The Origin of the Young Lords Organization
The Young Lords Organization (YLO) emerged as a Chicago street gang in 1968. The founding father of the group was a reformed gang member cum street activist, Che Che Jimenez. Jimenez’s change from the gang culture to an organization was influenced by Fred Hampton, a Black Panther’s leader he met in prison. In the late 1960s, people of color, including Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Latinx, were facing similar issues of poor economic conditions and discrimination, especially in the Bronx (Grossman, 2018). The Black Panthers solely focused on the rights of the black community; thus, the YLO was fashioned as a Puerto Rican version of the Black Panthers. The organization was deemed militant, augmented by their purple berets and semi-military marching formation during protests. The issues articulated included local gentrification, racism, lack of employment opportunities, and police brutality to better the Puerto Rican population (Fernández, 2020). In Chicago, the Young Lords set up a free dental and health clinic and a community child care center. They also occupied a church and set up a daycare and free breakfast programs. The growth of the YLO led to the recruitment of activist-minded Puerto Rican students in New York who established a chapter of the group in the city in 1969. The Young Lords burst into national prominence after the formation of the New York chapter.
Birth of the Young Lords Party
In the early 1970s, the New York chapter disconnected from their Chicago counterparts and formed the Young Lords Party (YLP). The YLP was primarily made up of 20-year-old second-generation Puerto Ricans whose families had immigrated from Puerto Rico after the second world war (Cisneros, 2017). They lived in slums populated by Latinx and were keen to articulate a new radical Puerto Rican identity. The YLP location was instrumental to its fast growth since New York City had the largest Puerto Ricans population in the US.
The majority of the YLP members were college students who envisioned a political party instead of a gang or non-political organization. The students had formed a political study group in Harlem and began their Marxist-Leninist party-Esque movement after their trip to Jimenez in Chicago. The YLP’s main founders were Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, Pablo Guzman, Denise Oliver, and Ed Morales. The YLP represented a hybrid of identity-based and countercultural politics. The group was intercultural since it was composed of Puerto Ricans as the predominant population and incorporated Latinx members hailing from Dominican Republic, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, and African American (Reichard, 2018). YLP adopted a strict code of conduct that included integrating rules such as abstinence from drugs and respecting the group’s autonomy. The group established branches across Philadelphia, San Diego, Boston, and New Jersey and aligned the organization with top-down goals engraved in a 13-point program.
Issues Raised by the Young Lords
The Young Lords Party articulated its goals through a 13-point platform laid out in October 1969. The YLP advocated for better housing, health care, education, and living conditions for Puerto Rican communities around the country (Harpaz, 2020). Through their manifesto, the group identified itself as a revolutionary political party fighting for the liberation of third-world people. The manifesto described third-world people as people of color who were continuously oppressed as one nation. The betterment of the quality of life of the Boricuas was intertwined with the liberation of all marginalized people. The group also articulated issues such as housing and the marginalization of women. The YLP women members, who comprised one-third of Young Lords membership, pushed the organization to join feminist political stand calling for women’s rights in issues such as reproductive rights regarding forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women, legalization of abortion and safe contraception, condemning gender-based violence and deconstructing gender roles limiting women leadership (Danziger & Mellon, 2020). The group’s radical stand led to articulating issues of sexual identities for members of the LGBT.
Methods used to Articulate Issues
The Young Lords turned to activism to fulfill their goals articulated in their manifesto. The YLP was composed of young scholars who served as interlocutors for their parents, thus had good negotiating and communication skills. The revolutionary nationalists used these skills to organize neighborhood marches and getting media coverage to pressure officials. The YLP mainly used pragmatic solutions to solve community issues. Their radical theories and hands-on approach method were centralized to fixing the grassroots issues affecting the third world population. The YLP polled New York residents on their most pressing issues and established the serve the people program. The program was a radical faction that offered an immediate response to the needs of the community. The YLP focused on issues such as sanitation, healthcare, community service. The group’s most famous activism includes the garbage, church, and health offensives.
