Interim Report on the Background of Pun Plamondon and the Founding of the White Panther Party circa 1968
FROM: Pun Plamondon: Co-founder White Panther Party and Minister of Defense
TO: Whom It May Concern
DATE: November 29, International Day of Solidarity With The Palestinian People, 2011
NOTHING TAKES PLACE IN A VACUUM. To understand a thing it is necessary to understand the context in which a thing exists or happens. The founding and exploits of the White Panther Party (WPP) and the Rainbow People’s Party (RPP), took place in a long continuum of peoples struggling for self-determination and justice. This report intends to sketch the context of the times and the life of the co-founder, Pun Plamondon.
In 1790 Etienne Lamorandier, a French voyager, and the genesis of my European bloodline, was the first white guy to open a trading post in present day Newaygo, Michigan. He married an Ottawa woman, Falling Snow Woman, the progenitor of my Ottawa bloodline.
During the war of 1812 Etienne sided with the British and the Ottawa against the Americans. His trading post was burned out twice, he was held by the Americans in the stockade at Detroit for several months, and ultimately settled at Kilarney on the Canadian side of Georgian Bay. I came about my anti-Americanism honestly, genetically.
I was conceived in the Traverse City, Michigan State Hospital and was born there in April of 1945. My biological father was a half-blood Ottawa suffering from chronic alcoholism and my mother was a mixed-blood Ojibwa woman diagnosed with syphilis. Though my biological father served in the US Army in 1917, he was a virulent isolationist during World War I.
I was adopted by the Plamondon’s when I was 18 months old, having spent a year in foster care and six months in the State Hospital where the nurses cuddled and cooed over me and named me Baby Cota, after my mother. Attachment issues would follow me all my life.
The Plamondon’s were a dysfunctional family with a dominant mother and passive father. I never connected with my adopted mother. Even to this day I have not one pleasant memory of a Christmas, birthday, picnic or festive occasion. As I remember it I grew up in a world of “can’t” and “don’t”. “You can’t do that, it’s against the rules. Don’t do that, what would the neighbors think,” or “Don’t do that because I said so.” Unreasonable fools, all of them. I learned early on to avoid grown-ups and people in authority; their sole purpose is control.
I started second grade at St. Francis Catholic School. I remember it as hell on earth. Mean-spirited adults dressed like penguins or Darth Vader, dispensing tortuous punishment with the vengeance of God and the blessing of the Pope and parents. Although I did learn that generally the joy of committing an infraction was worth the pain of punishment. Without fear of punishment they had no control over me.
I was a troublesome and unmanageable preteen. By 14 I discovered alcohol and jumped enthusiastically into a pattern of doing what I wanted, when I wanted, with little regard for convention, authority or consequences. I was drinking, staying out all night with older kids, skipping school and the like. My parents couldn’t handle me. They took me to Juvenile Court. The Court classified me as “incorrigible,” and sent me to Catholic reform school.
By this time I was so alienated from home and school that reform school seemed like relief, a fresh start. It didn’t take long for me to realize that reform school was the same as being at home or St. Francis, just MORE and HARDER. More rules, harder punishment. But fun, too! Now I was with 150 cats much like me, a band of outcast kids against a cult of black robe zealots and Opus Dei perverts.
I left reform school when I was 16 and returned to St. Francis. I was good in sports but a terrible student. I hated Catholic school, always did. In the eleventh grade, unable to maintain grades that kept me eligible for sports and already on school probation, I skipped a week of school and was finally expelled. Finally.
From October of 1962, when I was expelled, until sometime in 1964 I was simply a mooching vagabond, sleeping where I fell and living off the fat of the land. Hitchhiking up and down the east coast and across the south. This was during the height of the civil rights movement. I witnessed raw vicious racism that offended my fundamental sense of justice; it just wasn’t fair. I didn’t consider myself an activist but I was a supporter of the black struggle for civil rights. I think seeing myself as an underdog, my solidarity was with other underdogs.
In 1964/65 I worked for the American Federation of Labor & The Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL/CIO). I was part of a team organizing migrant farm workers east of the Mississippi. Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers were uniting workers in Texas and California and the AFL/CIO wanted some of the action.
Before the union I was an arrogant and alienated teenager, pissed-off at the world for no known reason, generally drunk and meaner than hell. In Catholic school I was taught that poverty, race and class were God's way of helping people get to heaven. We in the lower classes must simply keep our heads down, our shoulders to the wheel, and be humble servants in the machinery of society. “If you are a garbage collector, be the best darn garbage collector you can be.” They said.
While working for the union, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was going through internal turmoil. SNCC was a bi-racial civil rights organization centered in the south. Made up of white and black students, SNCC was somewhat more confrontational that the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Dr. King’s civil rights organization. At some point SNCC decided they should be an all-black organization and determine for themselves, without the influence of middle-class whites, the strategy and tactics to gain their liberation.
