Thuistezien 201 — 10.03.2021

Kathleen Cleaver & Jared Ball
Black Panther Party

Change is possible, but it is slow, it is difficult, it is tedious, and some people get killed. Today, Kathleen Cleaver is aware of the change that the Black Panther movement brought into the world in the early 70s when the group, primarily consisting of teenagers, began to fight for a change in the structural system. Cleaver herself, being 21 at the time the movement started, was a prominent figure and, as Jared Ball proclaims, one of the few women to rival the male founders of the Black Panther Party. Although acknowledging the impact that Black Panther had, Cleaver never saw it as successful as people from outside may think, mainly because the depth and breadth of changes they envisioned were not achieved. It did, however, set a remarkable standard for the changes grass root movement could achieve. The period in which the Black Panther movement was running was during a very particular time period historically and, perhaps, also at the right moment in time. Black Panther came into influence and was destroyed within the same short period of time. As Cleaver makes clear, they shared this period of time with the very destructive Vietnam War but due to this, it was possible to do things and say things that would not be possible in today’s society.

Still, there seem to be repeating serious issues that are continuously dealt with generation after generation. Coming from a generation after Cleaver, Ball was confronted with the harsh fact they had to start from scratch. In accordance to Ball, the standard set by the Black Panthers needs to be reinforced in today’s generation of grass root activists and it might be harder than we think.

‘All power to the people!’ was the slogan of the Black Panther Movement. Not Black people or white people but all people. As rightful this slogan is, Ball warns how it today can be read differently, mainly due to the propaganda used against the Black Panther movement targeting Black communities to prevent them from picking up the standards of the Black Panther movement. Science is replaced by mysticism, and the ability for the Black communities to acquire proper scientific knowledge about what, in reality, is going on becomes harder and, in a way, makes them begin to question their identity rather than questioning the structure within this identity is shaped.

As the discussion is opened up for questions from the audience, it becomes evident that the urge for a proper change is still very much at stake, although it may be with different methods that these changes can take place. The panel discussion includes professor of law Kathleen Cleaver (1945) who is well known for her involvement in the Black Panther movement and Dr. Jared Ball (1970) who is an Associate Professor of Communication studies with research interest in the interaction between colonialism, mass media theory and history, as well as the development of underground journalism and cultural expression as mechanisms of social movements and political organization. The discussion took place at West Den Haag in 2018 as part of the ‘All Power to the People!’ Symposium.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg