Transcript: Episode 2: The Black Panther Party & Revolution in Oakland – An Interview with Donna Murch

Below is a transcript of my interview with Donna Murch for the second episode of the Making the Left Coast Podcast. We spoke in early June 2019 via Skype. Although the text below has some errors, it is mostly faithful to the audio.

Chuck Morse: You’re listening to the Making the Left Coast Podcast, episode number two.

Hey there. My name is Chuck Morse, the host of The Making the Left Coast Podcast. The purpose of this podcast is to explore the history and challenges of the Bay Area left, which I do by interviewing authors and activists who can help us make sense of its lessons.

When I began as podcast, I knew that I would devote at least one episode to the Black Panther Party, which was founded in Oakland in 1966 and had a huge impact globally as well as locally. Globally they became a or perhaps THE symbol of black radicalism in the 1960s. With their confrontational approach and revolutionary ideology, they gave voice to the rage at the damage done by white supremacy and affirmed the need to build a world in which African Americans occupy the dignified position to which they are due. They inspired people across the planet while striking fear in the heart of the American establishment. This is why J Edgar Hoover, who led the FBI at the time, described them as the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States and tried to destroy the party with a massive, mostly illegal campaign of government repression.

And they had a tremendous local impact. Prior to their rise, Oakland was sort of a sleepy, racist backwater. A place that Gertrude Stein famously said had “no there there.” It was dominated by a cabal of white Republicans who did their best to defend the prevailing white supremacist system that exploited and brutalized the city’s large Black population. The Panthers challenged this with a multifaceted, intensely creative array of programs and activism. They not only helped to dislodge the old Republican power structure but also changed the way that we experience the city. Instead of being a place that is outside of history, without any “there there,” they globalized it and made it into a site in which we experience and work out issues of global importance.

Not surprisingly, their vast impact has generated an equally vast body of literature about them. You could probably fill several bookcases with the memoirs, historical studies, and other works that explore their legacy. This is despite the fact that their really intense period of activity only lasted about seven or eight years and they probably never had more than 5,000 members at a single time. Although scholars of the Panthers often disagree about how to interpret them, everyone agrees that their story is fascinating and merits exploration.

And there are still important questions to unpack, particularly with respect to the Panthers’ relationship to Oakland. This is where I’m hoping that this episode of the podcast can be of some help. For one, a lot of the work on the Panthers tends to focus on their dramatic militancy while overlooking their sophisticated political ideas. This is understandable, because their story is very dramatic, but we also need to figure out their core politics—what they really believed—so that we can understand why they did what they did and also to situate them in the broad arc of political history. And this is not easy because their political commitments were complicated and perhaps even contradictory in some respects.

And how we interpret them impacts how we understand Oakland. For example, if we say that they were a bunch of hotheaded-but-misguided young radicals who inadvertently pushed the city toward the liberal democratic order that we have today, then this might sanction a view of Oakland’s history as a slow but inexorable march toward the present, toward what we have now. Or, alternately, if we say that the Panthers were visionaries who tried to turn Oakland into a communist utopia, then we end up telling a different and much more complicated story about the city’s past. The Panthers past and Oakland’s past are inextricably connected.

So, I think that these questions merit exploration. Although smart people can draw different inclusions about them, there can be no doubt that Donna Murch, who is my guest on this episode of the podcast, is one of the best people on the planet to help us explore them. She is a professor of history at Rutgers University, a deeply sophisticated and radical scholar, and happens to have written the book on the Panthers in Oakland. Her award-winning work, Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, tells the amazing story of the Panthers’ experience in the city while placing them in the larger context of post-war, African-American history. It’s a fabulous book.

In the discussion that follows, Donna and I jump right into some of the big questions that come up when you think about the Panthers and their politics. We talk about their relationship to the state and other scales of political authority, their efforts to take over the Oakland city government in 1973, the role of democracy within the party, among other interesting issues. It was a great pleasure for me to discuss these things with her and I hope you enjoy listening to the interview as much as I enjoy conducting it.

And if you do enjoy this please don’t forget to add your email to the email list at and to like the podcast’s Facebook page.

