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| | |-+  hip-hop: a political agenda
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Author Topic: hip-hop: a political agenda  (Read 8276 times)
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« on: July 02, 2004, 05:18:43 PM »

Hip Hop Generation Agenda:
"More than music and style"


"We need a national agenda to make sure that our
community has more than music and style. We can’t
continue to do bootleg activism. We’ve got to do
institutional activism, creating media outlets that
will push our propaganda."

-- Jeff Johnson, America Votes youth coordinator and
commentator for BET’s "Rap City"

"We’re all activists. The question is, what are we
active for? Are we active to forward a rightwing agenda
in America, or are we active for liberation?"

-- Rosa Clemente, co-founder, National Hip Hop
Political Convention (NHHPC)

"Just as the Christian Coalition tapped into an
existing infrastructure of conservative churches, we as
a hip hop generation are tapping into an existing
infrastructure that has been created by the hip hop

-- Bakari Kitwana, author and co-founder, NHHPC

American capitalism markets everything it can package
and discards or mangles the rest. As a result, most
"information" found in the marketplace is, by
definition, disinformation -- a "product" molded to
suit a transaction, containing no reliable connection
to the truth.

In the absence of a mass Black political movement, the
generation born after 1965 has been named for the
culture it created, rather than -- as with the
preceding generation -- the political goals for which
they fought. Hip hop culture, the miraculous invention
of Black and Latino youth, is now marketed to the world
by five multinational corporations. The social
"reality" and political worldview of an entire
generation (now going on two generations) has been
packaged for sale to both its creators and the larger
market: the planet.

Having been commercially defined as a raw demographic
-- a cohort of customers and product-modelers -- the
hip hop generation stares into a mirror that has been
purposely cracked and deformed for somebody else’s
profit. Its activists, as brilliant as any produced at
any time or place in history -- and intent, like all
healthy young humans, on changing the world -- find
that they must first confront the marketed version of

The 3,000 young people who attended the National Hip
Hop Political Convention in Newark, New Jersey, June
16-20, were determined to define themselves through a
politics of struggle -- to begin to redraw the map of
the world through the prisms of their own experience.

"We are here today as young people under the hip hop
umbrella," said Ras Baraka, the 34-year-old Deputy
Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and one of the organizers
of the event. "Politics is about the seizure of power,"
Baraka told the crowd.  "Some of us don’t understand
what that means. Our kids think that seizing power is
standing on a corner and doing the things they usually
do." Each of the 500 official delegates from 17 states
had registered 50 voters to earn the right to represent
their generation.

Baraka, who is also an assistant public school
principal, doesn’t show up on the Right’s short list of
hip hop generation "leaders." By cynically
misinterpreting polling data that show Black youth to
be increasingly estranged from the Democratic Party
(see , November 21, 2002), and through relentless
national media exposure of young, corporate-sponsored
Black politicians, the Right attempts to package the
hip hop generation as essentially more "conservative"
than its elders. The darlings of the Right include
Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, 34, the Democratic
Leadership Council’s most prominent voice in the
Congressional Black Caucus, and Cory Booker, the 35-
year-old former Newark Councilman who, with the backing
of the national conservative political and funding
network, nearly captured City Hall in 2002.

What the conservatives prove is that the current
younger generation contains its share of opportunists
-- just as did the last generation, and the one before
that. But opportunists only show up when they get paid,
and represent nothing but the finances of their sugar
daddies. The National Hip Hop Political Convention had
no deep-pocket sponsors, yet it succeeded on the
strength of the organizers’ peer credibility, and the
near-universal desire among Black youth to overturn the
status quo.

Continuity of struggle

So vacuous has American political discourse become,
that corporate spin-makers posing as journalists find
it possible to produced 24-hour news cycles that reveal
nothing at all except the political preferences of
media owners. The mass marketing of attitudes and
styles in place of issues and substance, seeks to drain
the language, itself, of the capacity to resist power.
A generation of Black youth that is imprisoned in
astronomical numbers is simultaneously deployed as
lifestyle models for the privileged, prison-immune
classes -- mass-produced insanity on its face. Yet in
the continuity of Black struggle, people and truths
"crushed to earth" inevitably rise again to confront

"I believe that we are in this room because some slave
willed us here," said Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, the 30-
something Executive Director of New York Common Ground,
and a mover-and-shaker of the convention. "We need a
living wage for everyone. I call that a moral

Moral people seek to end injustice, mass media’s truly
taboo topic. Only by relentless avoidance of the
continuity of injustices against Black people can the
media create the impression of vast chasms between
Black generations.

