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The political and historical background to the US war drive against Russia.

22 Feb

Statement of the WSWS International Editorial Board

Also on Monday, the Russian government reported that two Ukrainian armored personnel carriers entered its borders and were destroyed, killing five Ukrainian soldiers. Russia announced that it was sending military forces into Eastern Ukraine, which has been targeted by massive military barrages from the Ukrainian government.

These developments mark a significant escalation in the development of the conflict in Ukraine into an all-out war involving Russia, the United States and the major European powers in the NATO military alliance.

Under conditions of crisis, it is necessary not to be swept up by the militarist propaganda that is promoted relentlessly in the media. For this, current developments must be placed in their broader historical context. The present conflict did not arise overnight. It is a culmination of a whole series of provocations and actions by American and European imperialism, which have worked relentlessly to expand NATO into Eastern Europe.

Six years ago, on February 18, 2016, the International Committee of the Fourth International published a statement, “Socialism and the Fight Against War,” which anticipated the current war danger with remarkable precision.

The WSWS is reposting portions of this statement below. The fact that the statement could foresee so clearly developments that are now erupting is itself a powerful refutation of the claims by the Biden administration that its war threats are an immediate response to “Russian aggression” and a defense of the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine. The statement should be carefully studied by all those who want to understand the driving forces behind the present crisis and what must be done to stop the danger of World War III.

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Excerpts from “Socialism and the Fight Against War,” Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International, February 18, 2016

Fifteen years after the United States launched the “war on terror,” the entire world is being dragged into an ever-expanding maelstrom of imperialist violence. The invasions and interventions organized by US imperialism have devastated Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. NATO is engaged in a massive rearmament program in preparation for war with Russia…

The world stands on the brink of a catastrophic global conflict. The statements of heads of capitalist governments grow increasingly bellicose. The proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria have drawn NATO and Russia closer to a full-scale confrontation… As in the years that preceded the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and World War II in 1939, political leaders and military planners are approaching the conclusion that a war between major powers is not a remote possibility, but, rather, highly probable and, perhaps, even inevitable…

The drive to war is centered in the efforts of the United States to maintain its position as the global hegemonic power. The dissolution in 1991 of the Soviet Union was seen as an opportunity to assert unrivaled US domination throughout the world. It was glorified by imperialist propagandists as the “end of history,” creating a “unipolar moment” in which the unchallengeable power of the United States would dictate a “New World Order” in the interests of Wall Street. The Soviet Union had encompassed a vast expanse of the globe, stretching from the eastern boundaries of Europe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the vast regions of Eurasia, occupied by a debilitated Russia and newly independent Central Asian states, were again “in play,” open for corporate exploitation and plunder. The Stalinist restoration of capitalism in China, its police-state repression of working-class resistance in 1989 and the opening up of “free trade zones” to transnational investment made available a vast reservoir of cheap labor…

The application of such geostrategic plans is evident in both Europe and Asia. A systematic buildup of American and allied military power is underway in the Indo-Pacific against China, while Russia has been confronted with NATO deployments in Eastern Europe and US pledges of military support to the ultra-nationalist regimes in the Baltic states and Ukraine. The American ruling class has drawn the conclusion that the nuclear-armed states in Beijing and Moscow must be brought to heel, sooner rather than later. Washington’s objective is to reduce China and Russia to the status of semi-colonial client states, control the “heartland,” and rule the world.…

Seventy years after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, the German ruling class is once again demanding that its state assert itself as the unquestioned overlord of Europe and as a world power. In the face of deeply felt anti-war sentiments within the German population, Berlin is deploying military force to assert its interests in the Middle East and Africa. It is pouring money into rearmament, while apologetics for the crimes of the Nazi regime are being advanced across the political establishment, media and academia, with the aim of justifying the revival of German imperialist ambitions…

British imperialism, for its part, sees in the US decline an opportunity to expand the still significant global operations of the banks and finance houses based in the City of London. France is striving to regain its grip over its former colonial dominions in North and West Africa…

The crisis of the capitalist nation-state system gives rise to two irreconcilable perspectives. Imperialism strives to overcome the clash of economic and geostrategic interests inherent in the capitalist nation-state system through the victory of one world hegemonic power over all its rivals. This is the aim of imperialist geostrategic calculations, and its inevitable outcome is global war.

Opposing the geopolitics of the capitalist class, the international working class is the social force that objectively constitutes the mass base for world socialist revolution, which signifies an end to the nation-state system as a whole and the establishment of a global economy based on equality and scientific planning. Imperialism seeks to save the capitalist order through war. The working class seeks to resolve the global crisis through social revolution. The strategy of the revolutionary party develops as the negation of imperialist nation-state geopolitics. The revolutionary party, as Trotsky explained, follows “not the war map but the map of the class struggle.”…

The Russian government is the representative of the oligarchs who emerged from the Stalinist bureaucracy after it dismantled the Soviet state and abolished nationalized property relations. Its promotion of “Great Russian” nationalism is the extreme outcome of Stalinism itself, which was a violent and counterrevolutionary repudiation of the internationalist program of Marxism…

World economy and world politics have entered a new stage. The period of capitalist triumphalism that opened up with the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe and reached fever pitch with the Stalinist dissolution of the USSR is over. The speculative house of cards that has underwritten the parasitic wealth of the ruling class is collapsing. The fall of stock market valuations is not only deflating the size of portfolios, but shattering the reputations and credibility of pro-capitalist theorists and political leaders.

