Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Malaysian artist and youtube sensation Zee Avi performed a set today and for some reason, as I logged off and closed my eyes a few minutes ago, this song was still in my head. Maybe its because I've been humming the melody since her performance today. Or maybe its because it reminds me of my own honeybee, who I wish could be here enjoying PopTech with me. Either way, enjoy and goodnight!
I can barely keep my eyes open, so I’ll keep this post short and sweet. I promise to give more detail tomorrow. For now, five words:
That was Pop Tech Day 1.
As I lounge around in this beautiful, historic bed and breakfast, wrapped in a blanket, looking at notes from today’s amazing speech and fighting back yawns, more than ever inspired to think creatively - to put my passion and entrepreneurial energy to use and come up with a political social innovation project that can change our nation. I know..it’s a lofty goal. But who’s gonna stop me? “There’s nothing so powerful as an idea who’s time has come.” (Victor Hugo)
In the meantime, I’ll continue to spread the word about politics for a new generation. The message seemed to resonate with the PopTech audience – both in person and online. For that, for this experience, and for the delicious lobster chowder that I ate tonight, I am truly grateful.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Change isn't just a campaign slogan or a political phenomenon - its a powerful process that we can each undergo to do our small part individually to change the world at large and the tiny one that we inhabit every day.
I'm working for health care reform - shouldn't I strive to be healthier?
The list goes on.
Ultimately, our nation will only be as good - as healthy, prosperous, innovative, and kind - as its people. Politics has its limits and as much as I believe in the power of good policy to change lives, I've seen the power of individual transformation do more to lift people out of mental poverty and desperation than any law and any election. I thought about all of the change paraphernalia that I've accumulated over the past year - health care reform posters, campaign buttons, youth vote key chains and the like - and realized that the universe is trying to send me a not-so-subtle message: CHANGE. So maybe I should....
What about you?
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Tuesday, the Y.I. Want Change coalition for health care reform, participated in a press conference on Capitol Hill with Speaker Pelosi and Representatives Van Hollen and Dahlkemper, during which they announced a major policy victory for young people that will be included in the final House health care reform bill: a provision allowing young Americans to stay on their parents’ insurance through the age of 26.
The press conference also marked the official unveiling of the Y.I. Want Change coalition’s health care policy priorities for young people. Prior to the press conference, young people from 30 states met with their Senators to share these priorities, assuring them that young people are engaged in the health care debate, and that we are passionate about ensuring quality, affordable coverage for all.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The changing of the seasons from summer to fall, from warm to cool (and, for some odd reason this week, cold and rainy) always make me a bit sad. I can't help but think about all of the homeless people that I walk by on a daily basis. As I run with water splashing my boots, afraid to get my hair wet, wishing I had worn a thicker scarf, I think about the guy who sits outside the McDonalds, or the woman who wanders the Metro station, or the couple that sits in the bushes outside of the Safeway - they didn't get to run home to pick up their jacket, get an umbrella, and switch to a long sleeved shirt. The colors on the leaves don't make them eager for for pumpkin pie and apple cider. And they don't get to enjoy a chilly rainy Saturday like me -in the comfort of their warm apartment, curled up with a cup of hot cocoa and a newspaper.
Its strange but for some reason, out of all of the statistics that I hear on a daily basis, the anti-poverty organizations that I work with, and the rallies that I shout in, nothing reminds me of how much America must do better, quite like the changing of the seasons.
Friday, July 17, 2009
GG's Lenny McAllister Tells Us Why?
Why can’t you defend your party? Rattling on and on about values and Lincoln and diversity of ideas is intellectually dishonest and doesn’t do the job. I truly respect your right not just as a black person but as an American to be a Republican. You owe me no explanation. But if you’re going to build a defense, your case needs work.
Ideology is made up of values. And legacy is made up of history. A party, however, is made up of people and policies. And you have registered with a party. You vote for elected officials within that party and support the policies of that party. So your defense of the party should begin there.
Talking about values is irrelevant. Many of them are universal and have far more to do with humanity than a particular political ideology. On a side note, I don’t think that Faith and Family registered in the past several elections so I don’t understand know how you conservatives repeatedly claim them as your own. Nevertheless if you want to list those and other values to define social and fiscal conservatism, fine. That is not the same as being a Republican.