"Get the foot of oppression off our necks." From the
hip hop perspective, 54-year-old Rev. Calvin Butts, of
Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, qualifies as an
elder. Yet his irreducible demand, delivered at a Town
Hall meeting on the first full day of the convention,
was identical to that of his hip hop audience. Many
were aware of Butts’ history of broad brush criticism
of hip hop culture.  However, in the context of a
shared struggle against historical oppression,
differences shrink. "Organizing must be done around a
moral core. That moral core must respect all of us --
our women, our children, our elders," said the
preacher. "Without a moral core, the revolution is
wiped out."

Who would argue with that?

Rich corporations mass-market immorality (after all,
they are the only ones who can), and then label their
products as authentic representations of hip hop
generation morals. Righteously, the organizers of the
Newark convention gave primacy to the morality of
struggle -- to the chapter and verse of resistance.

A secular elder, Ron Daniels, currently Executive
Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a
prime mover in over three decades of Black political
conventions, showed the seamless connections between
culture, morality, and politics. "Art must be
functional and committed," said Daniels. "This
generation must come to the forefront and lead us to
change America." Nevertheless, "We cannot, in the name
of ‘realness,’ denigrate ourselves."

"Denigration" was the last thing on these young
people’s minds. At the core of the convention were
perhaps a thousand committed activists -- ranging from
seasoned, 30-something veterans to promising neophytes
-- who have the potential to do great damage to the

Fight the Power

In what now seems the Golden Age of socially conscious
hip hop, Public Enemy’s Chuck D demanded that his
audiences "fight the powers that be." Born in 1960,
Chuck D and his peers, the inventors of the culture,
are the political and chronological links between the
so-called "Black Power" and hip hop generations.
Currently a host on radio’s Air America network, Chuck
D recalled the suppression of hip hop. "From 1979 to
1992, there was a sheer abandonment [of hip hop musicby Black radio programmers]," he said. They banned it."

During that period, hip hop broke out of the
neighborhoods and fueled the founding of a host of
independent (mostly white-owned) record labels -- an
explosion of musical creativity and social commentary
of all kinds. But not until the early Nineties, after
mega-corporations moved to swallow up the genre, did
Black-programmed radio embrace the music of Black
youth. Programmers ponderously intoned that hip hop
fans were too young to attract advertisers, that they
were not a valuable demographic -- an amazing claim,
since the R & B music that carried Black radio to new
heights in the Sixties was also the music of youth. But
many in the hip hop industry understood the real deal:
Black programmers were afraid of projecting a street
"image." Essentially, hip hop had an intra-Black, class
problem. Don Cornelius wouldn’t touch it, even though
his "Soul Train" TV audience skewed to the younger

In one of the great ironies of African American
cultural history, Black radio finally embraced hip hop
in the early Nineties -- precisely when the huge
corporate record labels shifted to gangsta rap.
Industry researchers discovered that hip hop’s most
"active" consumer base was composed of 12- and 13-year-
olds -- tweens -- a cohort that is drawn to repetitive
profanity and, not having reached the sexual pairing-
off stage of development, revels in misogyny.  Artists
and recordings (A & R) executives put great pressure on
rap acts to become more "real" -- a word that became a
euphemism for egregiously profane and abusive language.
In no time at all, the industry began churning out
music geared primarily to younger juveniles. Black
radio, which had had such a problem with hip hop before
the corporate-guided ascendance of gangsta rap, dived
into the cesspool with wild enthusiasm. The airwaves
became filled with edits, bleeps and audio
interruptions that did nothing to hide the
"denigrating" content.

Black middle-class propriety was trumped by the servile
imperative to follow the (white) corporate leader. No
one can measure the accumulated arrested development
afflicting youngsters raised on a profane corporate
formula designed for tweens.

