Saturday, July 25, 2015

Seizing the Narrative: How the Panthers invented 'Pigs'

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project, 20 August 2014. Reposting it here to preserve broken links. It can also be read here.

It's what a lot of people — righteously angry people — call the police. It's not a word that "polite society" approves of, but sometimes, especially when we're talking about racist killer cops in places like Ferguson, Missouri, it's the only word that fits.
But do you know how the term "pig" came into use? Did you know it was a conscious language invention by revolutionaries?
Bobby Seale was one of the cofounders of the Black Panther Party. He recounted this amazing story about a conversation between himself, fellow Panther founder Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the Panther's revolutionary graphic artist Emory Douglas, in his 1970 book on the BPP, "Seize the Time." The book was published when he was Chairman of the party and imprisoned in San Francisco.
The Black Panther Party had a core of revolutionary cadres, men and women who, at their best, were seeking to find a way to demonize the forces of oppression and prepare people to overthrow them. They studied Mao, Che and Fanon to learn the lessons of other revolutions. But how did they change consciousness? What did they do?
This story is an example of how the Panthers, and particularly their small core of leaders, consciously invented symbolism and language that would be taken up by the people themselves — and that would shape the dialogue in society. They applied the mass line, and at the end were able to synthesize, create and inject something very new, very revolutionary into the atmosphere. The invention of the label "pig" was a gift to the people, that concentrated their desires and feelings, and quickly became a marker of radical politics, and a searing indictment of the brutal police.
This story is an example of many things: Of how politics is an art of symbolism as well as analysis, of how a deep knowledge of the people can free you to make powerful inventions, and of how revolutionary leaders can bring something new into being that millions of people can take up and wield. It is the story of just one word... but it is one example of what a process of revolutionary movement-building involves.
Everybody knows what the word "Pig" means now.
Today, over forty years after these words were written, everything Seale writes about is still relevant, still viscerally, horrifyingly clear. The recent events across the U.S. from East Flatbush to Anaheim to Staten Island to Ferguson remind us that pigs are still pigs.