Neoliberalism Has Always Been a Threat to Democracy

5 Jun

BYALDO MADARIAGA

More than just a set of free-market policies, neoliberalism has always sought to alter society’s balance of power in favor of bosses. Its assault on democracy and undermining of unions is now playing straight into the hands of the far right.

Neoliberalism has been with us now for more than three-quarters of a century. Since the Mont Pelerin Society’s efforts to reinvent old-fashioned liberalism in the 1940s, neoliberalism has taken various forms, be it the Chicago School and German ordoliberalism, the Pinochet-led Chilean coup of 1973, the Thatcher–Reagan revolutions, the IMF and World Bank–driven structural adjustments, or the European Third Way.

The topic of neoliberalism has produced a veritable cottage industry of commentary, which has only expanded in the last decade as pundits try to make sense of an increasingly contested and slippery term. Many of those who write about neoliberalism are now extolling what they believe to be its last waltz on the world stage: amid transformations brought about by the 2008–9 financial crisis, the rise of protectionist authoritarian governments, and the need for large-scale public policy solutions in the age of COVID-19, many have proclaimed that neoliberalism is indeed on its last legs.

But is that really the case? Or is neoliberalism simply lumbering on — in even more virulent forms?

As I have argued elsewhere, neoliberalism isn’t dying but is instead undergoing important transformations that make it especially dangerous for today’s democracy. Indeed, it’s this very threat to democracy that is the key to understanding neoliberalism’s resilience: its capacity to endure crises and rival systems is not so much a consequence of the enduring appeal of free markets and economic competition. Instead, neoliberalism has survived by altering the very foundations of our democratic institutions and organizations.

In doing so, neoliberalism has allied with forces — dictators and technocrats — equally contemptuous of democracy. This core aspect of the neoliberal project is what is setting the stage for a new breed of radical right leaders across the globe. Today, there is an emerging alliance between neoliberals and big capital drawing on the support of nationalists, social conservatives, and authoritarian populists. It is this alliance that may well pose one of the greatest threats to democratic politics.

Neoliberalism Is a Political Project

It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor.

For many, neoliberalism is a set of economic ideas that touts the superiority of markets as a form of social coordination among individuals. Read in this way, the thinking is that neoliberalism is capable of seducing, convincing, and ultimately prevailing over rival ideas like state planning. For those who subscribe to this definition of neoliberalism, suggestions that the state is making a “comeback” are taken as proof that the pendulum is swinging back toward a social consensus that rejects neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is thus commonly understood as the ideology that puts markets over states and individuals over societies. However, decades of research have proved what Philip Mirowski calls the “double truth” behind the neoliberal doctrine: while offering freedom of choice and liberation from oppressive state regulations, neoliberals were always aware of the need for a strong, very often coercive state.

This has meant two things. First, neoliberals were less interested in markets per se (and even less in market competition) than in what could be achieved through them. Though neoliberals usually aim to eliminate any state intervention that interferes with the free decisions of private enterprise, they are not opposed to all forms of state intervention. Neoliberals are, of course, less concerned with forms of state intervention that redistribute to core business groups (through generous tax exemptions or massive bailouts during financial crises) than they are with the kind of intervention that mandates redistributive measures for the working class. Similarly, neoliberals vow to extend markets and market logics to all forms of social and political life but are less concerned if this ends up leading to unfair competition or outright monopoly.

Second, it is now well understood that neoliberals need strong states to impose — and enforce — their free markets, even if it takes the form of outright repressive state measures.

Neoliberalism, then, is much more than just a set of ideas about free markets. It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor — be it states, labor unions, political parties — to interfere with the decisions of private enterprises. This project to alter the balance of power is the key to its resilience.

Neoliberalism Versus Democracy

Neoliberalism’s assault on union organizations and collective bargaining rights is well documented. Less so is the way that our political institutions have been designed so as to block any credible political opposition.

To understand the relation between neoliberalism and democracy, we need to look to neoliberals’ age-old fear of the tyranny of the property-less majority and the possibility that their democratic ambitions might impinge on economic liberty. James Buchanan, one of the most revered exponents of the neoliberal tradition, explained this neatly in his famous coauthored book, Democracy in Deficit.

