BRIEF HISTORY: THE ESTABLISHMENT
“Serve and Protect the People.”
Founded in the 1960s, the Young Lords Organization (YLO) grew into a radical nationalist group that was inspired and influenced by the Black Panther Party. The Young Lords was born in Chicago as a former Puerto Rican street gang in 1960; however, it transformed into a civil and human rights movement in 1968 that was led by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez. The Young Lords of Chicago gained national recognition when they took over a local church in order to provide community-oriented services like a child care, breakfast, and clothing program. On June 7, 1969, the Black Panther Party announces the Rainbow Coalition, which was a social justice alliance that included the Chicago Young Lords. That was a pivotal moment for the Young Lords. In July of 1969, a New York chapter of the Young Lords (known as the Young Lords Party) was established by Jose Martinez and was led by Puerto Rican students from SUNY-Old Westbury, Queens College and Columbia University. Both origins make up YLO, where the young members (most under the age of 20) were predominantly Puerto Ricans but African Americans and other Latino groups were also heavily involved. The YLO became one of the first organizations that “was instrumental in theorizing and identifying the structures of racism embedded in the culture, language, and history of Latin America and its institutions” as they committed themselves “to the struggle against racism in the United States and insist[ed] that poor African Americans and Latinos shared common political and economic interests” (Fernandez par. 2).
MARGINALIZATION AT ITS ROOTS
The massive migration from Puerto Rico to the United States from 1948 to 1958 created the highly dense neighborhoods, or barrios, of Puerto Ricans in Chicago and New York in 1969. Subjected to cultural marginalization and harsh economic exploitation, they “faced filthy and dangerous tenement housing and a school system that denigrated their language and culture and offered little opportunity for higher education” (Conatz par. 6). Such remorseless mistreatment sparked the Young Lords movement. Specifically, the Chicago Young Lords was initiated because Puerto Ricans were displaced from their homes in Lincoln Park, which is the barrio of Chicago, in order to create property tax revenues. Also, in New York, rotting garbage was being disposed across East Harlem, which was a community to Puerto Ricans.
Not only did the Young Lords challenged the injustices imposed by the government, the women of the Young Lords stood up against the marginalization pressed amongst them within the organization itself and within their Puerto Rican culture (from the Position Paper on Women).
THE WOMEN OF THE YOUNG LORDS
During the first year of the organization, the women of the Young Lords were overlooked as revolutionists. While YLO focused on attaining basic human survival needs like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare, the Women of the Young Lords wanted to target machismo, sexism, and patriarchy that existed even within the organization. Denise Oliver, Connie Cruz, and Iris Morales emerged as three of the many female leaders in the Young Lords who redirected the group’s political ideology to feminism. They first exposed the “organization’s institutionalized forms of sexism, including the 13 Point Program’s support for ‘revolutionary machismo’” (1040 Lounge par.2). Subsequently, these women organized a women’s caucus where they initiated the Young Lords’ feminist movement. As a result of pushing for a female presence on the Central Committee, Denise Oliver finally got promoted, and the continuation of the feminist movement was underway. It was not until 1970 when the Young Lords of New York decided to integrate feminism into their nationalist perspective, which made them the first ever nationalist and multiracial group to do so.
Trouble with the Thirteen Point Program:
The enshrinement of “revolutionary machismo” in the Lords’ original 13-point platform, for example, made it difficult for young women to exercise their full potential within the organization. “Life for women in the organization was pretty miserable,” Denise Oliver later told filmmakers. While the Lords’ policy was to “grant all members access to all organizational activities,” women were blocked from taking leadership roles. Women, who made up almost half of the organization, met for months in their own caucus and withheld sexual relations from the men until their demands were ratified by the all-male Central Committee in June of 1970.
– The Young Lords Party: examining its deficit of democracy and decline
“When you look to any group to find out who’s the most oppressed, it’s always gonna be the women. . . . Just look at a woman, and you’ll find the story of real oppression in this society. In our case, our oppression is threefold. It’s first the oppression under capitalism that affects all people of the Third World. Secondly, there’s the oppression under capitalism that affects women in terms of jobs and things like that; and thirdly, there’s the oppression that we receive from own own men.” Denise Oliver, Young Lords Central Committee, 1970
Click here to read an article about the experiences of the women in the Young Lords written by Denise Oliver in 2009.
REVOLUTION WITHIN THE REVOLUTION
Sufficient healthcare was one of the main demands of the Women of the Young Lords; therefore, they created the Ten-Point Health Program. The goal of the Ten-Point Health Program was for their communities to gain accessibility to healthcare. The Young Lords joined the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement, the Lincoln Hospital Workers of the South Bronx, and the Black Panther Party’s Free Health Clinics in Staten Island and Brooklyn to build the city-wide revolutionary health movement. That sought out change in the healthcare system by providing health programs and education workshops. The Women of the Young Lords also “produced an inclusive reproductive rights agenda that influenced (socialist) feminist politics” (Women & Health par.1). They demanded freedoms such as legal abortion and contraception, an end to forced sterilization, prenatal and postnatal care for poor women, and an affordable day care.