New Times, New Tasks

However, the music industry’s version of "real" hasn’t
blotted out reality for the entirety of the hip hop
generation. Mutulu, of Dead Prez, sees the world,
clearly. "We gotta keep going," he urged the Newark
convention. "If we don’t keep going, rap will continue
to be drafted into the capitalist world, the crack
world, the prison industrial complex."

With a seriousness that wholly contradicts hip hop
stereotypes, conventioneers fanned out in the scorching
sun over three connected campuses -- Essex County
College, Rutgers-Newark and New Jersey Institute of
Technology -- to attend 50 workshops on every
conceivable aspect of organizing.

The "movement" that was largely demobilized by an
upwardly mobile, self-conscious "leadership class" in
the late Sixties, was getting an update. (See last
week’s  Cover Story, "There Needs to be a Movement:
Political Action in the Hip Hop Era.")

"We looked at cities that have higher levels of Black
cops," Monifa Bandele explained to a workshop titled:
Why Vote? Community Voices on the Criminal Justice
System. "What we saw, clear as day, is that high levels
of Black cops is not the solution."

Bandele is a Brooklyn leader of the Malcolm X
Grassroots Movement, which also has chapters in
Alabama, Mississippi and California -- all represented
at the Newark convention. Black cops are often an
active or passive problem, she said, as was revealed in
the 1997 torture of Abner Louima. "You would be shocked
to know how many Black cops were there, in the precinct
[where Louima was sodomized with a mop handle], and
they said nothing, they did nothing."

At a workshop on Our Schools, Our Kids and the Money,
gray-bearded Junius Williams, a legendary Newark
scholar/activist who directs the Rutgers Abbott
Leadership Institute, spoke of a brief period when
street youth were drawn to political warfare rather
than mindless gang-banging.  "Had these men been around
30 or 35 years ago," said Williams, referring to local
gang members who had spoken to the convention the night
before, "they would have been in a group like the Black
Panthers or the Young Lords."

Whether as neo-Panthers (the New Black Panther Party
was represented at the convention), as hip hop advocacy
journalists (former Source Magazine executive editor
Bakari Kitwana co-founded the convention), or among the
numerous young teachers gathered in Newark under the
hip hop "umbrella," what’s crucial is that youth become
engaged in struggle of some kind.  Rather than whine
about older politicians who refuse to get out of the
way, convention co-chair Angela Woodson exhorted:
"Don’t wait for the old guard. If you’re ready, run!"

Electoral politics, the route taken to the exclusion of
all others by critical elements of a previous
generation’s movement, has demonstrated its hollowness
in the absence of year-round, grassroots organizing.
"Electoral politics is futile, until they put
revolution on the ballot," said Dead Prez’s Mutulu, 32.
But he says it without prejudice to those who choose
electoral political action -- as long as they act!

Very late on a Saturday night, hours behind schedule
due to failure to anticipate a flurry of amendments,
the exhausted delegates to the National Hip Hop
Political Convention adopted a Five-Point Agenda on
Education, Economic Justice, Criminal Justice, Health
and Human Rights. (See full document, below.)

This week, hip hop music blared at the entrance to a
downtown Chicago park, where a huge food- and drink-
tasting festival was underway. The local chapter of the
National Hip Hop Political Convention was busy,
registering voters. All across the country, they are
taking action.


National Hip Hop Political Convention

Five-Point Agenda

(The final amendments to the document were not
available to . This is the document submitted to the
assembled delegates, without amendments.)

One. Education

1.1: We call for state constitutional amendments and/or
federal legislation mandating equal funding and
resources. We call for parity spending in all public
school districts -- suburban, urban, and rural alike.
We call for the restoration and preservation of
community control of schools. We demand monies be used
for the recruitment and training of teachers that are
residents of the district. We reject the idea that
vouchers are a viable solution to the disparities in

1.2: We call for implementation of curriculum that is
socially practical, culturally relevant, comprehensive,
developmental, and specific in nature, including but
not limited to vocational training, based upon engaging
students from a variety of learning styles, interests,
and skills.