BY BOBBY SEALE • Originally published in "Seize The Time," Ramparts Press, 1970
Off the Pig means to kill the slave master. It doesn't mean commit murder. Some of the brothers in the Party made up a song:
"There's a pig upon the hill/If you don't get 'im, the Panthers will."
But first one must understand what a pig is — police, bigots, and fascists. The Black Panther Party started the term.
"A pig is an ill-natured beast who has no respect for law and order, a foul traducer who's usually found masquerading as a victim on an unprovoked attack."
b2ap3_thumbnail_emory-pigs2.jpgThis definition was printed in the second issue of the Black Panther Party's newspaper in May of 1967. If you read it closely, you'll see what is really meant by "pig". The police are generally referred to as such. But racist bigots and sadistic fascists who help maintain the oppression of any people are considered pigs. It is best understood when we look at the history of the KKK and Hitler's Gestapo.
Huey said, just before we went to press with the second issue of the newspaper,
"We have to have some terms that adequately define the police and fascist bigots who commit murder, brutalize, and violate people's constitutional rights."
I told him he already called those who actually do this "fascists" and "swine".
Huey said,
"Yeah, but black people aren't picking it up. It's not simple enough so they'll understand it . Children, teenagers, and older people, everybody."
Then Huey, walking around the room thinking, said, "Swine . . . pig . . . swine" and Eldridge sat down at the typewriter and typed out the definition. He gave it to Huey. Huey said, "Yeah." Emory had a drawing of a pig. We put it on the front page and wrote under it, "Support Your Local Police," a Birchite slogan which is also supported by "white citizen," white racist, so-called "patriotic" organizations.
Numerous reports at this time in 1967 had appeared on how the police department had been hiring Birchites, KKK members, and other white racists. It was later taken out of the news. But police departments had doubled and tripled across this country, especially where black and other poor oppressed peoples live in large numbers. Murder and police brutality had been going on for hundreds of years, but unjust treatment and slaughter of black people by racists and police which weren't reported by the press much at all, had taken on a new high in the last ten years.
We knew that this was the working and organizing of a more overt police state right here in America and now, today, three years since the Party was organized, in many cities, especially Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and other places, police departments have been quadrupled by the hiring of many sadistic, warped-minded blacks.
There are a few good policemen, black and white. But the majority are sadistic and racist and do not respect the constitutional rights of the people whatsoever. They actually believe in brutality, terrorizing, intimidating, and outright murder, and too many times come up acting and masquerading like a victim of an unprovoked attack.
b2ap3_thumbnail_3_bppnov2969_pigcover.jpgHuey said,
"This defining of the police as pigs will hopefully make some of them think, and oppose what the racists in the police departments are unjustly doing. It will spread to millions and millions of people who know that the cops are 'pigs' and will hopefully generate some political movement for real community control of the police. The police departments are acting like the old German Gestapo who called the world 'swine', which is the same as 'pig'. The racists in this country are exactly that by the definition you have typed out, Eldridge."
"Pigs, pigs, pigs," Huey said. "If the people go forth using their constitutional rights to vote them out and make a real people's police force, and then, if the rotten politicians don't respect the right of the people's vote and use their guns like Hitler did, then they are officializing themselves as Gestapo and are oinking in the face of the people. Guerrilla warfare will have to be used then by the masses of the people. But we have to defend ourselves now. So when and if the police officialize themselves as Gestapo, 'off the pig'. Right now, if they unjustly attack us, 'off the pig' because we have a human right to defend ourselves and the people must learn now that they must also defend themselves against unjust, brutal, murderous 'pig' attacks."
Eldridge, Huey and I checked out Emory's layout of the pig for the front cover and said, "Right on, Emory. That's together."
"A low-life pig, a foul traducer," Eldridge said, " who's usually found masquerading as a victim of unprovoked attack."
We were very enthusiastic about getting the paper off the press and into the streets. "This will begin to let the people know how the black community sees the police who occupy our communities like a foreign troop and violate the people's constitutional rights," Huey said.
Eldridge said, "Man, these pigs are going to shoot us down on sight when this paper hits the street and they see this."
b2ap3_thumbnail_emory-pigs5.jpg"But it's the right to freedom of the press and free speech that we're exercising to educate the people as to what's really happening and what must be changed." Huey said. "So if they attack us or try to kill us for this we'll defend ourselves. We'll off any pig who attacks us."
Eldridge said, "Emory, you've got to do some art to show the people what to do in defending ourselves with guns and what to do in the future be cause I believe from here on in it's going to be nothing but a fascist police state, even more so than it is now."
"Also," Huey said, "the people have got to know that we don't believe in murder but only self-defense in the future and in the present. They must understand that self-defense goes beyond just defending ourselves with guns, but that political organizing and implementing the ten-point platform and program are the real political, economic and social means of defending ourselves. So the people have got to see some things that relate concretely to their problems and the gun has got to be seen as a proper tool in defending ourselves when we, the masses, organize revolutionary programs for self-determination and survival."
I said, "Yeah, you know Malcolm X said we had to deal with the basic and political and economic necessities for our people, also."
Huey said,
"And the gun, Malcolm said, was for self-defense since the government won't do its job. We stand on Malcolm X's principle."
b2ap3_thumbnail_emory-pigs4.jpgMalcolm had said:
"We should be peaceful, law-abiding — but the time has come to fight back in self-defense whenever and wherever [the black man] is being unjustly and unlawfully attacked. If the government thinks I am wrong for saying this, then let the government start doing its job."
Malcolm's many speeches clearly told Americans that we must make up for past inequities. And people must understand in the language of the ghetto what "off the pig" means.
"Off the Pig" started being used widely when the people, black and white, were all demonstrating at the trial of brother Huey P. Newton. It meant essentially "don't execute Huey," don't try to put him in the gas chamber. Put the "pig" in the gas chamber for murdering black people. We also wanted community control of police. "We'll patrol ourselves," we said. So at the demonstrations during Huey's trial there was a song,
"No more pigs in our community/Off the Pig/It's time to pick up the gun."

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