Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale still says the country's in great need of change. However, though Barack Obama may be perceived as the candidate of change this election year, Seale cast his primary vote for Clinton. "Good that he's running for office," he says of Obama, "but I have a broader view." Seale spoke to Seattle Weekly from his home in Oakland.
"I don't vote for a candidate just because they're black. I voted for Hillary straight up," he says. "I'm looking at both Obama and Clinton as a historical marker. If we go back in history, women were also discriminated against and not able to participate in democracy. …When I analyze and do the paper trail it's important for me to understand this person is progressive. I see Hillary as progressive, I was looking for more progressiveness in Barack."
Plus, at the time of the February primary Seale says all he knew of Obama was his unsuccessful bid in 2000 for Bobby Rush's House seat. (Rush was the co-founder of the Black Panther chapter in Illinois.)
But Seale says he was impressed with Obama's speech on race relations following the controversy over what some perceived as inflammatory remarks by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "I found that profoundly progressive," he says of the speech, adding that Obama "understood what we meant in the 1960s when we said all power to all the people."
If Obama gets the nomination, Seale says he'll support him-- he calls himself a Democrat "with a small 'd.'"Seale has evolved from his radical days leading the Panthers, and the group's revolutionary and violent acts that landed him in jail and in court, including being put on trial as one of the "Chicago Eight," charged with inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (The group was reduced to seven when Seale, due to his courtroom outbursts, was gagged and bound, and eventually removed from the case. The charges against him were later dropped.) He was back in court two years later, charged with ordering the murder of former Panther Alex Rackley, a suspected police informant. That trial ended in a hung jury.
Today, Seale still talks wistfully about the "fervor of that era," but his life has become considerably more mainstream. He promotes his books, including a cookbook, Barbeque’n with Bobby Seale, and often travels to make appearances at Panther reunions.
He'll be in Seattle later this month to help celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the local chapter. Seattle's was the first Black Panther organization to open outside of California and one of few to start prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Seale remembers meeting Seattle party founders Aaron and Elmer Dixon at a speech he gave at San Francisco State University in 1968. "They had it in their heads that they had to do what we were doing in terms of the arguments, the debates, the speeches and the advocacy. I was up in Seattle a month later," he says. "I can pick out five good chapters… and I have to include Seattle. Elmer and Aaron got to the real meat of what was to be done. The who, the when and the where."
Though Seale concedes there's been a "certain level of progress" in the struggle for civil rights, he says there's still need for a "greater three-dimensional bureaucracy." And he plans to relay this much during his visit.
"We need a greater amount of people making the decisions... above and beyond the dumb-ass wars that Bush and his people are for, and beyond corporate monopolies," he says. "Yes, we were profound in the 60s, but we don't live in the 60s. We live in an overdeveloped, fast-paced social order where 90 percent of the wealth in the world is controlled by 1 percent of the population. That must change. These are the kinds of things I rap about."