1.3: We call for funding and legislation to develop
programs toward the eradication of illiteracy of all
people, including those that have English as a Second

1.4: We demand free education at all state and
federally owned and operated post-secondary
institutions, including trade schools and technical
schools and the direct recruitment and retention of
students of color. We oppose all attacks on affirmative
action programs at all levels of higher education.

Action: All delegates should go back to their states
and hold an education summit that would include
parents, parent organizers, educators, community
groups, elected officials and students for the purpose
of speaking to and elaborating on the four platform
issues in specific and general.
Two. Economic Justice

2.1: We demand fair taxation with representation,
including a rollback of tax cuts for wealthy and
corporate interests, and advocacy of DC statehood.

2.2: We stand against gentrification in, disinvestment
from, and displacement of our communities. We oppose
the destruction of publicly funded and affordable
housing. We call for mandatory investments in
underdeveloped neighborhoods, through programs such as
empowerment zones, small business administration,
and/or tax abatements, subject to that community’s
review. In addition, opportunities must be created to
expand business opportunities for underrepresented
minority businesses in urban areas.

2.3: We demand reparations for Black Americans,
including funding to support institutions destroyed by
slavery, Jim Crow, and eroded by centuries of
institutional racism.

2.4: We demand full employment at living wages that
help develop and empower our communities and

Three. Criminal Justice

3.1: We demand the reinstatement and protection of all
civil and human rights, including voting, employment,
education, and economic opportunities for all
individuals who have been accused and/or convicted
through the criminal justice system. We call for the
permanent and compete separation of all individuals
under 18 from adult prison.

3.2: We demand the eradication of all mandatory minimum

3.3: We demand the formation of civilian review boards
with subpoena power and an independent prosecutor at
all levels of the justice system including federal,
state, local, and military.

3.4: We demand the end to the targeted persecution,
prosecution and incarceration of youth, drug users, and
political activists.

Four. Health

4.1: We demand federal legislation that would institute
free universal holistic healthcare, including
affordable prescription drugs and equal access to
hospitals for indigent communities.

4.2: We demand federal legislation that funds mental
and emotional health awareness, research, and

4.3: We demand federal legislation that would increase
funding for research, awareness, prevention, and
treatment of HIV/AIDS, heart disease, cancer, drug
abuse, and other public health issues.

4.4: We demand federal legislation to ensure women’s
reproductive health, including safe and legal access to
reproductive choices, and education and awareness about
reproductive issues.

Five. Human Rights

5.1: We call for the formation of a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission that will investigate,
research and report human rights violations committed
by the United States government throughout its history.
The findings of this commission shall be
institutionalized within public records and educational
textbooks and disseminated via all available forms of
media and communication.  The Truth and Reconciliation
Commission shall be convened by members of the National
Hip Hop Political Convention and within one year of our
first gathering.

5.2: We call for the drafting, promotion, and
presentation to local, state, and federal legislators,
and public policy makers, the People of Color (African,
Latino/a, Asian, Native Indigenous Peoples) Anti-
Terrorism Bill. The passing of this bill will
immediately abolish terrorism in all areas of human
activity, including, but not limited to, areas of sex,
law, war, education, entertainment, economics,
politics, labor and religion. The People of Color Anti-
Terrorism Bill will be drafted by members of the
National Hip Hop Political Convention with special
attention paid to inhuman conditions within the penal
system, land grabs in the form of eminent domain and
gentrification, and chemical and biological warfare.

5.3: We demand an end to militarization. We call for an
end to the recruitment of our youth into the armed
forces in public schools and other public institutions.
We call for the immediate repeal of the Patriot Act I
and II and redefinition of "homeland security" for
people of color. The National Hip Hop Political
Convention strongly opposes any entity -- corporate,
media, entertainment, or other -- which attempts to use
Hip Hop culture to support the potential drafting of
our youth into the military.

5.4: We demand the ending of U.S. Imperialism,
beginning by pulling our youth out of occupied
territories like Iraq, Afghanistan and Puerto Rico. We
demand the relief of previously colonized and enslaved
Third World Countries from debt, structural adjustment
programs, and forced austerity measures imposed on them
by international lending institutions. We call for the
end of military intimidation and monetary manipulation
by these U.S.-led entities.


justice for Ayiti!
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