Aaron Dixon Still at Forefront of Struggle for Racial Equality
April 14, 2008
Forty years ago this month, the Black Panther Party formed one of its
first chapters outside of its Oakland headquarters in Seattle,
Washington. Aaron Dixon was just nineteen at the time, and he became
the captain of the Seattle chapter for its first four years. Today,
Dixon is a well-known community and civil rights activist. Dixon
joins us as we broadcast from Seattle for a conversation on the
struggle for racial equality, then and now.
Aaron Dixon, longtime civil rights and community activist in Seattle.
He helped start the Seattle Black Panther Party forty years ago this month.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our series "1968: Forty Years Later." It was
forty years ago this month that the Black Panther Party formed the
first chapter outside its Oakland headquarters. It was founded right
here in Seattle. Aaron Dixon was just nineteen at the time. He became
the captain of the Seattle chapter for its first four years.
Today, Aaron Dixon is a well-known community and civil rights
activist here in Seattle. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King to
end housing discrimination and also started a free breakfast program
for schoolchildren and a free medical and legal clinic. The Seattle
Black Panther Party does not exist anymore, but the free services
Dixon helped start while in the party are still here today.
Two years ago, Aaron Dixon was the Green Party candidate from
Washington for the US Senate. He ran on an anti-poverty, antiwar
platform that opposed the PATRIOT Act, called for legalizing same-sex
marriage and universal single-payer healthcare. Aaron Dixon now joins
us here in Seattle. Welcome to Democracy Now!
AARON DIXON: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. OK, go back forty years.
It was April 1968. This was the time of Dr. Martin Luther King's
assassination. Talk about the forming of the Black Panther Party here.
AARON DIXON: Well, it was directly a result of the death of Martin
Luther King. At the time, I was in jail with some other activists
from the Black Student Union. We had been charged with closing down a
high school in protest. And we were sitting there in jail, and we
heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. And I think, for
myselfand I didn't realize it at the timethat Martin Luther King's
assassination really jolted us, and it really got us to thinking that
maybe it was time to look for other methods of rebellion and revolt.
And I made the decision at that time, while I was sitting in that
jail, that I was going to seek out other organizations and other
activities. And I didn't realize that thousands of other young
people, not just African American young people, but Latinos, white
students, Native American students, Asian students were thinking the
same thing, that we had to look for other methods.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did you form this chapter?
AARON DIXON: Well, we went down toa contingent of us went down to
the Black Student Union Conference at San Francisco State college
shortly after we got out of jail, and we met Bobby Seale, and we went
to the funeral of the first Black Panther Party member that was
killed, Little Bobby Hutton. And after
AMY GOODMAN: How was he killed?
AARON DIXON: He was killed by the Oakland police in a shootout
withthat Eldridge Cleaver was involved in, and they were trapped in
a house. The house was surrounded by the Oakland police. They
tear-gassed the house. They were asked to come out. They came out.
Eldridge had stripped down, because he knew, as an ex-felon, that if
he didn't have any clothes on, that they couldn't say that you were
concealing a weapon. He asked Little Bobby to do the same. Little
Bobby wouldn't do it, because he was young and brash. And when they
came out, Eldridge stumbled, and they asked Little Bobby to run to
the car, and he ran to the police officers, and they opened fire on
him and shot him about forty or fifty times.
AMY GOODMAN: So, here, you formed the Black Panther Party.
AARON DIXON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What did it mean to you, Black Panther Party?
AARON DIXON: Well, it meant that we were going to stand up, and we
were going to stand up and oppose the forces that were trying to
destroy us, and that we would do whatever was necessary to fight for
the rights of African American people and other oppressed people, and
that we weren't going to take it any longer. You know, I think that
was the main feeling of my generation, that we were not going to take
it any longer.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you go from being involved in the Black Panther
Party to setting up the free clinic, the medical-legal clinic?
AARON DIXON: Well, by 1969, we realized that we had to, besides
carrying weapons and patrolling the police, we had to do other things
in the community. We had to address the problems that people were
having in the community. At that time, the Vietnam War was taking
place. There was a lot of poverty. A lot of the money that would have
been going into community programs and community services were going
for the war. And so, we decided to implement some very important programs.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about todaywe're talking forty years laterin
these last few minutes and the key issues that you see in Seattle.
AARON DIXON: Well, the key issues are very much the same as they were
forty years ago: poverty, violence in the community that is taking
place not just in Seattle but many other places. Right now, Seattle
has the highest rate of inflation of anywhere in the country. We have
the most expensive commercial property in the world, which has led to
a rash of building of condos and very expensive homes. So
there'shousing is a tremendously big issue here in Seattle, as it is
in other places. We have some of the highest fuel costs in the
country. So a lot of these things are impacting working people and
poor people here in Seattle, even though we have more millionaires
and billionaires here in Seattle than anywhere else in the country.
It's a tremendous contradiction that we see playing out.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is the headquarters of which large
corporations? You've got Amazon. You've got Starbucks. Boeing's
corporate headquarters moved, but Boeing, of course, is a large presence here.
AARON DIXON: Yeah, Microsoft.
AMY GOODMAN: Microsoft.
AARON DIXON: A lot of biotech firms are based here now. Paul Allen,
who is one of the founders of Microsoft, has his base here now. So
you have a lot of wealthy people here.
AMY GOODMAN: And the violence in the African American community now,
especially among youth?
AARON DIXON: You know, it's something that has been going on for a
while, but you've seen an increase over the last three or four
months. And we haven't seen this type of an increase before. You
know, we've seen it in other places like Oakland and Philadelphia and
D.C. and New Orleans and many other places. But over the last four
months, we've had a tremendous increase in violence among urban
youth. And, you know, this violence is taking place across this
country. It's not just urban youth. We're seeing it in all elements
of our community and outside of our community.
AMY GOODMAN: Are people aware of the history of the Black Panther
Party here today, do you find?
AARON DIXON: Yeah. A lot of people who were around at that time are
aware of it. And we havethere's a lot of young people that know
about the Black Panther Party.
AMY GOODMAN: You ran for the Senate.
AARON DIXON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Green Party ticket.
AARON DIXON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting here from KOMO, which is one of the
commercial stations in Seattle. You weren't able to get into another
TV station. In fact, you were arrested outside of, what, KING TV?
AARON DIXON: KING 5, yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened?
AARON DIXON: Well, they had a debate between the Republican and the
Democratic candidates, and I was not allowed to be a part of that
debate, because I didn't have $1 million. You had to have $1 million
in your campaign bank account, and I didn't have that. And I was
really angry about that, you know, and I just felt that this was a
moment that there was a situation that had to be addressed, that
people had to understand and understand that our political arena is
an arena for the very wealthy, and so, therefore, the voice of the
people is not really being heard and being listened to. So I felt
that I had to challenge that at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be running for another political office?
AARON DIXON: No, I don't think so. I did what I had to do. I wanted
to bring to the attention that other candidates should have an
opportunity to be represented in the political arena.
AMY GOODMAN: Aaron Dixon, thanks for joining us here on Democracy
Now! in Seattle, Washington
AARON DIXON: Thank you, thank you. I want to tell you happy birthday,
by the way.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.