White Panther Party
|National affiliation||Rainbow Coalition|
The White Panthers were a far-left, anti-racist, white American political collective founded in 1968 by Pun Plamondon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. It was started in response to an interview where Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was asked what white people could do to support the Black Panthers. Newton replied that they could form a White Panther Party. The counterculture era group took the name and dedicated its energies to "cultural revolution." Sinclair[which?] made every effort to ensure that the White Panthers were not mistaken for a white supremacist group, responding to such claims with "quite the contrary." The party worked with many ethnic minority rights groups in the Rainbow Coalition.
The group was most active in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan and included the proto-punk band MC5 which John Sinclair managed for several years before he was incarcerated. From a general ideological perspective, Plamondon and Sinclair[which?] defined the White Panthers as "fighting for a clean planet and the freeing of political prisoners." The White Panthers added other elements such as advocating "rock 'n roll, dope, sex in the streets and the abolishing of capitalism." Abbie Hoffman praised the WPP in Steal This Book and Woodstock Nation. The group emerged from the Detroit Artists Workshop, a radical arts collective founded in 1964 near Wayne State University. Among its concerns was the legalization of marijuana; Sinclair[which?] had several arrests for possession. It aligned itself with radical politics, claiming the 12th Street Riot was justifiable under political and economic conditions in Detroit.
Plamondon was indicted with John Sinclair in connection to the bombing of a Central Intelligence Agency office in Ann Arbor on September 29, 1968, a year after the founding of the group. Upon hearing on the left-wing alternative radio station WABX that he had been indicted, he fled the U.S. for Europe and Africa, spending time in Algeria with exiled Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. After secretly re-entering the country, and on his way to a safe house in northern Michigan, he was arrested in a routine traffic stop, joining John Sinclair, who had been sentenced to nine and half years in jail for violating Michigan's marijuana possession laws, in prison. Plamondon was convicted and was in prison when Sinclair was released on bond in 1971 while appeals were being heard on his case. Sinclair's unexpected release came two days after a large "Free John" benefit concert, with performances from John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bob Seger, and Stevie Wonder, was held at the University of Michigan's Crisler Arena.
The group had a direct role in two important legal decisions. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 quashed Plamondon's conviction and destroyed the case against John Sinclair. The court ruled warrantless wiretapping was unlawful under the U.S. Constitution, even in the case where national security, as defined by the executive branch, was in danger. The White Panthers had been charged with conspiring to destroy government property and evidence used to convict Plamondon was acquired through wiretaps not submitted to judicial approval. The case U.S. vs. U.S. District Court (Plamondon et al.), 407 U.S. 297, commonly known as the Keith Case, held that the Fourth Amendment shielded private speech from surveillance unless a warrant had been granted, and that the “warrant procedure would not frustrate the legitimate purposes of domestic security searches.” The judgment freed Plamondon, yet John Sinclair was free only on bond fighting his possession conviction. In 1972, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in the People v. Sinclair, 387 Mich. 91, 194 N.W.2d 878 (1972) that Michigan's classification of marijuana was unconstitutional, in effect decriminalizing possession until a new law conforming to the ruling was passed by the Michigan Legislature a week later. Sinclair was freed but the cumulative effects of the imprisonment had marked the end of the White Panther Party in Michigan, which renamed itself the Rainbow People's Party while John Sinclair and Plamondon were in prison. The Rainbow People's Party, headquartered in Ann Arbor, disbanded in 1973.
The headquarters of the White Panthers in Portland, Oregon were raided by the FBI on December 5, 1970. Two members of the group were arrested and accused of throwing a molotov cocktail through the window of a local Selective Service office.
White Panther Party chapters in San Francisco and Berkeley remained active into the 1980s. The WPP ran a successful 'Food Conspiracy' that provided groceries to about 5,000 Bay Area residents at low cost, due to bulk buying and minimum markup. In 1984, angry because then-Mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein proposed to ban handguns in the city, the San Francisco White Panthers mounted a successful petition drive that forced Feinstein into a recall election, which she won. Within the next year, a WPP house in the Haight Ashbury district was burned down by the San Francisco Police, and the leaders of the local chapter (Tom Stevens and Terry Phillips) had been jailed after their commune was raided without a warrant, effectively destroying the chapter.
The ten-point program and "White Panther State/meant" were also published in the Ann Arbor Sun, which was a newspaper founded by John Sinclair in November 1968. The newspaper was originally called the Detroit Warren-Forrest Sun before it was changed to the Ann Arbor Sun when Trans-Love Energies (organization) moved to Ann Arbor in 1968. The organization, founded by John SInclair, his wife Leni Arndt Sinclair and artist Gary Grimshaw in 1967, set up shop at 1510 and 1520 Hill St, where the Ann Arbor Sun was produced and edited by the members of the group. On July 28, 1969, the Ann Arbor Sun printed a revised copy of the White Panther's ten-point program reading as follows:
The newspaper was considered to be the mouthpiece for the White Panther Party for quite some time before the newspaper transitioned to an independent publication spreading views on local issues, left-wing politics, music, and arts. Finally in 1976, the publication of the Ann Arbor Sun was suspended indefinitely.
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Luca Benvenga The cultural workers. Fenomeni politico culturali e contestazione giovanile negli anni '60, Bepress, 2014.