The co-founder of the Black Panther Party told audiences in Phoenix and Tempe on Monday that presidential candidate Barack Obama has revived a spirit of hope among oppressed Americans similar to what existed in the 1960s.
“I support the movement that Obama has built,” said Dave Hilliard, the former chief of staff of the Black Panther Party. “I support the spirit of the movement. I’m always supporting ideas, people with progressive ideas, and he meets that criteria.”
Hilliard spoke Monday at the downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses of Arizona State University and will speak again from noon to 2 p.m. today in the Student Union Cooley Ballroom at the ASU Polytechnic campus in east Mesa.
Hilliard said today’s politicians, including Democratic presidential candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton, are running on Black Panther ideals of coalition politics that include plans for universal health care.
“You listen to these politicians and you compare it to this 10-point program, and I wager you they are the same things we lived for and we died for,” Hilliard said.
The 10-point program, the foundation of the Black Panther Party, states in point No. 6 that all oppressed people should receive free health care.
By 1970 the party set up free health care programs for communities in 47 states as well as free breakfast programs for school children and a prescription plan for seniors, Hilliard said.
“Today when you hear politicians promising universal health care, it’s like, we did that over 40 years ago,” Hilliard said.
Regina Matos is the chairwoman of the Campus Environment Team at ASU’s Tempe campus, the group that sponsored Hilliard’s lecture. She said she hopes people can look to the past and tie it to what’s happening today.
“It’s an election year again, and I think we learn a lot from history,” Matos said about scheduling the lecture. “We haven’t received any negative feedback or comments at this point.”
Hilliard said the mass media froze the image of the Black Panther Party as a separatist militant group, but that the party was multicultural from the beginning.
The party worked with Native American groups, Jewish communities, gay rights groups and Hispanics, including César Chávez.
“The cat was black, not our politics,” Hilliard said.
Skyler Gordon is a sophomore psychology major at ASU and Obama supporter. She said her father was a member of the Black Panther Party, and she feels the media painted a false picture of the organization.
“I still respect the whole movement and what it stood for,” Gordon said. “It got a bad reputation as this militant group instead of something about tolerance.”
Gordon said the lecture solidified a lot of what she had been told, but that it’s important to hear different perspectives.
Wadell Blackwell is the director of multicultural student affairs at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. He said secondhand knowledge of history isn’t enough to understand it, and the goal of inviting Hilliard to speak was to give people a chance to gain firsthand knowledge.
In its heyday the Black Panther Party was deemed, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States,” by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.
Today 40 operatives of the party are still in prison or in exile, Hilliard said.
If people learn the history of the Black Panther Party, Hilliard said, they can see it as a model for how to handle challenges today.
“Don’t take my word,” Hilliard said. “Go do the research and you’ll see what it was really about.”