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.
NO MORE PIGS IN OUR COMMUNITY!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:
Huey said, just before we went to press with the second issue of the newspaper,
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.
"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."
"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."
"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,