rejecting the street life and writing the 10 point program
April 28, 2009
by Laura G
Richard Aoki was not born a revolutionary or political activist. In
the mid 1960s, Richard Aoki, like many young people today in Oakland
was faced with the problem of survival: how to make it in a harsh
dog-eat-dog world. Years later, when so many youth are drawn into
gangs and crime, and when many young men adopt an attitude and
lifestyle that degrades women, Aoki's experience is inspirational and
well worth pondering. Here is an excerpt of an interview where he
describes other paths he and his friend Huey Newton were considering
before they became politically active, and what changed their thinking.
"This is the decision I had to make. One time, Huey and I had the
idea of emulating one of his friends who was the number one pimp in
North Oakland. We didn't want to compete with him so we went to West
Oakland and looked over the possibilities there and in the process
got to talk to a lot of prostitutes. And he and I could just not
become pimps. We talked to the women and they were in bad shape. I
mean they were out there because they were mothers trying to make
ends meet. Yes they made lots of money, relatively speaking, but it's
a hard life. Huey and I couldn't see profiting over somebody's
misery." (Legacy to Liberation p. 325)
A couple years later, in the midst of ferment over free speech, the
Vietnam war, and the civil rights movement the Black Panther Party
was formed. And a central focus for the new group was the concern of
people in Oakland about the daily problem of police brutality. Here
Aoki recounts sitting down with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to write
the Black Panther Party's "ten point program."
"I recall we did with a bottle of scotch but there are other
interpretations of it. ...The exact points just evolved looking at
the material conditions, such as housing, employment, etc. We had one
on police brutality. Now we just kind of threw the 10 items out there
to see how many of them would fly, you know, what were the real sore
points. We discovered it was the police that most people in the
community were concerned about. We lived in the community too and
people said to us, 'Look, you jive asses, if you want to do something
you get the police off our backs.' That's the one most people could
identify with. You know, housing, other groups were dealing with it.
But no other group was dealing with the police at that time."
At the memorials this weekend, as they honor Richard Aoki, I think
many people will probably be thinking about the meaning of their own
lives, there is a lot to learn from his own words and actions.
For more info: See my previous article on Richard Aoki.
Also recommended is the book Legacy to Liberation: Politics and
Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America (2000), specifically
the interview with Aoki by Dolly Veale.