aware that much of the community outreach he was doing was taken from the Party playbook. He said the partnership “was an instant connection because we could trust each other, because our motives are aligned.”
The groups can also relate to being misrepresented at best and villainized at worst in the public sphere, albeit to different extremes.
While the unique and maybe surprising collaboration is a story unto itself, it by no means overshadows the Party’s iconic art, and the power it had and continues to wield. Ned explained:
“Our art was a really important part of it. The works of Emory Douglas (BPP graphic artist) were telling the story and painting a message because everybody would not read a newspaper, not everybody would not come to a community rally or listen to someone speaking, but through art…one form of it was a thousand words.
The connection that we have today with Craig and for Rida … it is really important in bringing people together.”
And people are responding. The trio told me they’re getting orders from people all over the country and the globe, from places you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a progressive social agenda. Maybe it’s the perfect storm of reality on the heels of unrest and activism unseen since the 60s, or maybe it’s the nostalgia people crave. Who knows? But something resonates and the message is spreading: that all power belongs to all the people.
To learn more about the classes, community initiatives, free breakfasts and other programs the Black Panther Party Alumni Legacy Network are offering, visit their website here. To view and buy some of the Party-inspired merchandise that supports those programs, check out the AP2TP site here.