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The Young Lords (1970)

The Young Lords (1970)

A group of revolutionary Puerto Rican youths have occupied a church in El Barrio, New York City’s Puerto Rican ghetto. They have renamed the church La Iglezia de la Gente-People’s Church.

Until last Sunday, this church only opened a few days a week for services, but now the people of the neighborhood can come there every day for free breakfast (75 to 100 children showed up for breakfast the first day of the occupation) and lunch and free medical care; their children can attend a liberation school as antidote to public school brainrot; children can play in the church gym; and everyone can attend evening festivals of folksongs, films, and raps until dawn.

For twelve weeks the Lords had attended services at the Church, mingling with the congregation to try to convince them that the church should serve the poor people of El Barrio by opening its doors to a free breakfast program. Although the congregation consisted of middle class Puerto Ricans who live outside El Barrio, the Lords claim that many agreed the church did not do its job.

Members of Young Lords, Black Panthers, Young Patriots, Black Disciples and Rising Up Angry at a press conference.

The conservative Cuban exile minister was less sympathetic. On December 7 he denounced the Lords from the pulpit, and when the Lords rose to reply, club-swinging policemen quickly moved in. Seven Lords were injured and thirteen arrested. Hundreds of community residents and Lords supporters then marched through the streets around the church, talking to people about what had happened.

After services on Sunday, December 28, the Lords barricaded themselves inside the church. If they had granted us the space for the breakfast program in the first place, we wouldn’t have had to go through all this business, said the Lords Minister of Defense. The church board kept refusing to meet with us. They called us Satana-the Devil.

Since the occupation of the church there has been no repetition of police action. They can’t beat us up now, said a Lords spokesman, because to do that they’d have to beat up the children and their parents of the Barrio, because they’re in here with us. On January 3rd the church obtained a court order against the occupation. At a press conference in the church the following morning the Lords pointed out that everyone present was in violation of the order, but had not been arrested, because the power of the Puerto Rican community outside of the church and the 300 people that occupied the church last night are preventing the city from moving in on us. The church plans further legal action to strengthen its position, before calling in police. The Lords have said that they are ready to defend themselves if we have to.

The Young Lords Organization, now part of the multiracial Rainbow Coalition with the Black Panthers and (white southern) Patriot Party, was originally a Chicago street gang until one of their leaders read the essays of Eldridge Cleaver. The Lords became politicized and borrowed much from the Panthers in formulating a guide to free their people from oppression. They also rely on the works of Pedro Albicu Compos, a leftwing Puerto Rican nationalist. The Lords call for the independence of Puerto Rico which they regard as a colony of United States business interests.

The Lords consider themselves both an educational organization and an armed group prepared to protect our communities from the brutal attacks by the power structure that are committed every day. Police brutalize and murder Latins just as they do blacks. But Yoruba, 19-year-old Minister of Information for the New York Lords, agrees with other members of the Rainbow Coalition that the present stage of revolutionary struggle is one of education and information to raise revolutionary consciousness. He told a New York Times reporter:

All the Lords are on duty 24 hours a day, wherever they are. In the street, in homes, in stores, they talk to the people to show them how it is the capitalist system that keeps them poor.

Like the Panthers, the Lords try to serve the people, which means that revolutionaries must practice what they preach by helping people to help themselves collectively. This also involves the transformation of oppressive institutions into ones that benefit the communities around them.

The Lords’ breakfast and lunch program, an idea pioneered by the Panthers, embodies this concept of service to the people. Food is collected from the same white storekeepers who make their living by overcharging poor people. If a store refuses to contribute, it faces a boycott by the community. In this way, the program is not one of charity but rather a transfer of resources from the oppressor to the oppressed.

The Lords began to attack El Barrio’s problems last August, when they protested poor garbage collection by blocking streets with mounds of garbage. They also campaigned for community control of Metropolitan Hospital in El Barrio which they claim provides inadequate service. Most dramatically, they tackled the problem of lead poisoning, which brings brain damage or death to many slum children. Paint containing lead was used in tenements when they were first built, and as the many layers of old paint peel off, children tend to pick up and eat the poison. Landlords refuse to replaster or board up the walls, and the city refuses to pressure the landlords or even investigate the problem.

When a drug company donated 30,000 free lead poisoning tests to the city, an official ordered 13,000 but neglected to have them picked up. The Lords finally obtained some tests after a sit-in, and began taking them door-to-door in El Barrio. 30% of the children contacted tested positive. (So 30% of slum children may have brain damage. What DO you call genocide?) A group of medical students working with the Lords is currently trying to get the children admitted to the clinic of Metropolitan Hospital, but have run into red tape.

The Chicago Young Lords have conducted similar programs, in coalition with other politicized Latin youth groups. They were able to work with a sympathetic minister who turned over part of his church for a community day care center. The minister and his wife have since been killed.

All over the country members of the Rainbow Coalition and groups close to them are trying to show people how our society should serve us all. They face severe police repression, which has come down most heavily on the Black Panthers but has also killed and jailed members of Latin street gangs gone political, white student rebels in SDS, and the poor Southern whites in the Patriot Party.

Lords Minister Yoruba is hopeful:
See, the man has psyched the people into thinking they have all the power, but people are aware, and pretty soon all of them will have to decide, as Eldridge Cleaver says, if they’re a part of the solution or part of the problem. –Barbara Joye

(compiled from reports in the Young Lords newspaper, EI Barrio newsletter, Liberation News Service, The New York Times, and WBAI-FM (NYC). An article on the Patriot Party- will appear in the Bird shortly.)

Visit the Young Lords Website.

Posted by: skip
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