Civil Discourse Now

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Bobby Seale: "When your brother's bound and gagged and they've chained him to a chair, won't you please come to Chicago just to sing."

   Bobby Seale will be the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Day dinner this year. At Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh—friend and a past panelist on "Civil Discourse Now"—takes issue with the choice of Seale for the MLK dinner. I want to address several points Gary makes in his blog. As a preface, I probably am one of the few people who has read the entire 20,000-some page transcript of Dellinger, et al v. United States—the trial the defendants of which were dubbed, first, the Chicago Eight then, more famously, the Chicago Seven.

   1) The various charges against the Chicago Eight were related to an alleged conspiracy to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The defendants were David Dellinger (long-time pacifist and peace activist), Rennie Davis (co-found of Students for a Democratic Society), Tom Hayden (another co-founder of SDS), Abbie Hoffman (co-founder of the Yippies or Youth International Party), Jerry Rubin (another co-founder of the Yippies), Seale, John Froines (a graduate student), and Lee Weiner (graduate students). The last two were perplexed as to why any charges were brought against them. They all were part of a committee for mobilization against the Vietnam War.

   2) The statute under which all were charged was enacted in 1967 seemingly in anticipation of the convention. LBJ was the likely candidate. In other words, the statute was enacted to prevent people from crossing interstate lines to engage in demonstrations that might embarrass the President of the United States.

   3) The Walker Commission later called the riots that occurred during the Convention a "olice riot" and was extremely critical of the cops.

   4) As Abbie Hoffman once remarked: Agree on a conspiracy? We couldn’t agree on lunch.

   5) Seale, indeed, was a co-founder of the Black Panther Self-Defense Party. African-Americans in Oakland in the early 1960s were being shot by Oakland police at an alarming rate. Members of the Black Panthers, as they came to be known, sold copies of "Quotations from Chairman Mao," that they purchased for a quarter, to students at U-Cal-Berkeley for a dollar. With the (ironic) profits they began to "patrol" Oakland—they followed police cars. This is kind of a Second Amendment approach to defense of one’s community, although rebellious African-Americans were a source of fear for The Framers (as about 20 claimed ownership over human beings held in involuntary servitude).

   6) Seale indeed disrupted the trial—but for a very good reason. His privately-hired attorney had gall bladder surgery and was unable to attend an initial hearing. William Kuntsler and Leonard Weinglass "covered" for Seale’s counsel in that counsel’s absence, a practice not uncommon. When Seale’s counsel appeared for trial, Judge Julius Hoffman refused to let that attorney participate in the trial. Judge Hoffman said Seale already had counsel—Kuntsler and Weinglass. Every time, after that, Seale’s name was mentioned during the trial, Seale rose and objected because he was not represented by counsel of his choice, to which he had a right under the Constitution. Judge Hoffman became impatient then, later, angry, and had Seale bound and gagged. Seale’s hands were so tightly bound in the last instance that Dellinger reached over to loosen them and was attacked by U.S. Marshals. Seale’s trial was ordered severed from that of his co-defendants.

   7) Later, all of the convictions were overturned on appeal. Contempt citations either were overturned or—against the only four against whom citations were not overturned, Kuntsler, Hoffman, Rubin, nd Dellinger—ordered not to be enforced.

   I cannot address the other allegations against Seale to which Gary Welsh refers in Advance Indiana. Seale has developed his own barbecue sauce in the years since his trials. I think that is a non-violent activity to which Dr. King would have found little to object.

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