Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Oscar Rios

Part of our revolutionary history: Los Siete de la Raza

First Published: Unity, Vol. 5, No. 17, November 12-25, 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Los Siete de la Raza was a group of young Latinos, from the mainly Latino Mission District of San Francisco, framed up for murdering a policeman in May of 1969. The struggle which unfolded to free them is a proud part of the struggle of Latinos in the United States. Oscar Rios helped form the Los Siete de la Raza defense organization and became a leading member in this struggle. His brother was one of the seven Latinos railroaded. Based on his experiences and more recent discussions with other former members of the Los Siete organization, Rios contributes this inspiring history.

Twelve years ago this month, in November 1970, the struggle to free Los Siete de la Raza was crowned victorious. A jury acquitted the young Latinos of the murder of a city policeman.

The trial of Los Siete showed the vicious racism of the San Francisco Police Department. Typical of this mentality were officers Joseph Brodnik and Paul McGoran, the police team that tried to frame Los Siete. Testimony showed that they had for years harassed and brutally beaten young Latinos, and even kept a supply of narcotics handy to plant on unsuspecting victims. But the local media preferred to pass judgment on the Latinos.

The city government offered a $5,000 bounty for information leading to Los Siete’s capture and unleashed a newly formed 150-man squad to terrorize the Mission. Close to 1,000 arrests were made in a few days time, mostly for outstanding warrants or minor traffic violations.

Clearly the case of Los Siete involved not just the fate of seven young men, but the long history of national oppression.

A bitter life for San Francisco’s Latinos

The movement to free Los Siete developed into a strong, broad-based movement in the Mission. The fundamental causes for this movement were the conditions of extreme oppression faced by the people.

Most Latinos in the Mission come from Central America or are descendants of Central American immigrants who came to the U.S. seeking a better life. Instead, they found systematic job discrimination which contributed to Latinos having the city’s highest jobless rate. They found a racist school system; an overpriced and overcrowded housing situation; continual harassment from city police and the migra (immigration authorities); political and social inequality in all areas of life.

During the late 1960’s, many Latinos began to participate in struggles, particularly at the local colleges. These experiences brought them into contact with revolutionary ideas and many began to develop a stronger sense of national identity, of being part of a movement for fundamental social change.

Lessons of the Los Siete movement

The Los Siete de la Raza defense organization was formed initially by activists from the La Raza Organization at San Francisco State College, but eventually came to include many working people, youth, and students from other local colleges.

Most of the other community groups at the time were reform oriented or social service agencies with a fairly narrow focus of work, and willing to accept the status quo. The Los Siete organization represented a new, dynamic alternative for Latinos. The demand to “Free Los Siete,” spray-painted and postered all over the Mission and chanted by thousands at Los Siete rallies and in packed courtrooms was not only a demand to free the young men, but a battle cry for equality, Latino pride and for revolution.

The Los Siete organization presented a revolutionary perspective. It showed that the frame-up was not an isolated incident but part of a continuing pattern of oppression – and to change it people had to get organized, target capitalism as their enemy and fight for a fundamental change in the social system.

The Los Siete organization was composed mainly of Latinos, decisions were made by Latinos, it promoted unity and respect for each person and for our Raza as a people, and each member had a voice in shaping the decisions. It promoted a broad, participatory struggle involving all sectors of Latinos, as well as other nationalities.

One form this approach took was to develop “serve-the-people” programs, designed to provide a needed service while allowing the organization to inform more people about the struggle and draw them in to help. A children’s free breakfast program fed over 200 children daily. Some Latino merchants, themselves victims of national oppression, helped with donations of food. With the help of professionals and students, Los Siete also developed a community medical clinic and a legal center which handled over 100 cases of police brutality in one year. All these programs were operated in a way that many community people could participate in planning and administering them.

As an organization of Latinos, Los Siete developed relations with other nationalities on the basis of mutual respect for each others’ work and organizations, in this way building solidarity. Los Siete developed a close working relationship with the Black Panther Party (BPP) and organizations in the Puerto Rican and Chicano movements. The BPP helped Los Siete publish BASTA YA, which covered news on community issues and struggles like those of the construction workers in Local 261 for union democracy.

The people win

The Los Siete organization had a profound impact on the Mission. It helped free the young brothers. It helped develop the national consciousness and cohesion of the Latino community. And mostly as a result of its work and growing influence, the government established important services and programs. Los Siete’s impact spread to other parts of the country.

Los Siete believed that effective changes come when the masses are organized, and they didn’t rely on politicians, professionals or on the channels the capitalist system provides. But what Los Siete represented most was Latino pride, Latinos standing up for our rights, training ourselves in the struggle, uniting our Raza and taking our rightful place in the developing revolution in the U.S.

Because of the Los Siete organization, revolutionary ideas began to spread in the Mission and many of those involved became revolutionaries. Some Los Siete members came to see the need for socialist revolution and a multinational communist party to lead it. Some helped form the August 29th Movement (M-L), which later became part of the U. S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L). And these people continue to be active in Latino struggles for democratic rights and socialism.

Today, conditions in the Mission aren’t any better as Reaganomics seeks to bleed the community even more. Unemployment is above the national average. Benefits are being cut back, and programs won in the days of Los Siete face a shaky future. Even more restrictive immigration laws are being proposed to legalize repression in our communities. The experiences of the Los Siete organization are a valuable historical legacy that can be utilized today. Let’s keep alive the spirit of Los Siete de la Raza.