The Women of the Young Lords committed themselves to the revolution within the revolution. A lot of accomplishments came from the women’s caucus that have impacted both health and human rights, specifically the rights entitled to women. In this caucus was where they wrote the “Position Paper on Women,” which was the “only comprehensive position on the subject of equality and women of color of any ethnic nationalist organization of the period” (1040 Lounge par.2). With this document, the Women of the Young Lords remained honest to their nationalist identity, despite their focus on issues around reproductive rights, as they called attention to the women of Puerto Rico and the systematic inequality that is rooted in their society and culture. The women’s caucus was one of the first to report the exploitation of Puerto Rican women for the testing of reproductive drugs from pharmaceutical companies in the United States. It also publicly condemned sterilization campaigns that were targeted towards Puerto Rican women. The caucus also released a feminist publication called La Luchadora.
The Women of the Young Lords not only established a platform for women of color to express, thrive, and grow, but it also empowered these young women. It taught them how to value themselves as a person and not as a sex object. These women were faced with poverty, police brutality, and experienced inequality and injustices in their communities. The Women of the Young Lords helped these women stay off these streets, paving them a way to in turn serve their own communities.
Although the the Women of the Young Lords is no longer active, they had their 40th reunion at the First Spanish Methodist Church in New York City in 2009, and, just recently, they reunited at the Bronx Museum in 2015 for a panel to discuss their experiences in the Young Lords revolution.
IMPACT ON OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Health Revolutionary Action Movement (HRAM)
This movement developed during the 1960s. It organized against lead poisoning in urban New York communities. Along with the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords organized healthcare actions and garbage protests to halt the the general deterioration of their communities nationwide along with the continuous health violations. Through this movement, grassroots community healthcare programs and models emerged, leading up to the opening of a Detox Acupuncture Clinic available to the affected communities.
Latin Women’s Collective (LWC)
In the early 1970s, the Women of the Young Lords were one of the first organizations to stand up against machismo taking a stand against suppression and sexism. Through this, the Latin Women’s Collective (LWC) emerged whose main objective was to help organize women into becoming leaders of their community in areas pertaining to education, employment, and health.
First World Women of Color Healing Circle
At the end of the 1980s, the Women of the Young Lords helped establish the First World Women of Color Healing Circle founded by Esperanza Martell, Urayoana Trinidad, Marta Morales, and Beverly Hutchinson. The Healing Circle was designed to train community organizers in areas of natural healing and emotional release. This intern would allow these community leaders to release any emotional and physical pain they obtained in order to continue their grassroots work. It helped motivate individuals to continue with their own organizations for the overall good of their communities, reminding them of their initial purpose and importance.
“We want equality for women. Down with machismo and male chauvinism.”
“1040 Lounge: Women of the Young Lords.” Bronx Museum. N.p., 23 July 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <http://www.bronxmuseum.org/events/1040-lounge-women-of-the-young-lords>.
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“CASA ATABEX ACHÉ – HERSTORY.” CASA ATABEX ACHÉ – HERSTORY. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <http://www.casaatabexache.org/casa_herstory.htm>.
Charleswell, Cherise. “Latina Feminism: National and Transnational Perspectives I The Hampton Institute.” Latina Feminism: National and Transnational Perspectives I The Hampton Institute. N.p., 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. <http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/latina-feminism.html#.VsJflrkrLR1>.
Conatz, Juan. “The Young Lords Party: Examining Its Deficit of Democracy and Decline.” The Young Lords Party: Examining Its Deficit of Democracy and Decline. N.p., 13 June 2012. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. <https://libcom.org/library/young-lords-party-examining-its-deficit-democracy-decline>.
Fernandez, Johanna. “The Young Lords: Its Origins and Convergences with the Black Panther Party.” Its Origins and Convergences with the Black Panther Party (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. <http://www.ibiblio.org/shscbch/ribb/lords-origins.pdf>.
Horvath, Theresa. “THE HEALTH INITIATIVES OF THE YOUNG LORDS PARTY How a Group of 1960s Radicals Made Health a Revolutionary Concern.” How a Group of 1960s Radicals Made Health a Revolutionary Concern Theresa Horvath, PA-C, MPH New Directions in American Health Care – Innovations from Home and Abroad (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <http://www.hofstra.edu/pdf/community/culctr/culctr_events_healthcare0310_%20horvath_paper.pdf>.
“Thirteen Point Program and Platform of the Young Lords Party.” 13 Point Program and Platform of the Young Lords Party. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/Young_Lords_platform.html>.
Velez, Denise Oliver. “We Were Young Lords, Not Young Ladies.” Daily Kos. N.p., 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/22/770157/->.
“Women & Health.” Palante. N.p., 11 July 2001. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. <http://palante.org/Women&Health.htm>.
“Young Lords: Ten-Point Health Program” Palante. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. <http://palante.org/04Health.htm>.