The Young Lords Party

While the Young Lords organization became in Chicago, it was the East Coast chapter, the New York Chapter that is most recognized.

On June 7, 1969, the Black Panther newspaper published an article about the formation of the Rainbow Coalition, an alliance made up of members of the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots Organization, white working-class youths, and the Young Lords Organization in Chicago. Inspired by the Chicago Young Lords, a group of young Puerto Rican college students established a chapter in New York City in July 1969. Subsequently, branches in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Newark, Boston, and Puerto Rico were also formed that year. The Young Lords set up community programs: free breakfast for children, community testing for tuberculosis and lead poisoning, free clothing drives, cultural events, and Puerto Rican history classes.

The Lords also addressed issues concerning prisoners, women, the working poor, Vietnam war veterans, and high school students. They summarized their political beliefs and goals in a 13-point program, published and distributed a newspaper called PALANTE, and produced a weekly radio show on WBAI also called PALANTE.

The People’s Church In late 1969, the Young Lords took over a church in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem, New York City) because its leadership had refused to use available space for a community breakfast program for neighborhood children. After the takeover, the Lords renamed it the “People’s Church,” and it quickly became a symbol of the fight for social justice by Puerto Ricans in the United States.

It was during the summer of 1969 when piles of garbage lined 110th Street in El Barrio. That year the Sanitation department went on strike. Ironically the garbage in the Yorkville community, just South of Spanish Harlem continued to be picked up on a regular basis. Yet East Harlem was severely lacking sanitation services. Frustrated by the City’s lackadaisical attitude and apathy toward this Puerto Rican community, members of the Young Lords, snatched brooms from the Sanitation Department and swept piles of trash into the streets of the second avenue. Second Avenue is a major artery connecting commuters from New Jersey, and Upstate New York with Wall Street, New York’s Municipal Buildings, and other large employers. When the Lords began placing old mattresses, furniture, and sinks for effect on the street, traffic in the City was practically brought to a standstill. The “Garbage Offensive” had officially begun. The problem at hand was neglected trash, but the greater issue was unequal health and living conditions.

The garbage offensive also exposed the horrible conditions faced by poor people in New York City’s health care system. In April, and again in July 1970, the Lords organized several other offensives, another significant one took place at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. A takeover of the hospital resulted in the establishment of a drug rehabilitation program that served about 500 drug-addicted patients weekly. For the past 25 years prior, Lincoln Hospital had been slated for demolition. However, it was the only medical facility available to local residents. As a result of the takeover, an agreement was reached between the City and the community for the building of a new Lincoln Hospital.

The New York Young Lords were led by five men: Juan González, Felipe Luciano, Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán, David Pérez, and Juan “Fi” Ortiz. Eventually, in 1970, the New York chapter split ties with the Chicago Young Lords and reorganized as the Young Lords Party. The YLP was committed to working at the grassroots level and connecting with their street offensives.

The Young Lords then organized for the independence of Puerto Rico. In 1971, the Young Lords Party, together with the Puerto Rican Student Union (PRSU), mobilized 1,000 students for a conference held at Columbia University. The purpose was to set up “Free Puerto Rico Now Committees” in high schools and colleges. Subsequently, they organized a mass demonstration in which 10,000 people marched from El Barrio to the United Nations to demand the independence of Puerto Rico, freedom for political prisoners, and an end to police brutality. Through direct community action and education, the Young Lords made an impact on the conditions and consciousness of Puerto Rican and Latino communities across the United States. This legacy continues today.