Thanks and enjoy!

Chuck Morse: Hi Donna. Thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast. I really appreciate it. It’s great to talk with you and have you on the show.

Donna Murch: Oh, it’s absolutely my pleasure. Thank you, Chuck.

Chuck Morse: I’m hoping that we can spend some time discussing what prompted you to work on the Panthers and what it was like to do the research that led to your book. But, before we do that, I’d like to begin by talking about the Panthers and what they did in Oakland. This is a fascinating, inspiring story, which your book covers, and this is one of the reasons why your book is so great. Does that sound like a good plan to you? Continue reading “Transcript: Episode 2: The Black Panther Party & Revolution in Oakland – An Interview with Donna Murch”

Episode 2: The Black Panther Party & Revolution in Oakland

The second episode of the Making the Left Coast Podcast has just been released.

In it, I interview the amazing Donna Murch, author of the award-winning work, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (University of North Carolina, 2010). We have a far-reaching discussion of the Panthers’ politics and their role in Oakland. We talk about their perspective on the state and other levels of political authority; their 1973 attempt to take over the Oakland city government and turn the city into a “base of operations,” the role of democracy in the party, and other fascinating topics.

You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, and here.

1 — Enjoy the episode.
2 — Share this among your friends.
3 — Join the mailing list, if you haven’t already done so
4 — Like the podcast’s Facebook page.
5 — And enjoy!

Transcript of Episode 1 – Interview with Richard Walker

Chuck Morse: Making the Left Coast, episode number one.

Hello listeners. My name is Chuck Morse and welcome to the inaugural episode of The Making the Left Coast podcast. Thank you so much for giving this a listen.

The purpose of this podcast is to encourage discussion within and about the Bay Area left. As everyone knows, the Bay Area has been a hotspot for left activism since the 1960s. It was back then that the Black Panther Party tried to make Oakland a node in a global revolutionary project. When Mario Savio and others sparked the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley and when hippies turned San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood into ground zero of the American counterculture. These things and others put the Bay Area on the map in a very unique way and gave birth to an extremely rich, local radical culture that has continued to develop over the years. Today, in 2019, the sheer number of radicals here and the diversity of their projects is staggering by any measure and makes this a great place to be if you’re interested in the left.

However, despite this, there’s not a lot of discussion about what the local left is, what role it plays in shaping events, and what role it could or should play in the future. Of course, there are discussions. There are book fairs and panels and various media sources where people hash things out. But these things tend to be episodic. There may be a great panel one month and then nothing for several months thereafter. And they often occur in isolation from one another. Some may happen in Berkeley. Others in San Francisco, et cetera. And there’s no common leftwing Web site or newspaper that ties everything together.

As a result of this, important insights and projects get lost in the shuffle and we lose the capacity to learn from one another as much as we could. And this weakens as politically too. It makes it harder for us to do things like resist police violence and gentrification, not to mention build a new economy and transform the way that political decisions are made. For all of the great things about the local left, I think that it could be stronger, more effective, and probably more fun.

So, that’s why I started this podcast. Each episode will feature an interview with a local radical author or activist. In this one, I talk with Dr. Richard Walker, who has written a ton on the region, and there are about a dozen other people with whom I hope to speak. I’ll get them to tell us about their work, about the Bay Area, and about the potentials and challenges that they see. Obviously each interview will be different, but the goal will be to tease out insights into the local left and hopefully uncover ways that we can improve and enrich it. I understand that some episodes will interest some people more than others but ideally, overall, this will help people feel more connected to the local left and encourage some of the dialogues about it that have been difficult to have otherwise.

So, that’s what this is all about. It’s just a small project among many others but I’m optimistic that it can make a difference. If this interest to you, and if you enjoy any of these episodes, I would really appreciate it if you would go to and add your email to the mailing list there. This will allow me to keep you informed about future episodes. And also please share news of this podcast on social media or wherever you can. Ultimately, with this project, I’m trying to convene a community, or at least a discussion, so your participation is really important.