There, his focus was not on free competition, proper market operations, or even on criticizing state intervention. It was on “the political institutions through which economic policy must be implemented.” Applying this logic, Jaime Guzmán, the mastermind behind Chile’s Pinochet-inherited political and economic architecture, reasoned that political institutions should be arranged in a way that “if the adversaries were to govern, they [would be] constrained to take actions not so different from those that one would desire.” As explained by Walter Lippmann, the grandfather of the Mont Pelerin Society, “the crux of the question is not whether the majority should rule but what kind of majority should rule.”

Neoliberalism constrains democratic politics by altering the balance of power among its supporters and opponents with the ultimate aim of constricting available space for politics and policy. From a study of neoliberalism and democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe, we can identify three concrete mechanisms at work.

The first involves creating a new business class by privatizing former state assets and allowing new business opportunities in the now deregulated sectors. It has long been held that the logic of dismantling the social state was all about maximizing efficiency and growth. However, in countries where neoliberalism has thrived, targeted privatization and deregulation primarily aimed to create or empower those businesses most likely to lend support to the broader neoliberal project.

This was especially the case in the financial sector, among competitive exporting firms and multinationals. Businesses with vested interests in neoliberalism’s perpetuity have used the structural advantage afforded them to push back against reformist attempts, ranging from taxationindustrial policy, and social measures to environmental and labor protections.

Second, neoliberalism has survived by keeping anti-neoliberal political forces from gaining a foothold. Neoliberalism’s assault on union organizations and collective bargaining rights is well documented. Less so is the way that our political institutions have been designed so as to block any credible political opposition. This has included increasing the power of the executive to circumvent more representative parliaments, the institutionalization of nonelected veto players able to overrule majority decisions, and more. The most successful of these tactics have been those affecting patterns of political representation, such as electoral engineering and gerrymandering.

This was the case in Chile, where in 1989 the electoral system and district magnitudes (the number of elected representatives in a given district) were designed in order to give the Right one-half of all representatives in parliament (up from its customary one-third). It was this move that kept the Left without representation for twenty years, while pushing the more moderate Left into a long-term alliance with centrist forces that watered down their otherwise reformist stances. Together with required supra-majoritarian thresholds to change basic features of Chile’s Pinochet-designed institutions, these actions were key in preventing any meaningful reform during four consecutive center-left governments during the 1990s and 2000s.

In other cases, efforts to limit representation included the outright disenfranchisement of large swaths of the population. This was the case in Estonia, where neoliberalism found common cause with the most radical expressions of the nationalist independence movement against the former Soviet Union. Neoliberals successfully exploited the Estonian people’s fears that the large Russian population in the country (about 40 percent in 1989) would block independence to leave ethnic Russians without voting rights. And they did so all while pushing through one of the most far-reaching neoliberal projects implemented in Eastern Europe.

As a consequence, those most hurt by these reforms either did not have the right to vote or voted on nationalistic, not socioeconomic, grounds. Eventually, this prevented the forming of social democratic forces capable of at least tempering the neoliberal onslaught, as was the case in most other Eastern European countries.

Finally, neoliberals have insulated policymakers from popular demands through what’s sometimes termed “constitutionalized lock-in,” meaning that key aspects of a country’s economic policy are kept out of reach of democratic deliberation, lest they be in Buchanan and Richard E. Wagner’s words, “left adrift in the sea of democratic politics.” Independent central banks and fiscal policy rules, for example, are key instruments in keeping monetary and fiscal policy away from democratic deliberation. Anchoring inflation as the key macroeconomic objective reduced the capacity of central banks to use monetary policy to soften economic crises and privilege employment considerations over price stability ones. Conversely, fiscal rules like balanced-budget procedures severely reduced government’s overall spending capacity. In addition, the establishment of high constitutional thresholds to change these arrangements locked key aspects of elected government’s economic policy tool kit out of their reach.

In neo-Gramscian terms, a multiparty social bloc rooted in specific business sectors has successfully defended the neoliberal project thanks to these concrete economic and institutional resources reducing the space available for politics and policy. And the direct consequence of this has been a stark decline in the representative character of our democracies.

Neoliberalism and Populist Reason

In the 1970s to ’80s, neoliberal ideals were aligned with authoritarian doctrines to create some of the most sweeping reforms — and dictatorships — the world had ever seen.

Considering neoliberalism’s hostile relation to basic democratic institutions, it is not hard to understand the elective affinity between neoliberalism and today’s radical populist right. In contrast to what Wendy Brown has argued, the radical right is not emerging “from the ruins” of neoliberalism but from the concrete possibilities that arise when the core tenets of neoliberalism are “hybridized” with populism.

How did this hybrid emerge? In the 1970s to ’80s, neoliberal ideals were aligned with authoritarian doctrines to create some of the most sweeping reforms — and dictatorships — the world had ever seen. Later, during the 1990s and 2000s, neoliberals conquered the hearts and minds of technocratic “third way” elites wanting to impose market discipline on irresponsible governments. Similarly today, the core principles of neoliberalism are prone to form alliances with the radical populist right.

