Last Wednesday I participated in a discussion after a screening of the documentary The Gentleman Bank Robber at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.
The film tells the story of Bo (Rita) Brown, a self-described butch lesbian who was part of the George Jackson Brigade in the 1970s. Members of the brigade robbed banks and bombed facilities as a way to bring attention to social and political injustice. It was a small band of radicals, much like the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
I was asked to speak after the film because of my work researching the SLA and Camilla Hall. I saw several similarities between Bo’s story and Camilla’s story. Here were two women who decided upon direct action, even though it involved violence and risk. Bo was imprisoned for 10 years, and Camilla was killed in a shootout with Los Angeles police.
I enjoyed the conversation with the audience. For one thing, it was nice to be in a room of people who knew what I was talking about! The history of small, radical, violent domestic terrorist groups in the 1970s is not well-known among the general public. I tend to receive the “glazed-eye” look when I’m explaining my biography of Camilla.
I also felt heartened by the group because many of them are involved in direct action. They send books to women in prison, they write letters to trans prisoners, they spread the word about female political prisoners, they are working with youth on college campuses to encourage voting, etc. These are people who are working to make their part of the world better.
It can be easy to feel hopeless in this day and age. But many of the people in the audience seemed encouraged and cautiously optimistic about the future, especially where youth are concerned. In the past few years, I have seen a lot of complacency on the campus where I work, but I am starting to see a change. I think today’s youth are energized and ready to make a difference.
I left the screening on a high note. Are you seeing things out there today that make you feel hopeful?