Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Dare to Struggle
by Jeffrey Haas
I came of political age in the 1960s, when revolution was on the world agenda. I heard Dr. King describe the triple evils of "racism, extreme materialism, and imperialism," against which "we must demonstrate, teach, and preach until the very foundations of our nation are shaken." The glaring wrongs of our country included the Vietnam War, the continued enforcement of segregation in the South, and institutional racism and economic inequality between Blacks and whites in cities. In response, a powerful and vocal antiwar movement arose, making the war increasingly difficult to pursue, and the Civil Rights and Black Power movements changed many of the conditions for Blacks.
One 1960s leader was a young man in Chicago named Fred Hampton. He refused to accept injustice anywhere. He confronted and overcame discrimination against Black students at his high school; demanded a recreation center in Maywood, Illinois, and led a march to the city council to get one; marched with Dr. King to end segregation in Chicago neighborhoods; and started the Black Panther chapter in Chicago. Fred cooked breakfast for kids as part of the Panthers' Breakfast for Children Program, organized against police brutality in Chicago, and embodied the idealistic refrain and practical call: "Power to the People." Fred was a charismatic speaker, an inspiration to all who knew him. He was uncompromising in exposing and confronting injustice. "Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win. If you don't struggle, damn it, you don't deserve to win," was his mantra.
Fred Hampton had barely turned twenty-one when the Chicago Police murdered him in his bed in a predawn raid on December 4, 1969. My partners and I at the People's Law Office proved his assassination was instigated by the FBI through its Counterintelligence Program, which provided a floor plan of Hampton's apartment and urged the police to conduct the deadly raid. The FBI later congratulated their operatives on the raid's "success."
Today, conditions are as dire as those we faced in the 1960s, but we are not coming together with sufficient urgency to confront them. Climate change threatens the very existence of a habitable planet, but here in the United States, the business of burning fossil fuels continues as usual. Our materialism, our programmed need to accumulate, threatens the world and our own physical and spiritual well-being as we grow our carbon footprint. Millions of Blacks and Hispanics languish in prisons, while we lay off teachers and overcrowd our classrooms. We wage multiple wars to benefit the rising oligarchy, who can now buy elections unimpeded. Racism, xenophobia, and anti-Muslim sentiment are on the rise, as is repression.
The message of Fred Hampton rings as true today as it did forty years ago: "Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win." If anything, the stakes are higher. The survival of a habitable planet and of democracy in this country are what we are fighting for. "If not now, when?"
Jeffrey Haas is a civil rights attorney and author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton, How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther (Chicago Review Press, 2009).
Source Citation: Haas, Jeffrey. 2011. Dare to Struggle. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.