Venceremos (political organization)

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Venceremos, Spanish for "We Will be Victorious," was an American radical left political group active in Palo Alto, California and nearby communities in the early 1970s.

History[edit]

Venceremos began as a Chicano political organization in Redwood City, California in early 1969.[1] Katerina Del Valle was its chairperson.[citation needed] In 1971 they were joined by a faction of the Maoist organization Revolutionary Union (RU), led by H. Bruce Franklin. Venceremos and Franklin favored a militant strategy based on protracted urban guerrilla warfare.[2] According to Franklin, "... these collectives had been heavily involved in youth organizing within white proletarian communities, in factory organizing and in anti-imperialist struggles on the campuses. [...] The new combined organization was multi-national, extremely diversified in its activities and base, and quite militant."[3]

Venceremos publicly advocated for armed self-defense of the citizenry, community control of the police, and reform of the prison system. To these ends, the group's members engaged in a number of legal activities, such as working to educate prisoners and defend war protesters. The organization's ultimate stated goal was the overthrow of the government.[2] In 1970 Venceremos opened it own community college in a Redwood City storefront that lasted until it ran out of money two years later.[4] The United States government considered Venceremos a serious threat, as seen in the 202-page House Committee on Internal Security report "America's Maoists: the Revolutionary Union, the Venceremos Organization" in 1972. [5]

Venceremos often attended City Council and School Board meetings in Palo Alto with a verbal aggressiveness rarely before seen in the city’s politics. Member Jeffrey Youdelman was known for shouting down council members and presenting petitions for radical left causes.[6] Venceremos members also ran for local office in Palo Alto, including Jean Hobson and Jeffrey Youdelman for City Council, and Doug Garrett for the School Board.[7] Venceremos held weekly rallies at Lytton Plaza in Palo Alto, which they dubbed “The People’s Plaza.”[8]

The beginning of the end for Venceremos came on October 6, 1972, when several of its members were involved in a headline-grabbing murder. Member Jean Hobson was romantically linked to prison inmate Ronald Beaty, and Venceremos hatched a plan to help Beaty escape. According to police and Beaty, who would become the prosecution’s star witness, two unarmed prison guards were taking Beaty to a court appearance in San Bernardino when their vehicle was ambushed near Chino. Beaty was freed, but Venceremos member Robert Seabok shot both guards at point blank range, killing Jesus Sanchez and wounding his partner George Fitzgerald. Venceremos members Hobson, Seabok, Andrea Holman Burt, and Benton Burt were named by Beaty as the perpetrators.[9]

Aftermath[edit]

Under the duress of legal troubles, recriminations over the Beaty incident, and general factionalism, Venceremos disintegrated and ceased to function as an organization by September 1973. Robert Seabok was convicted of first degree murder; while Jean Hobson, Andrea Holman Burt, and Benton Burt were convicted of second degree murder.[10] The Chino incident and the group's internal politics leading to its dissolution are the subjects of a thinly-veiled novel set in 1972 titled The Bad Communist by Max F Crawford.[citation needed]

In 1973, far-left militant Donald DeFreeze escaped from Soledad Prison and found shelter with members of Venceremos. Concerns about police surveillance led DeFreeze to be moved to a lower-profile location in Concord, CA, where (under the name General Cinque) he organized Symbionese Liberation Army with some former Venceremos members.[11]

Venceremos alumnus Michael Sweeney became the director of the Mendocino County Solid Waste Authority, but was perhaps better known as the husband of Earth First! organizer Judi Bari. On May 24, 1990, a pipe bomb exploded under the driver's seat of Bari's car while she was driving. Despite rumors that the logging industry had planted the bomb, journalists later determined that Sweeney was the culprit.[12][13] Bari survived the attack. After her death in 1997, it was revealed that Sweeney also bombed an airport in Santa Rosa, CA in 1980.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1970s". Stanford Stories From the Archives - Online Exhibits. Retrieved 2017-07-25. 
  2. ^ a b Bill Evers. "America's Maoists: The RU and Venceremos". Stanford Daily, June 30, 1972. 
  3. ^ Bruce Franklin "From the Movement Toward Revolution" [New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold (1971), p.128]
  4. ^ Heins, Marjorie (1972). Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza. Berkeley, CA: Ramparts Press. p. 134. ISBN 0-87867-012-2. 
  5. ^ https://books.google.com/books/about/America_s_Maoists_the_Revolutionary_Unio.html?id=IBlCAAAAIAAJ
  6. ^ Bacon, Robert (6 February 1973). "PA Petitioners Request Bach Mai Fund Vote". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  7. ^ Bacon, Robert (2 March 1973). "18 Candidates to Run for P.A. City Council". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  8. ^ Trout, Becky (22 October 2007). "Lytton Plaza Redesign Resurfaces". PaloAlto.online. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  9. ^ Thiemann, David (4 January 1973). "Former Prof. Franklin, Seven Others Arrested". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  10. ^ Leonard, Aaron J. (2014). Heavy Radicals - The FBI's Secret War on America's Maoists: The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980. UK: Zero Books. p. 101-102. ISBN 978 1 78279 534 6. 
  11. ^ Davidson, Sara (2 June 1974). "The Images Constantly Reversing". New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  12. ^ a b Stephen Talbot. "The mysterious bombing of an environmental activist". Salon.com, May 23, 2002. 
  13. ^ Ed Gehrman. "Maxwell's Hammer". Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 12, 2008.