The Young Lords attempted to set up a free breakfast program for children, daycare, and political education at a local conservative church. The church was left unused during most of the week, and didnt have any kind of social justice programs. Here’s a fantastic interview with the Minister of Information of the Young Lords, explaining why they chose that church and explaining parts of their ideology.
Q: Why was the First Spanish Church chosen to present your demands that they serve the community? Will you make similar demands of other community churches?
A: The First Spanish Church was chosen because it was right smack dead in the center of El barrio. it’s a beautiful locatio right in the middle of the community that has consistently closed itself up to the community. It’s only open for a few hours each week and for the rest of the week it turns into one big brick that sits on 111th St and Lexington. It’s not just the Young Lords or our political beliefs that they responded to – they don’t even deal with the anti-poverty organizations in the community.
Most of the other churches like St. Cecilia’s and Good Neighbor and some of the Catholic churches have some kind of program. TThey could do a little more brushing up, be a little more effective, but at least they try, they have something – they have kids come and play in the gym, they have head start programs or something. This church used to have 40 – 50 young people in the church. Now they’ve lost all their young people – their own sons and daughters. This church has been around for about 10 years. They had a gym and then there was a fire and they rebuilt the church and had a gym in there. They had a basement and a sub-basement and then took it out a few years ago.
The young people started coming back when we started doing our thing in the church and there’s a conflict going on in the church now between the young people and theboard of directors. The young people are also put off by us, but they know there’s nothing wrong with breakfast programs, so they’ve been helping us a lot.
Q: On Sunday you made a statement that you were unarmed and if the police came in they would be killing innocent people – are you always unarmed?
A. We believe that eventually we will have to arm ourselves, and the people will have to arm themselves, when we make our move for liberation. Right now that’s not a probability – that would be suicidal at this point because what we are right now is a propaganda unit. We’re educating the people to what it is to be born in Kenyan, what it is to be Puerto Rican, and also to the contradictions in the society. We don’t need guns to do that. We don’t have any guns in this office – to do so would be to invite the police to come in to have a massacre, to have a riot.
We know they have their agents, their spies. They’ve been checking us out. They know darn well we don’t have any guns, but they’re just trying to be funny. Last Wednesday at 3:00 PM they surrounded the office with 150 police and out here on Madison Ave police cars lined up. They were on the rooftops across the street and they just sat there for 15 minutes, just checking us out. It was to intimidate us, to have us provoke something. The people came out into the street and were behind us. They asked what are they here for and we told them what they were here for. Our explanation made a connection with what happened to the Black Panther party a week before and the people said “Why? You haven’t hurt anybody.”
So it’s obvious that what’s going down is just this mad provocation and that’s the only conspiracy. There’s a tirla in Chicago they call the “Conspiracy 8” but the only conspiracy in this country is that of a small ruling class that just puts down poor people and that’s the conspiray that we just want to move out of the way.
Q: Do you think that the concept of reparations as expressed by James Forman is a valid one for Puerto Rican people?
A. James Forman’s basic concept is that the churches have been a helping hand and a willing partner in the oppression of black people. This also holds true for Puerto Rican people, especially the Catholic church since most Puerto Ricans are Catholic.
The other issue that has been brought us is that organized religion has got to respond to the needs of the people. Now the Board of Directors and members of that church say that we imposed ourselves on them by speaking up and asking for space during their service. We say that they have imposed themselves on the community by putting their church in the middle of the community and then not opening their doors to the people. That’s the true imposition that they fail to see. Some other people and the press just like to play up this thing that we disrupted the service. We were upholding ancient Christian tradition since the time of Paul, that says anybody that comes to a service has the right to speak p. In true Christianity the rights of the minority have always been respected.
There are certain people in organized religion who have become established that feel that theirs is the only way to serve God, tos erve the people. That’s not quite right. The contradictions of an organized religion that can permite someone like Cardinal Spellman to belss the troops before they go out and commit something like the Song My massacre makesit obvious that there is no separation between church and politics.
We know that within the church there’s a small revolution going on – Ivan Illych in Mexico is a beautiful brother who’s taking care of a lot of business and educating the people and exposing the contradictions that exist in capitalism. Camilo Torres died in Latin America for what he believed in, so there are some. The hierarchy of the church has got to come down from up there in the sky and see what’s happening with the people.
Q: Can you tell me what is your relationship with the Black Panthers and the Patriot Party?
A: You see, if we’re attacked we’re going to defend ourselves. Huey Newton brought that principle up and it’s true. Anybody in the street knows that for a long time our people have been beat, we’ve been brutalized, killed, raped and the only way we’re going to stop that is by defending ourselves. Now the police came into Fred’s home and murdered him in his bed in Los Angeles – they claim the Panthers came out and started shooting. There’s 300 police surrounding the office and right away the Panthers are going to start shooting at the 300 policemen. Why? Because they’re crazy. That doesn’t make any sense.