Now, without further ado, I’ll jump into the current episode in which I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Richard Walker, who is professor emeritus of geography at UC Berkeley and the author of many works on California and the Bay Area including his most recent work, Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area which just came out on PM Press.

Walker is a singularly important figure when it comes to thinking about Bay Area radicalism. If Southern California has Mike Davis, who transformed how people think about Los Angeles, we have Richard Walkerwho has, in his extensive body of work, helped us see how the capitalist system has shaped our corner of the world and how those who want to build a more just and egalitarian society have resisted it. For my sake, I really wanted to interview him because I’ve been reading him for years but also because I think that any strong, local left will have to confront his work. He has, more than any other person, advanced very specific and developed ideas about how the left and the local social structure interact and whether you agree with these ideas or not, they need to be addressed and should, at the very least, serve as a springboard for future discussions.

So, I tried to encourage this in the following interview by, among other things, asking him about his personal and political background, his views on social change, and how the Bay Area left functions. I hope that you enjoy listening to the interview as much as I enjoy conducting it.

~ ~ ~

Chuck Morse Thank you so much, Dr. Walker, for agreeing to be the guinea pig for the first episode of The Making the Left Coast podcast. I’m very grateful for this.

Richard Walker: I am delighted to do it.

Continue reading “Transcript of Episode 1 – Interview with Richard Walker”

“What leftists are here to do is push. Push, push, push. . . . and call out bullshit. That’s what we do.” — An interview with Richard Walker

Walker, speaking about his new book, in February 2019

Richard Walker has played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the Bay Area. A prolific author, educator, and advocate, he has helped us see how the capitalist system has remade the region in its interest but also how ordinary people have mobilized to fight back. His latest book, Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a comprehensive survey of the high-tech boom. He describes the stresses and injustices that it bears as well as its fault lines and vulnerabilities.

Although he writes in a popular, accessible style, his work rests on sophisticated ideas about how the world operates and where it is going. Whether or not you share his conclusions, his reflections can help us explore the big questions that local radicals—and radicals anywhere—must address in order to transform society.

In this interview, I ask Walker a series of questions designed to provide some context for understanding his work. We talk about his personal and intellectual evolution, his political and theoretical convictions, and his thoughts about the future. If you are curious about what makes him tick, this podcast is for you!

Here is an overview of the episode:

0:00 — Why this podcast?
3:20 — Why interview Richard Walker? 
4:45 — The interview itself
4:58 — His background and the impact of the 1960s
8:43 — The rise of a left in geography 
17:50 — Why write about the Bay Area?
35:05 — Why write Pictures of a Gone City now?
40:45 — The goal: communist revolution or a New Deal? 
49:35 — Marxism and anarchism in the Bay Area
55:03 — What distinguishes radical demands from reformist demands?
103:05 — His decades of mentoring 
111:50 — What he is working on now and how to find him

Some of the things and people mentioned: 
Save The Bay
Sierra Club
Students for a Democratic Society
Henri Lefebvre
The Situationists
David Harvey
Dick Peet 
Socialist Geographers
Puerto Rican Liberation Front
Carl Sauer
Berkeley Citizens Action 
Michael Storper
Friends of the Earth
David Brower
Allan Pred
Michael Watts 
Phil Levine
Doreen Massey
Ann Markusen
Bennett Harrison
Mike Davis
City of QuartzExcavating the Future in Los AngelesEcology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster
Jeff Lustig
Frank Bardacke
The California Studies Association
The Capitalist Imperative: Territory, Technology and Industrial GrowthAndrew Sayer
The New Social Economy: Reworking the Division of Labor
An Atlas of California: Mapping the Challenge of a New Era
The Conquest of Bread. 150 Years of Agribusiness in California
The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area
The New Left Review
The Living New Deal Project
East Bay Socialist School
PM Press
Élisée Reclus
Peter Kropotkin
Colin Ward
Murray Bookchin
Anthony Ashbolt
Elizabeth Warren
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Symbionese Liberation Army
Bernie Sanders
Robert Reich
Judith Butler
Just Cause

Interview with Richard Walker