The Red Guard formation resulted from several societal and economic pressures combined in the late 1960s. In the late 60s, the Black Panther Party had already gained significant media and community attention for their militaristic actions and struggles for self-determination and third world solidarity, and for the opposing governmental oppression. Meanwhile, San Francisco and much of the nation was in an uproar via protesting the Vietnam War. With common place discussions on the reprehensible actions of the U.S. government in the war, Bay Area, and allowance of institutional racism, street youth organized against their own dismal circumstances.
San Francisco's Chinatown was plagued with poverty and government negligence. The area was overcrowded with a steady supply of immigrants joining the numbers. With a dense and poverty stricken population, Chinatown offered few job opportunities and perhaps fewer signs of social mobility. This often caused the youth to target Chinese immigrants who were not born in America and even tourists in acts of violence. Not only was there economic disparity, but also incredible health concerns. Chinatown was afflicted with some of highest rate of tuberculosis in the country. For those who were healthy and did not turn to violence, the pool halls of the town existed as one of the few recreational amenities available.
The popularity of the pool halls helped to develop the youth community of Chinatown. Leway pool hall was an iconic recreation center for the Red Guard party. In the halls of Leway, youth were able to discuss openly revolutionary ideas and their disdain for the government that had contributed to their social injustice. Equipped with the street youth, economic and societal pressures for the need of action, and a hub for meeting, all that was lacking was a spark for the Red Guard to be formed.
Alex Hing, though not a founding member, provided leadership to the Red Guards. Under the Students for a Democratic Society, Hing learned many leadership skills which he utilized in helping form the Red Guard. While advocating for Ethnic Studies at local community college, he read works promoted by the Black Panther Party including the Red Book and writings of Malcolm X. The frustrated youth of Chinatown drew the attention of the Black Panther Party leaders Bobby Seale and David Hilliard. These leaders invited the youth to study their core ideology. With strong leaders such as Hing and the influence by the Black Panther Party, the Red Guard was formed in the Leway pool hall in February 1969 to improve the conditions of Chinatown and Asian Americans.
In 1969 when the Red Guard was formed, they mirrored themselves in many ways after the Black Panther Party. They favored militaristic garb which was adorned with a Mao jacket to show ties to their roots of the Red Guard in China. They also conducted themselves as a military organization, described by a former member as an "army" even. This closely tied with the success and iconic nature of the Black Panther Party. The Red Guard even adopted their own ten point plan which was influenced by the Black Panther Party; however, it specifically targeted Chinatown and the transgressions of the United States government against Asians and Asians living in United States. The ten point plan consisted of demands of the government based upon their power as street youth and human dignity. The ten point plan was as follows:
The ten point plan served as a testament to the strength and determination of the street youth of Chinatown. Much like the Black Panther Party, the Red Guards boldly challenged the U.S. government through their own issues. This plan also served as the focus for the radical organization to mirror their actions after and serve as a way of legitimizing their efforts. An analysis of the specifics of the ten point plan is needed to address the core goals of the Red Guard. The ten point plan consisted of several demands and justifications. The primary desire of the Red Guard’s political program was for self-determination. Without being able to determine their own path, they would continue to be oppressed. The demands that followed required affordable housing. This demand was founded upon the dense population of Chinatown that was over populated meanwhile having a constant influx of immigrants. This influx and poor conditions combined with few employment opportunities caused a significant concern for the youth in the Red Guard. The organization also demanded that "all Yellow men be exempt from military service" based on the historic racial discrimination and violence within the U.S. Also, they demanded trial by jury for Asian Americans by Asian Americans as it was impossible to separate any racial prejudices of any other jury who could not even be deemed peers due to the stark differences in social and political background. Sparked by the struggle with the tuberculosis center, they also demanded fair and free medical facilities for their community.
While many aspects of their political platform were not addressed, they experienced several successes. The Red Guard focused many of their efforts specifically on the Chinatown community. This is evident in the language of the ten point plan, but was also seen through their actions. The Red Guard tailored community service programs, such as breakfasts the Black Panther Party provided and changed it to a Sunday brunch for the elderly, reflecting their distinct cultural values and unique requirements as a community. The tuberculosis center was also kept open for Chinatown which was a huge success. The Red Guard also led petitions in an effort to save the historic International Hotel. Though the I-Hotel was eventually destroyed, it helped in promoting community and more importantly the belief in their power as people. As their founding would suggest with a title such as the Red Guard Party, the political group was focused on gaining attention to the Asian American struggle and remaining critical of the U.S government.
The Red Guard was attributed with a brief span due to their focus on paramilitary force. They viewed themselves as an "army" rather than a political organization and were dealt with as such which their founding name would suggest (3). They also failed to inspire and include members other than mainly male youth. Failure to incorporate the middle class served to dissolve their party as their efforts was not carried by the entirety of their community.