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Black Panther Party Co-Founder: 'We Have To Reach Out' To Trump Supporters

"Bobby Seale" by Peizes is licensed under CC by 2.0
Bobby Seale in a 2006 photo

More than 50 years have passed since Bobby Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party.

But the lessons of 1960s political movements still apply today, Seale said in an interview this week, before he delivered a lecture on activism at the University of Washington Tacoma. 

Asked about the legacy of the Black Panther Party, Seale skipped over dramatic episodes like the Chicago trial where a judge ordered him bound and gagged in the courtroom as he faced charges of inciting a riot. His conviction was later reversed.

Instead, Seale spoke of the Panthers' pioneering free breakfast program for schoolchildren. And he talked about the painstaking work of building a grassroots network that, he said, paved the way for black politicians to rise.

"By the end of 1968, I had enough party members and chapters and branches that I could organize," Seale said. "And they could build real political, electoral campaigns." 

Seale, who lives in Oakland, Calif., was invited to speak in Tacoma by a Kent organization called the Institute for Community Leadership

Seated in his Tacoma hotel room before the lecture, he made his displeasure with President Donald Trump known and repeatedly brought up his worries about climate change. 

He said the fundamentals of political advocacy remain the same as when he helped launch the Black Panther Party in 1966: Talk is fine, but it comes down to elections. 

"If we don't have true, dedicated progressive politicians, we don't have nothing," he said. "Progressive politicians have to dominate these city council seats and county supervisorial seats." 

Domination in elections is one thing. But what about regular people with different political opinions? Asked whether he viewed Trump's supporters as opponents or objects of empathy, Seale didn't hesitate. 

"We have to reach out to them," he said. "And we reach out to them by trying to educate them. You're still going to run into brick walls. It's not going to be instant." 

Patience. For this 80-year-old political activist who has spent much of his life trying to change people's minds, it's a necessity.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.