Seattle Black Panther Party Revolutionary Forum and Film Festival 2016

Location: Seattle, WA

panel with original BPP members Washington Hall’s Theatre

This past weekend, Friday September 16th – Sunday September 18th was the Seattle Black Panther Party Revolutionary Forum and Film Festival 2016, celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Black Panther Party (BPP) as well as connecting former BPP members to today’s young revolutionary minds. Each day of the weekend had a different format that was full of hours of education, reflection and heart felt conversation. This debrief summarizes the weekend by capturing a few key moments while also introducing  readers to the incredible influential leaders that attended and some of the experiences they shared.

The first day of the weekend of events was held as the Hillman City Collaboratory an event space building catered to artists and community organizers. In addition to viewing the films in this space we were also served vegetables, cookies and wine (a pleasant surprise). One of the films that was shown was a Documentary Film on Assata Shakur “Eyes on the Rainbow” which documented Assata’s involvement within Black Panther Party that led to her 6 year imprisonment. Since escaping prison she’s been living in Cuba in political asylum. “If we do not take ourselves seriously, we will have to hang our heads in front of our ancestors, ” this was one of many statement’s that touched me as she spoke with immense wisdom throughout the film, which was shot shortly after Assata lost her mother. Her strength was motivating and inspiring. This film was followed by motivating stories from Elmer Dixon, co-founder of the Seattle Black Panther Party.

This film was played alongside another inspirational documentary film that focused on a powerful Black Panther Party leader, The Murder of Fred Hampton 1971. In this film we hear a few of Fred Hampton’s powerful speeches and we also learn about the details of his death as discrepancies acrise in the press about police inaccuracies in the planned “raid” that was conducted on Fred Hampton’s apartment which resulted in his death at the age of 21. Between each film we heard from members of the BPP who witnessed these events take place at the time. I had the honor of hearing Michael Dixon’s account on the event, who revealed to us details about Hampton’s death that were not in the film, such as his being drugged and therefore unable to get out of bed to avoid gunfire. Although there was overwhelming evidence that the “raid” was conducted improperly: being held in the middle of the night, officers using excessive force, inaccuracies in officer’s accounts of the incident. In addition to this, death and injury were inflicted on the black panther party. Regardless, the Supreme Court still found “insufficient evidence in to prove violation of the residence’s civil rights”. This was essentially blatant evidence of the American criminal justice  system’s refusal to recognize the rights of Black Americans. This is a fatal problem that our community continues to battle with today.

Terika Lewis (right) and Vinetta Mosen (left)

The end of day one left me feeling hungry to hear more Black Panther experiences. The second day, held at Washington Hall, was the forum formatted portio of the event. I entered the building and immediately purchased Aaron Dixon’s memoir, My People Are Rising, which now stands on my bookshelf. I was able to have my copy signed and can’t wait to review it in my Book Synopses. On Day 2, Speakers who were members of the BPP as well as others form groups in coalition with the BPP like the Young Lords  and the Young Patriots also spoke in the forum. I was excited to be able to hear the stories of Terika Lewis, the first woman to join the BPP, and Vinetta Mason, another woman in the BPP who courageously moved across the country right after graduating high school to work with the BPP’s famous breakfast program.

On Day 2 we heard a lot about coalition and the importance of forming bonds among organizations in order to have the power to make changes to dismantle the state’s oppressive systems.  Filipe Luciano, co-founder of the Young Lords’ New York Chapter, revealed his experiences working as apart of the revolution and urged us to prepare ourselves for the return of Fascism, a form of counter-revolutionary dispar awakened by the political vacuum created by America’s current structure (ie. Donald Trump). Felipe also talked about the gender war that is currently happening in New York and its relationship  to the gender rifts that eventually led contributed to the end of the Young Lord’s.

Chuck Armsbury represented another group, the Young Patriots, which also formed a coalition with the BPP in order to establish programs to benefit the community and serve the people. The Young Patriots focused on organizing white youth that were in poverty. Chuck talked about his personal experiences as a white man born in a rural area where he had never met a person of color until his 20s. He mentioned that it’s not only people of color who are suffering in this system, white people are suffering too. He pointed out the rising rates of trailer park neighborhoods scattered across the country, those are white people who fall victim to the same oppressive institutional forces of many people of color. Chuck served many years of time in as a political prisoner, including on McNeal Island.

(Open Discussion: Right to Left) Chuck Armsbury, Aaron Dixon, Mike Tagawa, Terika Lewis and Michael Dixon

On Day 3, after being introduced to the Black Panthers and learning about their experiences, we focused on identifying key factors within this system of oppression: Policing, Healthcare, Education, Childcare and Food Access and listed ideas and current local projects as well as resources that are available in order to help dismantle each individual item that was identified. These lists will be compiled and made available online.

Overall the Seattle Black Panther Party Revolutionary Forum and Film Festival 2016 was an incredible place at an affordable cost (only $11 for all 3 days!) for people interested in learning about the BPP and the methods that they used to develop successful community programs, as well as to meet some of the original members and members within their coalition and hear about their experiences. It is essential for us to connect with and learn from the experiences of our elders in order for us to move forward. The 3 day event ended with valuable networking, I was able to offer my real estate services to  while also seizing the opportunity t become involved the potential re-establishment of a new BPP Seattle/Tacoma chapter. I left this event feeling stronger than when I came. I am incredibly thankful for each of the elders that attended any day of the event, it was an absolute honor to hear your stories and I am appreciative for all of the outstanding work you all have done (and continue to do) to push humanity forward. Now it is our turn to follow in their footsteps. One of my biggest take-aways was from a statement from Aaron Dixon, that if you want to get something done, don’t beg or ask someone else to do it, just do it!

We ended the day in song:

“For God’s Sake

We’ve got to give more power to the people;

For God’s Sake,

We’ve got to give more power to the people”

All Power to the People!

To see more photographs and clips from the event see the Seattle Black Panther Party Revolutionary Forum and Film Festival 2016 on Facebook.

Feel free to connect with me on Instagram: @amanisawari

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