These alliances are not based on a shared interest in market freedoms but on a common contempt for democratic politics and the perceived need to further limit representative democratic institutions (not to mention, an individualized conception of the social). Hence, despite claims that populism and neoliberalism are antagonistic tendencies, populist attempts to hamper basic democratic liberties and institutions actually reinforce neoliberalism’s antidemocratic project.

Almost everywhere, neoliberalism has been associated with enhanced executive authority and the delegation of democratic power to unaccountable bureaucratic institutions. Often, neoliberals have altered electoral systems and patterns of political representation to favor “economic liberty,” similar to how the radical populist right undermines democracy today.

The radical populist right does embrace a moralizing and nationalistic worldview, which would appear to be at odds with neoliberalism’s individualism and incredulous stance toward society in general. Whenever neoliberals have made appeals for broad social support, it has usually come in the form of the potential benefits of mass individual consumption brought about by freer markets. Populist mobilization, by contrast, has been said to re-politicize an increasingly apathetic and individualized society.

However, as Melinda Cooper’s research has shown, there are strong connections between neoliberalism and social conservatism. And as Wendy Brown reminds us, Hayekian-style neoliberalism aimed at protecting traditional hierarchies as much as it did economic liberties. Chief among these hierarchies were family values and the traditional division of domestic labor. This resonates strongly with the populist right’s drive to rally around the figure of the traditional family.

If we look beyond Western Europe and the founding OECD countries, the connections between neoliberalism and another core characteristic of the radical right, nativism, are nothing new. Nationalistic chauvinism was already present in the 1990s neoliberal-cum-populist leaders of Latin America and Eastern Europe, the paradigmatic cases being Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Lech Wałęsa in Poland — as well as Estonia.

What lies behind these elective affinities is an individualized conception of society that makes for easy appeals to a vacuous notion of “the people.” “The people,” in right-wing populism, is not a foundational unit of society nor is it based on a common set of bonds; it is constructed through an individual’s internal identification with the populist leader’s discourse. This is why Ernesto Laclau calls this construction an “empty signifier” that can be filled with a diversity of unspecific conservative, authoritarian, and nativist appeals. Observing the rise of a new type of radical right in 1960s Germany, the philosopher Theodor Adorno noticed precisely that their appeal rested not so much on ideas like the demos or the nation but rather on an individual’s authoritarian personality traits and a longing for authority and discipline. In that same sense, while the populist “re-politization of society” may lead to angry mobs, it does not give way to the type of organized collective power that the proprietor class truly fears.

In fact, populists have not empowered the workers they vow to protect, much less reduced the power of the business class in general, nor finance in particular. If anything, the alliance between neoliberals and populists seems to be about wresting control of the neoliberal project from third way technocratic elites: whereas third way technocrats may begrudgingly recognize the excesses of neoliberalism, increase social protections, and allow for greater accountability from technocratic bodies, true neoliberals understand that their project rests on the continued limitation of representative democratic institutions.

Neoliberalism’s alliance with the radical populist right is hastening the decline of democratic politics and stoking a desire for authority, order, and social conservatism, while also unleashing capital’s tendency toward unbounded accumulation. Whether neoliberalism and the radical populist right can manage to form a stable hybrid will depend on structural and institutional factors — that is to say, on politics. It is only once we recognize the concrete economic, political, and institutional mechanisms that make neoliberalism so resilient that we can begin to sketch some ideas about how to halt its forward march while defending democracy and equality.

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Aldo Madariaga is an assistant professor of political science at the Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile and associate researcher of the Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies. He is the author of Neoliberal Resilience.

Fifty Years of Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition A look back on how multiracial Chicago-style coalition building has influenced organizing to this day

27 Feb

BY JACQUELINE SERRATO SEPTEMBER 27, 2019FEBRUARY 13, 2021

The Rainbow Coalition

Chicago-style coalition-building helped to produce the first Black mayor of Chicago and put its first Latinx representatives in office. Some even believe its legacy led to the election of the city’s first Black woman mayor. But unbeknownst to many, this form of organizing started in the streets fifty years ago with what was called the “Rainbow Coalition”: a progressive, fundamentally socialist movement that set the foundation for radical ideals and civil disobedience in Chicago. ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

On a February afternoon in 1969, Chairman Fred Hampton and his contingent of Illinois Black Panthers went looking for a Puerto Rican kid by the name of Cha-Cha in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Hampton had just read in the paper that the Young Lords street organization had shut themselves in the 18th District police station—along with the police commander and the media—to protest the ongoing police harassment of Latinx residents.

The Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers established themselves on the West Side of Chicago in 1968 and functioned under a ten-point program of self-empowerment and service. Their Oakland, CA founding members were already involved in multiracial movement building through the left-wing and anti-war Peace and Freedom Party. 

The Young Lords formed on the streets of Chicago in 1960 as a gang, but in 1968 they declared themselves a civil rights organization. In trips to the West Coast, they were exposed to the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement, who were mobilizing together for racial justice there.