As far as history goes, I don’t give a rat’s behind that Lincoln was a Republican. He also suffered from clinical depression, wore a really tall hat, and had a pet turkey. So what? Legacy and tradition are never good stand-alone reasons to make decisions and they certainly don’t recruit. On the contrary, remembering that Lincoln was a Republican should challenge current Republicans to act more like Lincoln, not current Independents and Democrats to respect a party that behaves in a manner completely antithetical to said icon.
Last but not least, please stop telling me “Black people shouldn’t all belong to just one party”. That still doesn’t make your party right. Choosing to be a Republican for the sake of variety within the black body politic is an insult to our ancestors that fought and died for you to exercise your vote. They did so with the intent of advancing justice and equality – not just some theoretical ideal of political diversity.
I am tired of you telling me to ignore the sick, dangerous people and policies of your party and to instead just look at…well…you. “Hey,” you say, “I know that I support harsh immigration policies, block large investments in health care reform and education, don’t believe that women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, and so on. And I know that many of the leaders that I support and vote into office are racist, sexist homophobes and use religion to spread intolerance and fear. But I’m cool.” Apples and oranges. In fact, it just makes me all the more confused as to why someone so “cool”, who professes to care about the needs of the poor and believes in choice and freedom and values diversity, would choose to be a Republican.
So stop trying to sell me and my fellow black people a fake bag of goods. On balance, I support Democratic policies and while I have issues with almost all politicians, I can at least say that I am not regularly embarrassed or appalled by the words and actions of the people that I vote for. If you can’t say the same (which it seems to me, you’re having a difficult time doing right about now…), stop defending the indefensible and just fix it.
As we commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 today, I am struck not only by how far America has come in her journey towards equality for all, but even more so by the unique challenge that we face to continue that journey in a social, cultural, and legal climate that prizes post-racialism over anti-discrimination and favors color-blindness and gender-blindness over equal opportunity.
Women leaders in fields where they are grossly underrepresented are discouraged from joining gender-exclusive professional groups. Equal opportunity programs are being challenged in ballot initiatives in a growing number of states. As we see in this week’s Supreme Court ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano, employers are still required to avoid policies that are discriminatory in practice but are given little guidance or legal coverage in making those determinations. And all the while the achievement and access gaps for communities of color, and in some fields, women, is widening.
Many progressives predicted that society would suffer from many unintentionally un-progressive consequences in a post-Hilary, post-Obama world. The diminishing value being placed on pro-active, preemptive anti-discrimination policies and their original intent are a prime example.
For those of us not satisfied living in a society where diversity efforts are blasé, acknowledgement of race is passé, conversations about gender are cliché, and civil rights laws are perverted with the support of our nation’s highest court, time is of the essence. We must fight to ensure that the current rapidly advancing progressive policies in education, healthcare and energy maintain the same explicit spirit of justice and equality that the Civil Rights Act was designed to impart.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
originally posted on June 18, 2009.
The news of Iranian university student protesters being attacked in a dorm by riot police and militia cut me to my very core. Up to 150 students were arrested, according to witnesses, and at least one was killed. Students were beaten and shot, and one of the buildings caught fire. I just can’t stop watching this raw demonstration of oppression, anger and power unfolding before our very eyes. It’s so far away, yet feels so close when so many of the protestors are my age or younger. As I watch them take to the streets, using their voices and bodies to fight the regime, I am broken out of my dramatic thoughts and prayers by a jarring pop culture reminder: Twitter is a part of the movement.
On the surface, Twitter just doesn’t seem to fit with my mental images of protest and upheaval. But everywhere I turn I am reminded that many of the stories that I hear and news that I read is coming not from traditional news sources. The Iranian government has blocked journalists that work for international news organizations and the Iranian media is telling an incomplete, at times outright inaccurate story (like saying that the University students are taking finals when the campus has actually been shut down for days). No, the stories of the beatings, attacks, and killings are coming from young Iranians cracking the codes of internet barriers put up by their government, and tweeting the truth in defiance.