The police obviously provoked the whole thing and started it. If you just sit there you’re going to get wiped out, and if you’re going to go down you might as well take somebody with you – you’ve got to defend yourself. That’s human instinct, survival instinct.
The Rainbow Coalition consists of the Patriot Party, Young Lords Organization and the Black Panther Party. If you’re not familiar with the Patriots, that’s a revolutionary white organization. We call it the Rainbow Coalition because it’s a rainbow of culture and colors. We also say there’s a rainbow existing in the Puerto Rican community because Puerto Ricans can be as dark as I am or have blonde hair and blue eyes – Puerto Ricans come out all different ways. But this was done mainly to educate the people. It is a revolutionary force in America today.
The Young Lords Organization is a revolutionary force moving the Latin community, the Black Panther party is moving the black community and the Patriots are beginning to move the poor white community. By us getting together and working together in this Rainbow Coalition, the people that see that, that blows a lot of their racism that’s been instituted by teh man. The lying politicians can’t use arguments that we’re really racist because if we’re all working together it’s got to be something more.
What we relate to is class struggle. We’re not interested in struggle between races or between ethnic groups. So that’s the main purpose of the Rainbow Coalition – it’s for the purposes of education. It’s also a defense and information coalition. If anything comes up with the Panthers, the Lords and the Patriots are going to go down also, and the same way for all three groups.
When we were involved in the church offensive or some of the other things that we’ve been involved in, we’ve received help and support from the Panthers and the Patriots. The Panther 21 trial is coming up December 18th and a demonstration is taking place. We’ll be down there at the rally along with the Patriots.
Q: Do you study revolutionary thinkers such as the Panthers do Mao’s Little Red Book?
A: A revolution has to take a sense of what was done before and then improvise on what’s happening in his own situation. Obviously the Chinese revolution is not going to take place in the US. The US is not an agricultural society, but it’s a highly advanced technological society. Something new under the sun is going to be done for the Second American Revolution. However there’s a lot of similarity in what’s gone down in other revolutionary situations. Lenin read Marx and Mao read Lenin and Marx, and Castro did the same thing that he was saying – then he decided to check them out. And that’s what’s happened with us. We read everybody – we read Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Betances and Campos – Puerto Rican revolutionaries. Puerto Ricans have a had a long history of revolution. They fought against Spain and now they’re fighting against the US. I hate somebody that makes the same mistake twice, especially when there’s no reason for it, because people wrote the earlier ones down. Yet, if you don’t take any short cuts, with things so rough already, you’re in bad shape. So we read some Mao, Marx, Lenin. We don’t let that govern us, we don’t put them up as gods. They’re revolutionaries just as we are and I respect them for that. We’re going to have to do something a little different, that’s why they in turn respect us.
Q: Do you also consider Christ as a revolutionary?
A: David Kirk from Emmanus House sent us a telegram when the police rioted a week ago Sunday in the church . It read that if Christ was alive today, we would have been a Young Lord. That’s true. We believe that. We also believe that if Christ came back today, they’d crucify him again.
Christ was saying a whole lot. The Bible is used as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the imperialists. They teach only the parts of the Bible that will mollify the people, keep them down, you know, turn the other cheek, be cool, be humble, slow up, wait. They don’t show you the parts llike when things were going bad in the temple, Christ went in and threw them out and he wasn’t non-violent – he was a pretty violent cat when he had to be.
You don’t go back into the old days of the Old Testament when everybody was doing in everybody else – jacking everybody else up. They were fighting in the name of the Lord – a Holy War which they fought with righteous feeling. And that’s why we’ve got Christ right up there next to Mao – he was a heavy cat.
Q: Do you include an education such as Puerto Rican history in your program?
A: We’re primarily a propaganda unit, a teaching agency. At this stage of the revolutionary struggle we’re educators with the true history of Puerto Rico and what it means to be Puerto Rican as our curriculum. We also expose the contradictions that exist in America and why, contrary to opinion, they’re never going to make it in the system.
We have political education classes, in the community. We send our organizers out to knock on doors and with people on the street. The people on the Board of the First Spanish Methodist Church told us that we were Satan, and that if poor people wanted they could educate themselves, and they don’t have to play numbers or drink beer. Their idea is that Puerto Rican people dig being poor, and that they made it so why can’t everybody else make it. They think that Puerto Rican women on welfare spend their money on beer, they play the numbers and that they really dig the gutter. It tok a whole lot to hold our tempers, but their sons and daughters (who were at the meeting between the Board of Trustees and the Young Lord) let them know how we felt.