Shortly after meeting, the two youths would found the original Rainbow Coalition: a “poor people’s army,” as José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez refers to it, that joined forces with working-class whites from the city’s North Side. As men were landing on the moon for the first time in a global display of American exceptionalism, the Rainbow Coalition was drawing citywide and nationwide attention to police brutality, premeditated gentrification, and institutional racism in Chicago.

“Fred took the Young Lords under his wing. He gave us the skills that we needed to come right out of the gang and start organizing the community,” said Cha-Cha, now seventy-one, leader of the gang-turned-political organization, in an interview. “We were already fighting for our rights in our neighborhoods, and we needed to form a united front. Our mission was self-determination for our barrios and all oppressed nations.”

In Chicago, the Black and Latinx activists became natural allies. Both communities had been battling Italian, German, Irish, and other white street gangs that were enforcing redlining at the street level. Black and Latinx Chicagoans lived together in the Cabrini-Green projects, attended overcrowded schools, and were denied entrance to certain beaches, restaurants, and public spaces; their parents had practically no access to city jobs or home ownership. 

The youth, who rocked black and purple berets as their respective colors, began to identify the “pigs” at the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Richard J. Daley as their common adversaries.

At the time, Chicago was a deeply segregated city, recovering from the violence of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—who, years earlier, led the Chicago Freedom Movement, a campaign against racist housing practices that cemented segregation. Widespread public discontent—and the possibility that the neighborhoods could erupt again—could be felt.

Those who remember Hampton say he had the leadership skills to arrange gang truces and bring together unlikely groups. Billy “Che” Brooks, Deputy Minister of Education for the Illinois Black Panther Party, credits him with reaching out to William “Preacherman” Fesperman and the Young Patriots, a street organization of white youths whose parents and grandparents had migrated from Appalachia seeking jobs, but now resided in slum-like conditions in and around the Uptown neighborhood. 

The newly formed Rainbow Coalition embraced the historic momentum of 1969 to organize an unprecedented partnership between blue-collar workers from the countryside and a variety of  poor urban dwellers. Hampton understood that creating these alliances was necessary to engage in a “protracted class struggle,” according to Che, who today mentors youth at Chicago Public Libraries.

“Our thing was that Black people organize in the Black community, Puerto Ricans organize in the Puerto Rican community, ‘mexicanos’ organize in the Mexican community, and poor white people organize in their community”— and then they come together, he explained in an interview. “Today, we call it coalition politics,” Che said. 

But at the time, the Rainbow Coalition’s ideology dismissed electoral politics, according to Che, and did not aspire to mere representation politics or a colorblind society, either. Rather, they sought to empower “all peoples of the world” to determine their own destiny —beginning with their own neighborhoods—“by any means necessary.”

The Panthers were aware of the social uprisings taking place in Haiti and African countries to overthrow colonial-era dictators, while the Young Lords were just gaining consciousness of their status as second-class citizens from Puerto Rico—a “modern-day colony” of the United States, they said. This internationalist ideology and model of solidarity distinguished the Black Panther Party from separatist militant Black groups, and the Young Lords from other nationalist Latin American groups. 

Hampton would often ask white liberals: “How can you go all the way to Vietnam without first going through the West Side of Chicago?” 

Despite the gestures of solidarity, it was challenging for the youth of color to completely trust their hillbilly counterparts in the Young Patriots Organization who, in Southern tradition, wore the Confederate flag as their emblem. Che “was not ready for all that,” he said, and many Black Panthers and Young Lords were not enthused to break bread with the Young Patriots. 

Enter Bobby Lee, a college-educated Texan and cousin of Black Panther Oakland chapter co-founder Bobby Seale, who had demonstrated great ability and patience when communicating with the white community. In the documentary American Revolution II, Lee speaks with a sixteen-year-old white boy in a straw hat who wants to take up arms to defend himself from detectives who slapped him around. Lee deescalates the crowded room in the film, speaking eloquently, and convinces them to go protest the police station instead. Noting Lee’s restraint, Hampton assigned him to help the Young Patriots launch their Survival Programs in Chicago.

Youth from the Young Lords and other community groups occupied the 18th District police station to protest the harassment of the Young Lords and its leader, José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez. Published in Y.L.O., a publication of the Young Lords’s Ministry of Information. (Young Lords Newspaper Collection Y.L.O. Vol. 1, No. 1, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois.)

The Survival Programs of the Black Panthers were meant to fill a void left by the municipal government and institutions that were not fulfilling the basic needs of all segments of society, in particular the Black community, they said. In response to the lack of healthcare for poor people in Chicago, the Panthers opened a network of clinics in North Lawndale and other Black neighborhoods with the aid of Quentin Young, MD, and other volunteer medical students. The Lords and the Patriots followed the Panthers’ model in their own communities. 

The Rainbow Coalition youth—made up of Panthers, Young Lords, and Young Patriots—also launched free breakfast programs that were supported by donations from community businesses and ran free daycare centers for neighborhood children. Several operations were upheld by the women of the Black Panthers and women’s focus groups like the Young Lordettes and Mothers and Others (MAO). The federal government institutionalized the School Breakfast Program in 1975.

