“Let us go on outdoing ourselves; a revolutionary man always transcends himself or otherwise he is not a revolutionary man, so we always do what we ask of ourselves or more than we know we can do.” –- Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide
What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library (AK Press), taking its name from the two categories that Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale divided their ten-point program into when forming the Black Panther Party in 1967, is a four-disc set of short documentary films from Newsreel Films and archival video and audio clips of interviews, panel discussions, and reunion events.
Revelations abound in the material on this DVD. For instance, I knew that the FBI had systematically dismantled the Pathers with coercion and overt violence, but I was unaware of their Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro). Cointelpro wrote fake letters from one Black Panther Party member to another laced with disinformation in order to spread dissention and doubt throughout the ranks. They also made sure that the press depicted the Panthers as racists, communists, and a violent group with no regard for the law or anyone’s welfare.
These counter intelligence strategies happen in other movements. Whenever the open source movement makes a claim about its software, Microsoft releases press and other documents traditionally called FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt (see The Halloween Documents). Whenever Goliath feels that David is threatening his dominance, he will do anything to make David look bad in the eyes of his peers and his public. Anything to paint the little person in a bad light is fair game to The Man (note: normally I would be gender nonspecific, but in this case, I think the specificity is appropriate.). The same sabotage was happening within the Black Power movement.
The Black Panthers started as a self-defense group, arming blacks in Oakland against the police. Where other organizations in the movement were either separatist, racist, or preaching nonviolence, the Panthers did none of these. They embraced white radicals, and were all about picking up the gun to defend themselves against the oppressor. Through documentary films, interviews with members and FBI agents, Black Panther Party reunion footage, and other material, What We Want, What We Believe illuminates much of the inside story of the movement, the Cointelpro infiltration, the subsequent in-fighting, and the thirty-plus years since that many from the movement have spent as political prisoners. This is essential viewing for anyone interested in the Black Power movement, human rights, or fighting for social change.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.
Editor of Boogie Down Predictions (Strange Attractor, 2022), author of Escape Philosophy (punctum, 2022) and Dead Precedents (Repeater, 2019).