Twitter and I have a love hate relationship. I find it slightly burdensome and self-important to tweet my thoughts every minute and like skateboarding and MySpace, it got old to me once everyone else – especially celebrities - hopped on. But it is unquestionably useful for news - especially in an environment of suppression. Iran has made me again proud of my generation owning technological innovation and using it for more than games and gossip. We can use and are using it to change the world.
As the days go by and Western media learns more about the protests, we find that even though Twitter has been a vital tool, it has been used to supplement traditional word of mouth, peer to peer organizing and SMS, which is also being used in even larger quantities. The organizers are using every tool at their disposal – old school and new - to rebel.
And if what we are seeing through Twitter is only a glimpse of the real turmoil, when will we hear the rest? The stories from outside of Tehran and the University, from people without internet and no way to break the censorship codes, and no voice other than the one they use to shout? I can only imagine…
These stories, told and untold, are quenching the thirst of my political soul. They remind us all that you can’t block a movement. It warns those that doubt the ability of our generation to incorporate technology into new models of social change and action, that times they are a’changin.
Living in the sanitized world of watered down, pragmatic U.S. politics, a good, take to the streets protest is just what I need to believe that regardless of whether the revolution is televised, facebooked, tweeted, or simply shouted from the rooftops, when people are oppressed and suppressed long enough, humanity will find innovative ways to fight the powers that be and inevitably, whether fast or slow, revolution always happens.
Yesterday, shots rang out just blocks from my office and reminded me that hate is alive and well. At the National Holocaust Museum, a shrine meant to commemorate lives lost to senseless violence and hate, a life was taken by senseless hate and violence. Security officer Stephen T. Johns was shot and killed by a white supremacist. This comes only weeks after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in the doorway of his church by an anti-abortion “activist”.
So what is the connection between these two tragedies and my assessment of the conservative movement? Ever heard the phrase “the freaks come out at night?” Well night has fallen on the Republican party and the freaks – racist, sexist, homophobic, intolerant right-wing loonies - are coming out all around us.
Back in April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report drawing attention to right-wing extremism and warned that "White supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat…"
Call me paranoid, but as I look today for ways to channel my heartbreak over Stephen T. Johns death into action (I’m looking here and here), allow me to state the obvious: in a time when conservatives are feeling particularly cornered – outnumbered by progressives that have the will of the people on their side – the right wing extremists are losing their minds and have gone hate-mongering crazy – sometimes with a talk show. Other times with guns.
It is often said that violent acts such as these go beyond politics. Tragedy and the loss of human life is something that all people with dignity – on both sides of the aisle – can condemn. But does that mean there shouldn’t be any exploration into the cause or at least the context for such acts? Absolutely not.
This is more than a random occurrence that would allow us to shake our heads, shed a tear, and go back to business as usual. Its time for conservatives to look within their political leadership, examine their rhetoric and recognize their own role, be it intentional or accidental, in advancing hate and intolerance.
If human identity is part nature and part nurture, let’s take a critical look at the entities and social systems that nurtured these natural-born nutjobs and made them feel welcome. Many of the people that commit these politically motivated crimes of intolerance identify with a set of principles and sentiments (anti-immigrant, anti-affirmative action, anti-choice, anti-gay, etc.) that are shared by the Republican party. Support for intolerant policies + leaders like Rush Limbaugh and Bobby Jindal making racist, divisive comments every chance they get, add water and voila! A recipe for marginalized, isolated, and already deranged people to feel justified.
The racist language espoused by conservative leadership and media about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, the sickening message sent by a press conference being held today that said that Dr. Tiller’s death will “help the anti-choice movement” makes the connection clear. Change has not yet come to the Republican party….and neither has the love.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The excitement that I felt – was quickly followed by a sudden sense of surrealism -WHERE ARE WE? Is this the same America that handed George Bush the presidency and suppressed countless voters? It’s amazing how far we come.
I was reflecting on this with two of my colleagues and friends from the League of Young Voters, formerly known as the League of Pissed Off Voters - a hot organization that’s been channeling the anger from youth in urban communities to effect change since 2003. It was their anger that propelled them to register thousands of young people to vote and achieve countless local victories in communities across the country. But what about now?