“We’re gonna fight fire with water. We’re gonna fight racism not with racism, but with solidarity. We’re not gonna fight capitalism with Black capitalism, but with socialism… We’re gonna fight with all of us people getting together and having an international proletariat revolution,” Hampton was recorded saying.

The overarching grievances of the Black-brown-and-white alliance revolved around the impact that both urban neglect and urban renewal, as gentrification was then called, were having on the slums and ghettos where they lived. The city wanted to “rehabilitate” some of those areas in their efforts to erect a twenty-first century world-class city, according to Mayor Daley’s proposed fifty-year development plan he called Chicago 21.

Across racial lines, poor and disenfranchised youth were routinely harassed, beaten, and incarcerated by the Chicago Police Department. In May 1969, Mayor Daley and State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan declared a “war on gangs” in Chicago, deploying 1,000 additional police to the streets. Twice, Hampton and Cha-Cha, along with Obed Lopez, a Mexican from the Latin American Defense Organization (LADO), were rounded up by 13th District police and charged with mob action for picketing a Wicker Park welfare office. 

Hampton and Cha-Cha were sent to solitary confinement at Cook County Jail multiple times as a direct consequence of their street organizing. “This was an effort to criminalize us, to bankrupt our finances, to cause fear and put us away for life,” Cha-Cha said. 

Che, seventy-one, remembered Hampton was sentenced after taking ice cream pops from the ice cream truck to pass out to neighborhood kids. Cha-Cha was jailed for stealing lumber to repair the Young Lords daycare center in order to meet city inspection, he said. Both served their time for those crimes. At one point Cha-Cha had accumulated eighteen cases and Hampton and Lopez each had nine cases.

As a high school dropout and former gang leader, Cha-Cha was a man of few words. Old press photos tended to depict him balancing a cigarette in his mouth. But his confrontational tactics were in line with Hampton’s and remain a hallmark of direct action.

In Lincoln Park, which has since become a playground for the rich, the first recorded acts of collective resistance to gentrification took place under Cha-Cha’s command. At the time, several institutions—among them the Children’s Memorial Hospital, and the McCormick Theological Seminary that was later absorbed by the DePaul University campus—were collaborating with the city to expand high-end housing near the lakefront: prime Chicago real estate. The developments were designed to exclude the Puerto Rican working class, the Young Lords found after studying the city blueprints.

The Young Lords became emboldened after one of their members, Manuel Ramos, was killed by an off-duty cop, and another, Pancho Lind, was beaten to death by a white gang. The Lords notoriously occupied the institutions that were taking over their neighborhood and presented landlords with a list of demands for institutional access. But first, they trashed the Urban Renewal office in Lincoln Park, shutting it down for months and sending a clear message of resistance to the city. 

The occupations didn’t just put the Young Lords on the map: a $25,000 payout obtained from the occupation of the university building helped to found the People’s Law Office, a social justice firm that represented the Rainbow Coalition against legal pressure from the police and the city.

In public appearances, the Rainbow Coalition was backed by community residents and Black and brown street gangs—but they also had the support of unions, Independent Precinct Organizations, college students and activists who supported the movement through Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Rising Up Angry, and countless other organizations. Their allies included Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park, the West Town Concerned Citizens Coalition, the Northside Cooperative Ministry, Neighborhood Commons Organization, and Voice of the People.

“It was really based on common action,” said Mike Klonsky, a former Chicago leader of SDS (who, like Hampton and Cha-Cha, had a reward out for his arrest). “If there was a protest or a demonstration, the word would get out and we would all come to it and support each other. If somebody was arrested, we would all raise bail. If somebody was killed or shot by the police, we would all respond together.”

Klonsky, now seventy-six, appeared with Cha-Cha, Hampton, and Yoruba, a Young Lord-in-training from New York, in newspaper photos of a press conference held by the Rainbow Coalition. The former leader of SDS, which by 1969 was splintering due to ideological differences, said they were publicly distancing themselves from the Weathermen, a militant faction of SDS who organized a three-day series of violent protests in October called the Days of Rage during which the Weathermen rampaged through the Gold Coast and blew up a statue to police who died during the 1886 Haymarket Riot. 

The Coalition knew that Black and brown activists would face the brunt of police retaliation for the Days of Rage—which Hampton denounced as “adventuristic, masochistic, and Custeristic”—and proposed a march from People’s Park (a vacant lot on Halsted and Armitage they had also occupied) to Humboldt Park as an alternative.

“We believed in self-defense, but not provocation,” Klonsky said.

Still, high-profile activists and associates like Klonsly endured government surveillance under COINTELPRO—an infamous program of the Justice Department which sent undercover agents to disrupt radical movements from the inside—and the Red Squad, a CPD intelligence unit dating back to the Haymarket Riot that kept track of their every move. 

