Practical Utopia: Strategies for a Desirable Society
Authors: Sekou Odinga, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, Jamal Joseph • Editors: Matt Meyer & déqui kioni-sadiki • Foreword: Imam Jamil Al-Amin • Afterword: Mumia Abu-Jamal
Publisher: PM Press
Size: 9 x 6
Page count: 648 pages
Subjects: Political Activism/African American Studies/Autobiography
In the tumultuous year of 1969, amid music festivals and moon landings, assassinations and million-person antiwar mobilizations, twenty-one members of the militant New York branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP) were rounded up and indicted on multiple charges of violent acts and conspiracies. They were charged with plans to blow up a variety of sites—from a police station in Manhattan to the Queens offices of the Board of Education and the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Though some among the New York Panther 21 (NY 21) had hardly even met one another, the group was gathered together as an obvious attempt by the FBI, in cooperation with city and state authorities, to discredit, disrupt, and destroy the organization which was attracting so many young people across the world. In the ensuing preparation for a trial that would become the longest and most expensive in New York’s history at the time, information came out about the FBI’s illegal Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), as members of the BPP were assassinated, forced into exile, framed, and set against each other.
In the case of the NY 21, splits between the California-based Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and the New York–based Panthers, who had a more internationalist and clandestine approach, became hostile and murderous. At the same time, solidarity for the 21 extended well beyond predictable Black Liberation circles, including a cocktail party fund-raiser hosted by Leonard Bernstein which was infamously derided in mainstream media reports. Support for the 21 also included publication of the collective autobiography Look for Me in the Whirlwind, which is reprinted for the first time in this volume.
At a moment when the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement recites a daily “We Have a Duty to Win” affirmation penned by exiled revolutionary Assata Shakur, the membership of the NY 21—which includes the mother of Tupac Shakur, two of those charged with assisting in the prison escape of Assata, and one Panther who, at age eighty, remains in prison despite having served more than forty years—is largely forgotten and unknown. Their legacy, however—reflected upon here in this special edition—provides essential truths which have remained largely hidden, even in the myriad books and movies of Black Panther nostalgia and mythology. The voices of the Panthers contained in these pages resonate today because they boldly confront, with creativity and candor, both their own history and our deepest challenges today.
“Listen to these voices of young men and women—from places like New Jersey or Panama, New York or Antigua—who poured their insights, courage, and creative energy into New York City’s fledgling Black Panther Party that generated chapters in all five boroughs. Unlike out west, where police shot and killed Panthers to disrupt the revolutionary group, New York relied more heavily on courts, jails, and prison to sabotage the organization.
These men and women were tried in the case called the “New York 21”—a barrel full of preposterous crimes which the Panthers supposedly conspired to commit—that led to the arrest and imprisonment of all the leaders (except those who reached an escape route before the police caught them at home). The state fully expected that the Panthers would remain behind bars for decades after being convicted, given that a police informant had masqueraded as a Panther until their arrest. However, the powerful example of Afeni Shakur, who defended herself, the fierce dedication of brilliant attorneys, and the organizing talents of Panther supporters on the outside made the trial the longest-running case in New York—with a short one-hour jury deliberation before finding the 21 not guilty on all charges.
This reprint edition allows a new generation to hear these amazing stories, and additionally, to read the authors’ reflections and insights for today.”
—Kathleen Cleaver, Black Panther Party Communications Secretary (1967–1971); Senior Lecturer, Emory University School of Law
“Look for Me in the Whirlwind could not come at a timelier moment in history. As newly-emerging grassroots movements challenge state violence against Black people in the U.S., it is essential that new generations learn anew, and that older ones are reminded, of police and FBI tools of repression deployed to demobilize Black radical activism and its growing influence on the Black working class in the ’60s. These remembrances, by those framed in the NY Panther 21 case, are vital building blocks for reconstructing the history of one of the least understood chapters of the Black Panther Party. They are also indispensable reading for those seeking to understand how individual activists and their movements were able to hold their center in the face of harrowing government repression.”
—Johanna Fernandez, Professor of History, Baruch College Department of Black and Latino Studies, City University of New York; co-curator, ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York
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