Elaine Brown has been many things. Chair of the Black Panther Party from 1974 until 1977. Candidate for Oakland City Council. Candidate for the nomination of the Green Party for President of the United States. Founder of various nonprofits. Advocate for radical prison reform and prison strike organizer.
She has been a supporter and advocate for Occupy Oakland, a featured speaker at many of its events, and a participant in the December 12th Port Shutdown. In early 2012 she dressed down the Oakland City Council, its female and African American members in particular, for turning their backs on the principles that she and others fought for and which ultimate allowed them to be elected to their positions.
Yesterday, July 15th, she spoke to the Occupy Oakland General Assembly. After her talk, she said that she would not vote on proposals, because she did not consider herself a member of the assembly. She was immediately "shouted down" and by unanimous "consent" proclaimed a member of Occupy Oakland.
Here is the transcript of her speech. My apologies to Ms. Brown if I have mistranslated anything.
Elaine Brown Addressing the Occupy Oakland General Assembly
July 15th, 2012
Power to the people!
How's everybody doin?
I have to tell you that, as I've said to many of you before, the Occupy Movement has looked to Occupy Oakland, because Oakland has the reputation of being the most radical and progress Occupy movement across the country.
People I talk to in New York, Georgia, other places absolutely respect what Occupy Oakland has done and the blood that's already shed. And I think that the importance of Occupy cannot be lost and we cannot allow ourselves to fall back because of whatever is going on and we don't have the kind of movement that we want.
Now I want to say, just quickly; Dr. King, before he was killed, he addressed the question of "Where do we go from here?" and I think that's the question we're facing right now. And one of the things Dr. King said is that for us to know where we go from here we have to talk about where we are now. And in that time he spoke about black people, and I want to mention this because I want to show you the connections that are going on today.
As I mentioned to many people what the whole purpose of Dr. King's activity that he was geared toward at the time of his assassination was the Poor People's Campaign. And the Poor People's Campaign was to occupy, literally, the area around the White House and all throughout DC to set up tent city which they did do, and say that "we not goin' until we get what's ours." And that was a powerful statement.
Now in addressing that question Dr. King said "Where do we go from here? What we look at, we see black people, we see the fight, despite the Civil Rights Act and all the legislation, we have half of what is good and double of what is bad. That the White House and the government is going to have to change that condition. So what we're going to Washington DC for in 1968, '67 and then '68, what is ours is we want guaranteed income; if we don't have jobs we want a guaranteed income. We know the government can provide it, because the government's been spending all the money in the world on war that has nothing to do with us and we want that Defense budget shifted so that if we can't get a job we want a guaranteed income."
But what we ultimately want, Dr. King said, remember this, is that we want a total redistribution of the wealth of this nation. Remember, when he started talking about redistribution of wealth, Dr. King was mowed down like a dog in Memphis, Tennessee and if anyone thinks James Earl Ray was the assassin then I got some other stories to tell you about.
Now, I tell you that at the same time the Black Panther party was talking about the liberation of black people, but what we recognized is that while we had a subjective goal in our own interest, that our goal could not be achieved, we were not on moral or ethical grounds about the liberation of black people, in the context of the opporession of native peoples. So we said "We can't be free, as long as the native people are oppressed," so we said we had to form, we formed a coalition with the American Indian Movement. We said how we're going to talk about the freedom of black people in this country without talking about the oppression of the Latinos, working the farms of of California like the slaves in Georgia. We can't be free, so we have to form a coalition with the Brown Berets...
... What about Puerto Ricans? We formed a coalition with the Young Lords organization. The Chinese and the Asians? A coalition with the Red Guard. Half the world -- women. We said black liberation in the context of the oppression of women, so we called for women's liberation, that was a part of our agenda. And what about gays? We were the only black organization, in fact the only progressive organization that saw the question of gay liberation as part of the revolutionary struggle that we were engaged in.
What about the disabled? We formed a coalition with the Center for Independent Living. What about the messed up environment in this country and how we all suffer through the horrors of that environment? So we formed a coalition with ??? and created a program called 'Gardens in the Ghetto'. And what about our brothers and sisters that were in Vietnam fighting against the Americans, the same oppressors that we had? We didn't call for peace in Vietnam, we called for victory for the Viet Cong. What about our brothers and sisters that were fighting against the same imperial empire in South Africa? We formed a coalition with the PAC... Zimbabwe ... Mozambique ...