The garbage offensive was a direct action meant to publicize the lack of sanitation in Harlem and to force the sanitation department to act on the issue by cleaning the streets. In 1969, the lack of sanitation services in Harlem was apparent since the city officials disregarded litter. The YLP took a practical approach to the matter where they stole brooms, swept the garbage, and piled it at the neighborhood’s edge to block traffic. The officials were reluctant to pick up the trash; thus, the Young Lords set the trash pile on fire seizing the city’s attention. The lit garbage summoned firefighters, press, and law enforcement to the street and ultimately led to garbage collection in the slums. In addition, the YLP gained credibility within the New York Puerto Rican community and in the national spotlight since they also raised public awareness regarding health risks associated with lack of garbage control, such as vermin infestations (Morales, 2020). The YLP activism was also engaged in church offensive strategy. The members wanted the conservative neighborhood church to implement a complimentary breakfast program similar to the Black Panthers program in Chicago. The majority of functional churches were only used once a week; thus, the members occupied several churches and transformed them into housing for free breakfast programs.
The Health offensive
At the height of their activism, YLP advocated for health concerns among the Bronx population. In 1970, the group acting on previous investigations regarding lead poisoning in city houses conducted door-to-door lead testing on children to determine the extent of the population’s contamination (Parra, 2020). In conjunction with progressive medical professionals, the group tested local children for lead poisoning. The results showed an increased rate of children with positive lead poisoning results among the African American and Latinx populations. The group demanded a comprehensive strategy for the treatment and prevention of lead poisoning by the city officials. The Young Lords’ pressure led to the city council passing provisions for removal of lead paint in city housing and establishing a Bureau of Lead Poisoning Control.
Additionally, the Young Lords screened adults for tuberculosis since it was more apparent in the Bronx. The problem was that the confirmation of a positive tuberculosis test is done through x-ray machines which were time-constrained; thus, many eligible people were denied access. The Young Lords hijacked a mobile chest X-ray unit leased to the New York Department of Health to have extended hours to serve most working people in high-risk neighborhoods. During the Lincoln offensive, the Young Lords, supported by progressive doctors, took over Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx for 12 hours. They demanded infrastructure upgrades, drug addiction care, senior citizen care, and maternal and child care services (Arguello, 2015). Lincoln was a run-down public Hospital serving the majority of Black and Latinos in the south Bronx. The YLP viewed the protest as activism to highlight the health discrepancies between white people and people of color in New York City. This radical activism led to the construction of a new, improved Lincoln Hospital.
The decline of the Young Lords Party
The decline of the Young Lords’ influence was exacerbated by factors such as purging influential members who were believed to be counterrevolutionary, their explicit stance on Puerto Rican independence, and infiltration by the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI). One faction of the YLP formed the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO). PRRWO was pro-communist and anti-capitalist and extensively called for the independence of Puerto Rico. The shift of focus to the Puerto Rican independence created rifts among the founders, who were skeptical of the strategy leading to their demotions. The stand on communism also attracted the FBI’s attention, which infiltrated the group to dismantle the leftist party. The majority of original members had resigned by 1974, and the Young Lords Party’s essentially disbanded by 1976 (Westcott, 2018). The Young Lords’ legacy is grounded in their revolutionary stance of fighting root causes for social problems and the liberation of all oppressed people. The Young Lords taped into the city officials’ discrimination by championing for improved conditions for the population in the Bronx, including healthcare and sanitation.
The Young Lords Organization was formed in 1968 to sensitize the Chicago population to their society’s gentrification and the lack of social amenities. The Young Lords Organization established a branch in New York City, which later renamed itself to Young Lords Party. The YLP was the most influential and rose to national recognition for its pragmatic activism, such as garbage and Lincoln Hospital offensives which pressured the city officials to act on their grievances. Internal struggles and change of initiatives led to the party’s eventual winding up in 1976, bringing an end to almost a decade of radical activism.