Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Gary Atkins

Local Panther Group Runs ’Survival Programs’

First Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 161, Issue 3, 2 February 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The words “Black Panther” have commonly brought the image of guns and violence to mind. But according to several Stanford students, who have addressed their message to whites in the local communities for the last six months, that image is no longer valid.

The students are members of a local Panther auxiliary formed at Stanford shortly after a split occurred in the radical Venceremos organization last summer. Called the Intercommunal Survival Committee to Combat Fascism (ISCCF), the auxiliary is one of a number of such organizations around the nation that administer  “survival  programs” designed not only to “serve the people,” but to change the image of the Panther party.

Their ideology is “Intercommunalism,” the doctrine that about a year ago replaced “Black Nationalism” and “Revolutionary Internationalism” as the creed of the Panther party – and the doctrine that has made the image of guns and violence outdated.

This does not mean Panther rhetoric is not militant – members of the local ISCCF still talk about the “Revolution,” but their actions are directed to something other than just picking up a gun.

“As revolutionaries, we see ourselves dedicated to day-to-day fulltime work setting up survival programs and then moving toward community control of those programs while we move on to set up others,” Miriam Cherry, the coordinator of the local ISCCF, says. Cherry, who works at Stanford in association with the Catholic Newman Center in Palo Alto, was one of the original founders of the local ISCFF, having broken away from Venceremos last July over the issue of how best to make revolution.

Child Care Center

She now heads a survival committee that administers a free child care center in Sunnyvale, a free repairs program in Mountain View and East Palo Alto, free health education in South Palo Alto and a free prison bussing program in San Mateo county.

John Keilch, an assistant coordinator, and two other ISCCF workers teach a SWOPSI course on ’The Black Panther Party: Intercommunalism in Theory and Practice.”

The survival programs, according to a committee publication, are aimed at giving “the people what should have been theirs all along – the mere necessities for survival, the right of every man, woman and child – food, clothing, shoes, education and proper medical care.”

Most of the local programs are run in predominantly white suburban areas, mainly because, as one worker says, “we’re white.”

Also, “it’s hard for whites to do any organizing in the black community – and, after all, there are a lot of very oppressed white people in the Palo Alto area too.”

Members of the local survival committee seek to avoid the impression that they are involved in conventional community service programs. “All the programs aim at trying to provide political education,” Cherry says. All have political names such as the George Jackson Bussing Program or the Bobby Seale Repairs Program. “We’re trying to be up front with the idea that this is political work and not social work,” Cherry says.

Split Occurs

But whether political work is revolutionary is the key point that led to the split in Venceremos last summer as well as to a split in the Panther party earlier last year.

Essentially, it’s a matter of tactics. Venceremos believes in the necessity of armed struggle; the Panthers and the ISCCF rejected that approach when they adopted Intercommunalism in 1970.

“We saw one-sided thinking in Venceremos,” Cherry says, “a one-sided view that revolution was based just on picking up the gun – or on talking about picking up the gun. We began to see that that was not revolutionary organizing. We have to beg the question on whether it is even revolution. Revolution means ’in motion.’ Revolutionaries have to constantly try to come up with new ways to confront the power structure.

“When you keep relying on the same forms every time – when, for example, you throw rocks through windows every time – you’re no different from the reactionaries. It might be very reactionary to pick up a gun at one particular time and very revolutionary at another time.”

The same issue was at least partially responsible for last year’s split in the Panther party itself. At that time, Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver separated, with Newton urging Intercommunalism and Cleaver calling for armed resistance.

According to Newton, the Panthers had become isolated from their community support by offering only the option of picking up the gun. “The correct handling of a revolution,” he wrote “is not to offer the people an ’either-or’ ultimatum. We must instead gain the support of the people through serving their needs.”

The key to serving those needs and to reestablishing a “lifeline” to the community was felt to be the survival programs. This time, however, the community is not just the black community. As the local ISCCF is demonstrating, the lifeline can also reach into the white suburbs.

Center Successful

The most successful local program so far, according to Cherry, is the ISCCF child care center in Sunnyvale. Both black and white parents use the center. “Instead of just having the rhetoric about needing a child care program,” Cherry says, “we simply began a program. We found a place and turned it over for use as a child care center. Then we went out to the poor and oppressed and let them know we were providing free child care.”

“The poor oppressed who see the programs think they’re fantastic, they’re convinced that they are good,” she says.

The opponents, Cherry says, are “people who sit off to the side and criticize, who try in various ways to say that these programs are wrong without investigating for themselves or being themselves involved.”

“And we get it from both sides,” she says, “both reactionaries and from so-called revolutionaries who call you ’racist sissy’ as you walk by.”

But the ISCCF members say they are prepared to defend their programs. “We believe the power state is violent and brutal and kills people,” Cherry says, “and we believe that they will attempt to wipe out these programs. We expect to have to defend them, and not just with words. We expect to have to have armed struggle to do that.”

But not right now. (Tomorrow: A look at the prison bussing program.)