The white students left SNCC, some with broken hearts; others joined the fledgling Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), while others moved to the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and similar civil rights organizations. Two or three joined the union organizing team I was with. It was from the former SNCC organizers that I was exposed to political thinking and analysis for the first time. Poverty was not an act of God but a calculated system of exploitation and oppression carried out and maintained by 1% of the population, the ruling class.
This was new information to me; it changed my life. Another lie of the Catholic Church exposed. I was no longer pissed off at the world and everyone in it. Now I had something to direct my anger toward. Now I didn’t want to kick everyone’s ass, just the ass of the exploitive and parasitic ruling class and their puppets. However, at the same time I was becoming more politically aware, I was also drinking heavily and my boss could not ignore one outrageous drunken episode in Miami. So I was fired from the union.
From 1965 to 1967 I spent my time hitch hiking again, the east coast and across the south. I worked day labor out of Boston, Hartford, Richland, and Charleston, where I worked for a building demolition company. I picked fruit in Okeechobee and cleaned newly constructed condos in Tallahassee. I scraped barnacles off submarines in Newport News and worked for a land surveyor in Ocala, Florida, always drinking away my paycheck.
During this period black folks across the land were demanding their civil rights, the Vietnam War was raging, women were finding their voice, gays and lesbians were standing up, and millions of young people were no longer accepting the draft and the absolute authority of parents and institutions over their lives. A new culture and worldview was developing that stood in opposition to the dominant culture and political machine. In student ghettos and poor communities across the country distrust, alienation, and resistance was the order of the day.
In the summer of 1967 this resistance shook the earth and created a tsunami of armed rebellions in black ghettos across America. In Detroit, for several days, black liberation fighters drove the police and Michigan National Guard from a 144-block area of the city. The Detroit revolt strengthened beliefs I held about the War in Vietnam, i.e. the spirit of an oppressed people is stronger than the military technology of the oppressor. For all the technological might of the United States, the little rice-eating people of Vietnam, most of whom couldn’t read or write their own name, could resist and ultimately overcome the vast American war machine, The Human Being Lawnmower as the MC5 called it.
During the time of the rebellion I was living at the Detroit Artists Workshop/Trans-Love Energies commune (DAW/TLE) held together by John and Leni Sinclair, Gary Grimshaw, his partner Judy Janis, and various other outlaw visionaries. It was there I met Genie P, a 17-year-old runaway street urchin, and she moved in with me. I was 22.
The DAW, founded by Sinclair, had been functioning as an artist collective since the early ’60s. Mostly beatniks, The DAW was made up of filmmakers, poets, artists, musicians and savants of various descriptions. They owned two large storefronts with commune living quarters upstairs in a former dentist office. They had their own printing press and had a whole catalogue of poetry books, comic books, short stories and novels, all self published. They put out broadsides with poems, incantations and other magic. They put on their own jazz concerts in the storefronts and used facilities at Wayne State University for larger events. These people where dynamic. Then they took LSD-25.
LSD and The Summer of Love washed over the planet and everything changed. First the personnel; younger people began coming around DAW, some of the old guard slipped away. The activities stayed the same; producing and promoting concerts, publishing a newspaper, printing poetry books and reviews. But the beat had changed; now rock and roll electricity charged the air. The DAW became the genesis of the hippy inspired commune, TLE, made up of cultural anarchists of many disciplines.
Understand, this was all fairly far out stuff for a high school dropout from Traverse City. I had been a road dog for some time, I’d been around, but I didn’t know how things worked. Coming from a world of Can’t and Don’t into a world of Do It, was liberating beyond words. I thought you had to have permission from someone to put out a newspaper; not so, just do it. I thought you had to have a degree or special training to publish a poetry book; just do it. I thought you had to have an office and a secretary to bring in Sun Ra or the Contemporary Jazz Quintet from Chicago. Nah, just do it.
From this I realized that the struggle against stupidity in government and society could be fought with film, music, and poetry: the arts. Everything is politics; lifestyle, worldview, style of dress, food, language, it all has a political consequence. The arts are a way to agitate, educate, and motivate people to embrace a new lifestyle, worldview and culture that are sustainable.
Shortly after the assassination of Dr. King in April of ’68, Sinclair and others began making arrangements to move Trans Love Energies to Ann Arbor and the leafy environs of the University of Michigan. In Detroit the commune had been the target of continual police harassment. More recently right-wing neo-fascists had directed their fire bombings toward us. It was time to move to an environment that suited our clothes.
In June 1968, Genie P and I returned to Ann Arbor from a spiritual odyssey to the mountains of the west. We were only in Ann Arbor for a couple of days before Ann Arbor police, on a warrant from Traverse City, arrested me. I was held in the Grand Traverse County Jail in lieu of $20,000, on a charge of “Sale and/or Distribution of Marijuana,” It should be noted that at this time “Sale,” if convicted, carried a 20 years to life sentence. Simple possession carried a 10 to 20 year sentence. I made up my mind many years before that I was not bound by any laws or rules initiated in stupidity and enforced by morons. The price was steep, but history has shown that millions of others felt the same way.
