Days of struggle in Chicago: the Rainbow Coaltion
Thanks to my good friend, novelist Pete de Lissovoy, for pointing me to this very very good documentary! The First Rainbow Coalition (55 minutes)
Yes, I was there then, and as involved as I could be, given who I was: a grad student, white, at nearby (to Chicago) Northwestern University. I got to know Cha Cha Jiménez and Omar López — and Omar’s older brother, also very active in the Puerto Rican community of Lincoln Park — and I’m still in touch with Cha Cha, who never stopped organizing. In Venezuela I’d been a community organizer in some desperately poor hillside barrios of Caracas, and when I got back to Chicago, now speaking Spanish, I wanted to continue that kind of work and got involved first in Lincoln Park, with Cha Cha and Omar and others, and later in the Mexican neighborhood around 18th Street (south of the Loop). At Northwestern I initiated a coalition of campus groups to form our SDS chapter, antiwar and anti-segregation. And of course I spent nights in jail, with thousands of others, for sit-ins protesting against racial segregation in the public schools.
When it came time for me to start teaching, I decided to do it at the U. of Illinois at Chicago Circle (as we called it then), a public university accessible to poor students of all ethnic backgrounds. I started there in September 1970; Fred Hampton had been murdered the previous December. I had never met him, but I got to know a lot of people he had influenced. I had my urban sociology classes do volunteer work in a whole range community organizations, including especially the Black Panther Party and their breakfast program. I’m pretty sure it was Lynn French, when she was young, beautiful and very commanding as an officer of the BPP, who helped me solve a big problem with an obstreperous black student. But I won’t go on here; I should write up some of these memories, and try to find some conclusions that will serve us now.
This is a very, very good documentary of those years. Great to see Omar, Cha Cha, Jesse Jackson, Bobbie Lee and others as we were back then. I knew of the Young Patriots, but hadn’t seen these guys before. It was a great time to feel oneself part of a larger struggle.