Now I say all that to say that one of the things that the Occupy movement has inspired me is that it has reached beyond the question of one group vs. another. We don't have any conflict. We know who the enemy is. And that enemy you have identified in language that everyone around the world now identifies with and that's the 1%. We understand one thing. That the rest of us are the 99%. So the question is "What are we going to do and where do we go from here?"
I want to remind you of something that made you who you are and us who we are and that I joined in and gave my voice to what you already started in Oakland. I was glad to walk to close down the Port of Oakland. So they lost four to eight million dollars that day. I'm like, you have eight million dollars? That ain't enough? ((??)) We have eight million right now we won't close nuthin' down. We need redistribution of wealth around here but yes, let's shut it down every day that we not getting a dime out of it. Five schools closing; we need two million dollars to reopen and they making eight million a day. Give me a break!
So what has the Occupy Movement done? It's done what we would say, when quoting one of the great revolutionary minds and leaders of this world, Che Guevera, we would always say "Words are beautiful..." You know everybody wants to rap around here, I get tired of rapping, but anyway,
"Words are beautiful but actions are supreme."
What makes Occupy distinct from every other thing that's been here since the days of the Black Panther party is you have put words into action. You have created an environment for change, for the kind of change that some people thought Obama was bringing, which is a sad story that you didn't get ??? but anyway, you here now, we here now, and what I want to say is that actions are supreme.
When we come together to develop an agenda on 'where do we go from here' just remember that what makes you distinguished from everyone else is that you took action. We didn't all agree on every single thing, we agreed about one thing. We knew we were part of the oppressed group and we were united against our oppressors. The one percent. The capitalists. This cannot be a capitalist movement. We cannot tolerate that, we already know, this is anti-capitalist because there's no way you're going to have this kind of continuum of exploitation and talk about real change in America.
We may not agree on every ideology. People talk about non-violence vs. violence, as if this is a serious question, but it's not a serious question. And the reason it's not serious, because, first of all, when we talk about guns, speaking of guns as we did in the Black Panther party, we said a gun is not necessarily revolutionary because the pigs have guns, pigs meaning the state, the police, the government of the United States and all that it represents which is the corporations and so forth. They have more guns than we could even imagine having so violence is already here. The NRA alone is perpetrating more violence than the averge person so we don't have the question of violence or non-violence, except for the question of do we want to take some actions, do we want to make them meaningful.
What was it, the 28th of January? I was out here in the streets and I saw people took over a building, and I thought maybe, strategically, there were a few mistakes, maybe we could have held the line better, other strategies, but I loved taking over that building. It used to be the Oakland Auditorium, and we used to have a whole lot of things going on in Oakland Auditorium. The bottom line is this. People said, "Oh, Occupy people are violent." This is in face of bringing every cop in the world down just because of the non-violent protest against the Port of Oakland and its wealth and its exploitation.
I watched a young girl on a bicycle get mowed down by the police, and I watched a black cop and a woman cop and I asked both of them
"How in the hell do you stand up here when we fought for you,
for woman's liberation
for black liberation
and this is what you did with it?"
"You not my brother. You not my sister."
So we have to be clear about what we're doing. Not be afraid to change the state. ((??)) Oh, well we non-violent, we have to explain... we don't have anything to explain!
We are going right! So all I want to say to you now in closing, is "I'm part of you and I feel a part of this movement." I know I talk to different people around the country who've been in the movement many years, tired of being alive and thought it was all over but the shouting, and then came the shouting and then came Occupy. It gave us, it reinvigorated us. I didn't have any problem, I'll be seventy in March, I walked like I was twelve years old walking to close that damned port.
You guys are eager. You can bring other people in. The way we gonna do that is we gonna have to take some actions again. That doesn't mean we get killed. It doesn't mean we get beat up. It means we find better actions, more strategic actions. But the bottom line is that's who you have become. The world has recognized you. The world has recognized Occupy Oakland. So be proud. And let's say "Let's join together, let's keep this going." And remember, "The power belongs to the people."
All Power to the People.
Elaine Brown Addressing the Oakland City Council, January, 2012.
"You should be ashamed!"