Documentary recalls when Chicago activist groups formed an alliance in 1969

The collective work of groups representing Latinx people, African Americans and poor whites is the subject of “The First Rainbow Coalition” at the Chicago International Film Festival

SHARE Documentary recalls when Chicago activist groups formed an alliance in 1969

Members of Latinx, African American and white activist groups meet the press as the Rainbow Coalition in the 1960s.

Daily Herald

It’s been 50 years since several activist groups — Black Panthers, Young Lords and Young Patriots — set their racial differences aside and united to combat police brutality and unfair housing practices in Chicago.

Their story is the subject of a collective action documentary, “The First Rainbow Coalition,” that local viewers can see for the first time this week during the 55th annual Chicago International Film Festival.

Following each screening, viewers will have a discussion on the documentary and race and class with director Ray Santisteban and members of the Rainbow Coalition including Young Lords founder Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez; Hy Thurman of the Young Patriots, representing poor whites, and Henry “Poison” Gaddis and Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panther Party, which fought for African Americans.

“Martin Luther King gets killed and the rioters are coming to the jail en masse,” Jimenez said, remembering the moments that led to the Young Lords’ creation. “At the same time I’m hearing about the Black Panthers on the radio and I said, ‘That’s what we need to do — like the Black Panthers in the Puerto Rican community.’ ”

Soon after the Young Lords’ inception, the group’s non-violent takeover of an 18th District police workshop meeting would lead to the introduction of the Puerto Rican activist group to the Rainbow Coalition and their historic first meeting as a complete organization in April 1969.

“We were connected to the world in uniting with all these struggles. That was the beauty of it. The world was on fire and we were a part of that flame,” Jimenez said.

The Rainbow Coalition came together to improve and empower communities through non-governmental funded programs such as free breakfast programs for children, free health and dental community clinics and food pantries.

“It just felt natural that you would struggle with other people who have been marginalized and who have been held down and who have been oppressed,” Aaron Dixon of the Black Panther Party said.

Though the movement eventually collapsed under the pressure of harassment by local and federal enforcement agencies in 1973, the impact of the Rainbow Coalition remains apparent in modern-day demonstrations for equal rights and ending police brutality.

“The First Rainbow Coalition” will be screened at 5:45 p.m. Thursday and 3:30 p.m. Friday at the AMC River East 21 theater, 322 E. Illinois St.

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