The “Black is Beautiful” campaign elevated the mentality of Black people in terms of what we thought about ourselves. Don't forget, James Brown's song “I'm Black and I'm Proud” came on the heels of the BPP. Music and culture reflected the Movement. That legacy has endured.
The BPP ushered in a whole crew of Black politicians, but what did that do for Black people, especially poor Black people? For example, President Obama is a friend of capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. Fascism needs a new brown face to deal with the so-called Third World. Obama cannot and will not produce real change, like moving from capitalism to socialism, redistributing the wealth, abolishing the prison system per se, and changing domestic and foreign policies.
HB: How did the BPP fare against US government repression?
KN: We were defeated. They pulled every dirty trick in the book to wipe us out and succeeded. They organized fratricide and had us killing each other. They jailed and assassinated us. By 1969, 28 Panthers had already been murdered by the police. There was the blatant murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago in 1969.
President Richard Nixon and FBI Director J Edgar Hoover orchestrated COINTELPRO and another program that was behind the walls called “NEWKILL.” We were targeted and declared the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the US. This came out when the secret programs were revealed after files were stolen from the FBI office in Media, PA. Later, Senator Frank Church conducted hearings further documenting the repression.
HB: What impact did the BPP have on police brutality and prisons?
KN: We may have caused a temporary calm, but it actually got worse. For example, Panthers Harold Taylor and John Bowman (currently of the SF8) were chased down in Los Angeles by plain-clothes police and shot at. They shot back, were eventually arrested, had a capital trial, but were acquitted on grounds of self defense. However, today we're getting shot left and right. The incarceration rate is the highest in the world. President Clinton ushered in a prison boom that has our prison population up to 2.4 million today. Here in California there are 180,000 prisoners, with many more on probation and parole. We're living in a police state and have a cradle-to-prison policy for our youth. We have to regroup and develop new tactics and strategies that address today’s conditions.
HB: What can we learn from the successes and failures of the BPP, so that we can be more effective today?
KN: Organizing worked! As in, door-to-door street organizing, on the ground, rolling up our sleeves and going right to the people, and helping them meet their own needs. People have gotten far away from that. Stop knocking on city hall’s door! Why are we asking our enemies for help? Working within the system only works if you consider yourself an infiltrator. We have to draw the line and stop supporting it. Today, we should organize gardens to grow our own food.
Propaganda is a necessary tool and our job right now is to raise consciousness to educate to liberate. The BPP had regular political education classes. That needs to happen again. People need to get into small study groups and discuss politics.
Also, students aren’t organizing on the campuses like they used to. I think it's partly because the lower class isn't on the campuses these days, because nobody can afford it.
HB: What do you think of recent events in Latin America, where people are fighting US domination and local ruling class power?
KN: I’m inspired! I highly recommend the recent documentary film about Venezuela titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The people’s reversal of the attempted coup is such a wonderful demonstration of people's power and what an impact it can have. Watching it recharged my batteries. I was like "Oh my goodness!" It's very exciting, promising, and I hope we have sense enough to be in solidarity and support the struggles there and everywhere else oppressed people are fighting. How else is the US empire going to be defeated? The global economy is here to stay.
HB: This issue of global solidarity reminds me of Huey Newton's idea of “revolutionary intercommunalism,” emphasizing that in today’s age of transnational corporate power, the US working class’ liberation is inherently tied to that of workers everywhere. Globalization is a popular topic today, but do you think Huey gets credit for talking about it back then?
KN: Huey’s theory was brilliant, prophetic, and is a perfect solution in today's world. Of course Huey has not been given proper credit and it’s the same thing with Malcolm X. Now more than ever, oppressed people around the world need to unite against the common enemy that is transnational corporations. We can’t let them divide us. We're in the throes of a death spiral right now, and if we don't hurry up and deal with climate change, for example, things will get horribly worse for ordinary people and we can kiss this planet good-bye, probably within this century.
HB: When did you start working in media?