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Remembering the radical politics of Shirley Douglas

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Activist and actress Shirley Douglas in 2006. Image: frank saptel/Flickr

Shirley Douglas led an activist life. Notably, she helped to establish the fundraising group Friends of the Black Panthers. Her son, Kiefer Sutherland, commented in 2007, "She's one of the main reasons there were breakfast programs across Los Angeles run by the Black Panther Party."

In 2013, Shirley said "Their 10-point program was very close to the CCF [the predecessor of the NDP], except the Panthers wanted the right to bear arms to defend their homes."

In 1969, when she was 35 years old, she was arrested in Los Angeles for "conspiracy to possess unregistered explosives," after she allegedly attempted to purchase grenades for the Black Panthers. At one point, 70 armed police raided her Beverley Hills home.

Tommy Douglas, at that time the leader of the federal NDP, went to Los Angeles to support her and stated that he was "proud of the fact that my daughter believes, as I do, that hungry children should be fed, whether they are Black Panthers or white Republicans."

She said that the FBI was trying to frame her and spent five days in jail. The courts eventually dismissed the case and exonerated her.

Shirley was also a co-founder of the first chapter in Canada of the Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (in the early 1980s) and a long-time champion of public health care. She was the spokesperson for the Canada Health Coalition and was involved in the Toronto Health Coalition and Friends of Medicare Toronto.

In 1977, Shirley commented, "The word politics is so often misused. I don't believe that 300 members in the House of Commons are the only people who are involved in politics."

Shirley was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan on April 2, 1934, and died on April 5, 2020 in Toronto where she had lived since 1977 (because the U.S. government had denied her a work permit due to her arrest).

Sutherland says, "My mother was an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life."

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. You can find him on Twitter at @CBrentPatterson.

Image: frank saptel/Flickr

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