“Their specific job and duty was to harass us,” Che said. “We had informants within the infrastructure of our organization who we referred to as provocateurs, who caused dissention and were created to destroy and basically annihilate us.”

The Coalition youth protested the torture of Seale, who was chained and gagged while in court for his participation in the Democratic National Convention protests, and the federal charges placed on the Chicago Seven activists for alleged conspiracy and rioting. Around the same time, the Rev. Bruce Johnson of the People’s Church—a United Methodist Church the Young Lords took over and turned into their headquarters—was brutally stabbed, along with his wife Eugenia, in their parsonage in a case that remains unsolved.

The confrontations between CPD and the Panthers were becoming increasingly intense. They engaged in a shootout over the summer that killed Black Panther Larry Roberson. Then in November, police alleged they were responding to a domestic dispute in the South Side when a shootout broke out that claimed the lives of Black Panther Spurgeon “Jake” Winters and police officers Frank Rappaport and John Gilhooly.

In December of 1969, the FBI conducted an overnight raid on Hampton’s apartment with intelligence provided by an infiltrator. He had just been named spokesperson of the national Black Panther Party. A barrage of police bullets struck him in his sleep as he lay beside his pregnant fiance, Akua Njeri, who survived. Another occupant, Black Panther security chief Mark Clark, was also killed. 

Distraught members of the Coalition unofficially disbanded, and a handful of the leadership went underground after Hampton’s assassination, fearing for their own safety. Thousands of people lined up to witness the open crime scene, while lawyers from the People’s Law Office disputed the later-disproved official police account, which had falsely claimed a heavy firefight on both sides. Having assassinated its most vocal leader, the Feds had effectively crushed the 1960s’ most promising push for united, cohesive social resistance in Chicago.

The Black Panthers, Young Patriots and SDS join the Young Lords in a march from “People’s Park” to Humboldt Park. Published in Y.L.O., a publication of the Young Lords’s Ministry of Information. (Young Lords Newspaper Collection, Y.L.O. Vol. 1 No. 5. Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois.)

Black Panther Party Deputy Minister of Defense Bobby Rush and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Chicago leader of Martin Luther King’s Operation Breadbasket, spoke at Hampton’s funeral. In time, both demonstrated political aspirations. The notion of voting for politicians from the community began to sound more palatable in the absence of revolutionary spokespeople.

Although he was not considered a “viable” candidate by the establishment, Cha-Cha became the first Latinx candidate to announce a run for office in the city of Chicago, a decision he says he made in 1973 while sitting in Cook County Jail. When he was released, Cha-Cha traded his purple beret for a suit and tie, and with North Side organizers Walter “Slim” Coleman and Jim Chapman launched his campaign for alderman in the 46th Ward. 

Cha-Cha ran on a pro-low income housing and anti-displacement platform, and lost, but garnered an unexpected thirty-nine percent of the vote and grew in name recognition. His campaign built a base of newly registered voters—Puerto Ricans could vote, as opposed to Mexican immigrants and many other Latinx Chicagoans at the time—and that carried over to Mayor Harold Washington’s campaign in 1983. 

Washington, who ran on a Neighborhoods First agenda, did not count on the support of most of the Black aldermen in the Council whose wards were beholden to the mayor’s patronage jobs. Up until that point, only one former alderman, Leon Despres, had dared to speak up against Daley. So members of the original Rainbow Coalition network re-emerged to get out the minority and progressive white vote for Washington and other candidates who openly challenged the Daley machine, including Helen Shiller’s 46th Ward aldermanic run.

Rush would later comment that Washington’s election was “directly linked” to the assasination of Fred Hampton and the values he pioneered in Chicago.

Klonsky said he “can trace a straight line between 1969 and […] the election of Mayor Harold Washington, the first Black mayor.”

As the North Side Hispanic Precinct Coordinator, Cha-Cha put together a rally for Washington in Humboldt Park that, according to the Sun-Times, attracted 100,000 Latino residents. “As some of the audience waved Puerto Rican flags, Washington welcomed them in Spanish with a greeting of ‘unity and strength’,” the paper read. 

However, Cha-Cha did not get a job with the Washington administration due to his criminal record and past drug use. He found refuge from law enforcement in Michigan, where he currently resides, goes to university, and maintains a Young Lords committee remotely.

From Washington’s supporters and the organizing network of the Rainbow Coalition emerged a wave of progressive leaders that sought political power in the late ‘80s and the ‘90s. Some recognizable names include former Cook County Clerk David Orr, former 15th Ward Alderman Marlene Carter, former City Clerk and current chair of the Board of Education Miguel del Valle, former MWRD Commissioner Joseph Gardner, former 25th Ward Alderman Juan Soliz, former 44th Ward Alderman Dick Simpson, former U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez, and his replacement in Congress and former mayoral candidate, Jesús “Chuy” García, and aldermanic candidates like Paul Siegel and Rudy Lozano. 