Records show that between 1962 and October of 1968, when the White Panther Party was founded, I was arrested 13 times, six for public drunkenness, once for sale of reefer, twice for speeding/no operators license, once for malicious destruction of property, twice for assault and battery, and once for resisting arrest. All arrests, except sale of reefer, were alcohol-fueled.
Part II—FOUNDING THE WHITE PANTHER PARTY
I made bond in Traverse City on the sale case after 89 days in jail and returned to Ann Arbor. Now that I was facing 20 to life I felt some action was needed to subvert the government’s criminal intent of locking me up. Sinclair was facing a similar charge in Detroit that carried the same penalty. To keep Sinclair and myself out of prison I felt a political response was called for.
While in the Grand Traverse County Jail I read an interview with Huey P Newton, co-founder and Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Huey said that what was needed was a White Panther Party, made up of “mother country radicals”. The BPP posited an analysis that stated the United States was the “mother country” and the ghettos were colonies. The BPP was fighting for the liberation of the colonies. White folks, “mother county radicals,” should be fighting in the mother country, the belly of the beast. At the time I didn’t know I was Native American, I thought of myself as a dark complected white guy, a mother country radical.
Since my days as a union organizer I had been following the development of what was called “The New Left” and Black Liberation groups. We at Trans Love Energies did not see ourselves as political activists; rather, as cultural revolutionaries. To me the difference is significant. I tried to get involved with the politicos, but quite frankly I found them dull and narrow-minded, more interested in having the perfect position paper and being ideologically pure than in organizing and getting large numbers of people to move in the same direction.
Cultural activists, on the other hand, realized you could move people with art. You can infuse art with revolutionary content, a new world vision, radical ideas, even militancy, and get people to move as an organized mass.
Upon my release on bond from the GTCJ I realized there was a great mass of reefer-driven rock-n-roll outlaws who could be educated and mobilized. This mass of young and progressive people were already alienated from the dominant culture, had an antagonistic relationship to the power structure and were eager to bring change to this decrepit country.
I looked at the BPP. They took some of the toughest, individualistic and undisciplined street thugs and turned them into an organized, disciplined party with a revolutionary ideology deeply rooted in the black community. They clearly were the vanguard of the black liberation struggle.
The Nation of Islam was also noteworthy, aside from their bizarre religious beliefs, because they were actually building an alternative economic system, their own bakeries, drycleaner stores, publishing houses, radio stations and more. Again, they were organizing the lowest, most oppressed class.
Among the New Left, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) stood out for their sheer numbers filled with fervor and dedication. I went to a few meetings but was turned off by first-year political science majors trying to impress others with their mastery of Roberts Rules of Order and socialist lingo.
The student socialists, student commies, anarchists, Trotskyites, Maoists, and similar groups seemed only to be debating clubs to me.
The Yippies, on the other hand, brought a spontaneity and enthusiasm to the struggle that was right up our alley. Their use of the media to spread the Yippie word through pranks, theatre and mass action seemed made to order for cultural activists.
What was needed, I believed, was a radical political party that combined the discipline and militancy of the BPP; the economic development program of the Nation of Islam; and the theatrics and media manipulation of the YIPPIES! All guided by the principles of Marxism/Leninism as practiced in the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions, using culture and art, spearheaded by rock n roll, to bring about a revolutionary change in America, This, I believed, would keep Sinclair and I out of prison.
I presented my idea of forming the WPP to Sinclair. He said let’s do it. We split a quart of beer, smoked some joints, and Sinclair wandered off and wrote the founding documents.
In late September 1968 unknown militants exploded a dynamite bomb at a clandestine CIA office in downtown Ann Arbor, followed by bombings at the North Campus Institute of Science and Technology (developers of “smart bombs” and other killing technology), and the Central Campus Reserved Officer Training Corp (ROTC).
A year later, in October of 1969, Sinclair was in Marquette State Prison doing 91/2 – 10 years on his marijuana conviction. I was working full time on his defense team trying to secure the right to his appeal bond. I heard on the radio that Sinclair, Jack Forrest, our Detroit Captain, and I were indicted for conspiracy and bombing of the CIA a year earlier. I immediately went underground and was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. A year after that I was captured and held on the CIA bombing charge.
It was at this time that the issue of changing the name of the Party came up. The name change would not only involve changing our name, symbol and image, but also the direction and public perception of the Party.
With our top leadership in prison, facing major court cases and decades of time behind bars, it was felt by all that we needed to re-brand our organization and focus more on our community organizing and less on our militancy.
There were several party names put forward. We settled on Rainbow People’s Party because it better reflected the racial make-up of our organization, the cultural make-up of the world we wanted to live in, and was a less aggressive and more peaceful image which carried no unpleasant baggage with it.
It all fell apart in 1974.
Pun Plamondon, in the Ottawa ceded territories of Michigan