Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party --An interview with Alondra Nelson
Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University, is the author of a new book released last month, entitled Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. By documenting the multifaceted health activism of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and critically assessing the BPP’s strategy and tactics in a respectful and appreciative manner, Body and Soul presents an analysis that is rare and badly needed in US colleges and universities today. In this interview, Nelson discusses how the Panthers’ legacy can both inspire and provide important strategic lessons for today’s new generation of political activists
In her book, Nelson writes that “the Party’s focus on health care was both practical and ideological.” On a practical level, the BPP provided free community health care services, including preventative education. Simultaneously, the BPP railed against the medical-industrial complex, declaring that health care was “a right and not a privilege.” Ronald “Doc” Satchel, the minister of health for the Chicago BPP, wrote in the BPP newspaper that “the medical profession within this capitalist society…is composed generally of people working for their own benefit and advancement rather than the humane aspects of medical care.” A newsletter published by the Southern California chapter argued that “poor people in general and black people in particular are not given the best care available. Our people are treated like animals, experimented on and made to wait long hours in waiting rooms."
By 1970, People’s Free Medical Clinics had become a requirement for every BPP chapter. In 1972, the BPP revised point six of the founding ten-point-platform, adding a demand for “completely free healthcare for all black and oppressed people…We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventative medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide ourselves with proper medical attention and care.”