In 1984, before President Barack Obama entered the picture as a state senator, Jackson would run for president unsuccessfully, delivering a speech titled “Rainbow Coalition” at the Democratic National Convention. He subsequently adopted the name for the non-profit he founded, and then merged with his Operation PUSH to form the Rainbow/PUSH civil rights organization. Jackson did not respond to requests for comment.

But the electoral power built by the Rainbow Coalition faced pushback from traditional voting blocs. Washington faced legislative blockades from the regular Democrats during the racist Council Wars, in which white alderman (and one Latinx) banded together to systematically vote against the mayor’s proposals throughout his first term. 

The mayor’s death from a heart attack in 1987 caused divisions among Black voters who were split on a Black successor. The tragic loss of Washington allowed for the status quo to fall back into place under Mayor Richard M. Daley, who—among other self-serving maneuvers—enabled the corrupt Hispanic Democratic Organization that recruited city workers to manipulate the Latinx vote in his favor.

Since the ‘70s, more than thirty white, Black, and Latinx aldermen have been indicted or accused of serious corruption charges, ranging from bribery to extortion to embezzlement. Most recently, veteran aldermen Ed Burke, Danny Solis, and Carrie Austin have made headlines for being of interest to federal investigators.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

And from [Washington], I can draw a straight line to what’s going on today with Black Lives Matter—and even the election of Lori, a gay Black woman,” said Klonsky, who today co-hosts Hitting Left, a political radio show on Bridgeport’s Lumpen Radio. “Her election stands on the shoulders of Harold.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot succeeded two-term Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose legacy of police cover-ups led to his decision not to run for a third term, with an anti-corruption platform that sought to eliminate the remnants of the old patronage machine at City Hall. Early in her campaign, Lightfoot promised to reform the culture at the Chicago Police Department and address affordable housing. Her campaign swept all wards—though at thirty-five percent, voter turnout in the 2019 election was significantly short of the eighty-two percent turnout when Washington won in 1983.

The issues that Lightfoot and her opponent—another Black woman, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle—championed were brought to the surface by the organizing work of people at the grassroots level. Throughout Emanuel’s term in office, activists protested the police killings of Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd, the mass closure of public schools and mental health clinics, and the ongoing exodus of families from traditionally Black and brown neighborhoods. 

The organizing by youth groups like Black Youth Project 100, and labor groups like the Chicago Teachers Union—along with tenants groups, independent political organizations, and cross-neighborhood coalitions like the Grassroots Collaborative—all helped to set the agenda for the mayoral race. 

Both activists and reformers have criticized the mayor during her first hundred days in office, arguing that she has not made enough progress on the talking points of her platform. And these groups are keeping the pressure on: they are fighting for a fifteen-dollar living wage, an elected school board, eliminating cash bail, nixing a $95 million police training academy, and improving sanctuary city protections for immigrants under President Donald Trump.

These are values that have been embraced by a new crop of young, multicultural Democratic Socialists and progressives in City Council. Their agendas claim to prioritize a people-powered way of doing government—“for the many, not the few” (as Hampton would say)—that removes big money from politics and ensures community benefits agreements for residents as their neighborhoods develop. 

The freshmen aldermen are not only backing, but spearheading measures like a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) and lifting the statewide ban on rent control. Aldermen from across the city have advocated for the Homes for All, Bring Chicago Home, and the Development for All ordinances that aim to regulate real estate developers and secure affordable living for working families, the homeless, and people with disabilities.

The ideological shift in City Council can be credited to socialist ideas gaining ground in recent years, but also to years of good old-fashioned door knocking and coalition building across neighborhoods. The Black Caucus, the Latino Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus are expected to intersect with one another to a degree that we have never seen before.

Politics in Chicago have come a long way since Hampton met with Cha-Cha fifty years ago.  The trajectory of fearless grassroots, youth-driven, intersectional organizing that was set in motion by the 1969 Rainbow Coalition still resonates today.

There will be an event to commemorate fallen Young Lords and the unsolved deaths of Young Lords allies the Rev. Bruce and Eugenia Johnson at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church, 925 W. Diversey Pkwy., on September 29 at 10:30am, followed by a “justice march” to the site of old People’s Church, 834 W. Armitage, in Lincoln Park. bit.ly/YoungLordsMarch

“All Power to the People,” an exhibit celebrating the legacy of the Illinois Black Panther Party, is open for viewing at the Woodson Regional Library’s Harsh Research Collection, 9525 S. Halsted St., through December 31. chipublib.org

Documentary The First Rainbow Coalition, chronicling much of the history in this article, will premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 24 and 25 at the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St. José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez of the Young Lords, Hy Thurman of the Young Patriots, and Henry “Poison” Gaddis of the Black Panthers, with director Ray Santisteban, will attend both screenings. $18. chicagofilmfestival.com ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Jacqueline Serrato is an independent journalist born and raised in the Little Village neighborhood. Follow her on Twitter @HechaEnChicago.

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