ROCK ISLAND — The same conditions that plagued the city of Chicago during the 1960s and ’70s still exist today, according to a panel of civil rights activists from that era.
Four civil rights activists told why they got involved in civil rights groups that later formed the Rainbow Coalition on Wednesday night at Centennial Hall on the campus of Augustana College, 3703 7th Ave. Nearly 100 people attended the program, part of Organize Your Own, an exhibition at Augustana featuring artwork that responds to racism, poverty and oppression.
Representatives of the Young Patriots, Young Lords, Rising Up Angry and the Black Panthers were on the panel.
Stan McKinney, a member of the Illinois Black Panther Party, said he joined the party “out of desperation.” He told the audience that Chicago cops, who they referred to as “pigs” back in the day, used to torture and beat black people.
“Those same, exact conditions exist today,” Mr. McKinney said. “There’s an institution on the west side of Chicago called Homan Square, and we come to find out a lot of African-American youth are being picked up in their communities, taken to this building, and the same tactics that were used at Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding, are being done right to this day.”
He said that the election of Donald Trump has been a “shot in the arm” for groups trying to organize today.
Hy Thurman, president of the Young Patriots, said he grew up in Tennessee and moved to Chicago at the age of 17 to escape poverty. Violence and segregation that was prevalent in Chicago became obvious to him just two weeks after moving there.
“I got stopped by two cops and once they found out I had a southern accent, and I’ll get graphic here, we are all adults, they said ‘oh no, not another (expletive) hillbilly,” Mr. Thurman said.
He said the Young Patriots wore the Confederate flag on their jackets and would go into bars to talk about racism and bigotry with patrons as a way to educate them.
Michael James, founder of Rising Up Angry, said that the future of humanity comes down to standing up to “fascist pigs.” He said the future of activism has to involve politics, and that 2018 is going to be a crucial year.
An audience member asked if one should fight back against the Nazi types, making reference to the rise of the Antifa, or left-wing, anti-fascist movement.
“I think it’s a delicate balance,” Mr. James said. “I think that sometimes it’s true that the anarchists can push the edges a little bit too much, and it’s not helpful. On the other hand, you can’t hold people back. You can’t tell black people not to do Black Lives Matter because it’s going to (upset) too many rednecks or right-wing white people.”
Antonio Lopez, spokesperson for the Young Lords, said that his organization was firmly rooted in the “long and rich history” of the liberation of Puerto Rico. He said that a dynamic Latino community came out of Lincoln Park community in Chicago. He said people there faced a lot of adversity while building a community.
“Puerto Rican people migrated there, pushed out of the island because of the devastation of the lack of economic opportunity and were pushed into some of the hardest paying jobs, finding places to live, in a tough, tough city,” Mr. Lopez said. “You had to protect yourself in the neighborhoods there in Chicago, which I still had to do in the ’90s.”
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