The Young Lords Nationalist Party: Revolutionary Forgotten Leaders
When we speak of revolutionary leaders we immediately think of Mandela, Malcolm, King, Lincoln, Kennedy, and Gandhi. They are wonderful examples of virtue, but others immediately come to my mind like Ramón Emeterio Betances, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebron, and the Young Lords. The Young Lords have had a great impact on the lives of Hispanic Americans and on my life personally. The Young Lords instilled a sense of Puerto Rican pride during a time when Puerto Ricans were looked at with great racial, cultural and language discrimination as well as economic exploitation. They changed the sanitation standards on inner city streets, started free children’s breakfast programs when the city wouldn’t, provided free medical care in el Barrio, free clothing drives, free classes on Puerto Rican history, and many other community building programs all while facing forceful opposition from the city of New York, the NYPD, and the FBI. The story of the rise and fall of the Young Lords is motivating and inspiring for current and future revolutionary Puerto Ricans.
In 1969, a young socially conscious group of Puerto Rican college students gathered together to discuss the issues that plagued El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). They eventually called themselves “Sociedad de Albizu Campos”. They named themselves after El Maestro, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos; Harvard educated lawyer, President of the Puerto Rican National Socialist Party and one of the most beloved freedom fighters in Puerto Rican history. This organization included founding members such as Pablo Guzman, Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, David Perez, Juan Ortiz and Mickey Melendez. Five months after continuous meetings, they realized they no longer needed to talk about the problems that plagued Spanish Harlem but they needed to act on them. While reading the Black Panther paper, they found out that there was an organization of a group of Puerto Ricans called the Young Lords in Chicago also fighting for Latino rights. They meet with the Chicago Young Lords Organization and formed a union. They were now the New York State Chapter of The Young Lords Organization. After questioning the Spanish Harlem community on what the most pressing issue was, they heard la basura (garbage) over and over. The New York City Department of Sanitation at the time was all white and did not see the point in cleaning the streets or picking up trash in the ghetto, so for months at a time they left Puerto Rican neighborhoods rotting and filth ridden. The Young Lords Organization went to the Sanitation department to ask them for brooms and shovels so they could clean the area themselves but were denied. They grabbed the brooms and shovels, yelled that they would return them and ran. The YLO including Juan Gonzales and Felipe Luciano swept the streets and put all the garbage in bags, only for no sanitation to pick it up a week later. This went on for two more weeks with more and more of the community joining in on the cleaning, with no sanitation picking up the garbage. Finally, after a month of no trash removal, it was all gathered into the middle of the street blocking car and bus traffic and set on fire. The YLO figured if the busses couldn’t move NYC could not make money and they would have to pick up the garbage. Now firefighters had to come put out the fire, and police had to come investigate, and sanitation still had to remove the debris to open up traffic all because they refused to do it before. This went on week after week on block after block until sanitation started coming on a regular basis, this was known as the East Harlem Garbage Offensive.
Now that the Young Lords were known throughout el barrio, young Puerto Ricans were flocking to join the YLO. African Americans, Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, and other Latinos also joined. They were workers, students, unemployed, and Vietnam War veterans. Pablo Guzman,...