With as much positive change as we’ve seen in recent months, are we still pissed off voters? Should we be? And if we lose our anger, how active will we be? What happens when we no longer have the “enemy” – the clear cut opposition with a face and a name?
That line of thought drew me to the following realization: The enemy is not, and never has been, Republicans – a party, a Senator, a Rep., or a presidential candidate. It’s not the media, it’s not the police, and it’s not even a specific piece of legislation.
Those may very often be the targets of my anger, but they are never the cause. The cause of anger – of righteous, burning, passionate anger – is inequality, injustice, hunger, poverty, - the intangible wrongs that permeate the same communities year after year.
And so even in the midst of my joy and support and disbelief and utter pleasure at the swinging of the political pendulum back to the side of the people, I will remain angry as long as tragic health, education and economic disparities exist. As long as I can’t find fresh produce and clean parks between all of the liquor stores and check cashing places in certain neighborhoods. As long as little black boys remain the most socially isolated and disparaged children in America’s education system. As long as jails are overcrowded while schools are being shut down.
I have to have enough skepticism to keep searching for the answers, and uncovering the lies, and shedding light on the corruption, and just enough optimism to encourage young people to run for office, and believe that there are people in my generation that can be the change that we want to see in the world.
So yeah – I think I’ll stay a little bit pissed. It makes for a better world.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
So last Friday I got a call from CNN.com to come and do a quick segment on Pelosi and the CIA, with a short pivot to Obama’s announcement about military tribunals. Kind of random (since I don’t work on any of the above issues), but couldn’t be too difficult, right?
Despite my quick prepping on CAP’s stance on the two issues, and all of my learned experience doing 30 second sound-bite punditry, I still somehow managed to bring down my entire organization, excuse George Bush for war crimes, and overall destroy liberal politics as we know them. Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it was still pretty bad.
When the conversation veered slightly off topic and turned into a yelling match about torture between two other bloggers, making it difficult for me to jump in, my talking point about “moving forward and taking the American people’s attention off Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda” (which I intended to say only in reference to the Pelosi/CIA who-dunnit) somehow came out as the following –
The American people right now are actually not interested in this sideshow and this discussion. The American people are interested in looking forward -- nobody is concerned anymore with what the Bush administration was doing and did. We decided it was torture. Conservatives may or may not disagree. None of that matters at this point and time.
What the heck did I just say? Dear God – A TORTURE APOLOGIST TOOK OVER MY BODY.
Looking back at the quote, I’m honestly not sure how I could have said something so wholly inaccurate and misrepresenting of my own personal opinion and the work of my organization and “the American people”. Me? A black woman who proudly wears her “Where are my reparations T-shirt” every Black History Month? Would I really suggest that America look away from and excuse its very recent and inhumane past? I think not. And yet, it appears as if I did.
In fact, the argument that she used (and yes, I’m now referring to the person using my mouth to speak as “she”) was straight out of the conservative playbook. Misspeaking has never hurt so much and 10 minute segments split between 4 people and 2 anchors don't leave much opportunity for on-air self-correction. All I could do was log off and hope that nobody was watching.....
Ummm...nope. Not that lucky.
Since then, progressive bloggers and several viewers have pointedly taken me to task on the quote – and rightly so….if it had been me. But it wasn’t. It was the renegade spirit of a wingnut.
As I spend the next 3 days restraining from all political commentary and confessing my liberal sin I ask for forgiveness from my fellow progressive bloggers and the millions (well, 8 to be exact) of Americans that have emailed me upset about my mischaracterization of American public opinion and my own. I am sincerely sorry.
And rest assured that if the torture apologist ever rears her ugly head around these parts again, aiming to trip up my words, I'll make sure to get rid of her swiftly and surely - especially before appearing on national tv.
The next morning as I scoured through the news coverage of the event, I looked, hoping that one of the dozen or so stories would highlight the most important element of the evening. No luck. I found details of the performances, the food, the location, the attire, but the one most defining, perhaps indescribable element of the evening that few news outlets have covered was the atmosphere. The White House felt like home. A house more gilded and historical and bejeweled than any I have ever lived in, but a comforting, welcoming, beautiful, and kinetic, home just the same. And it was a home that felt like many neighborhoods in urban America – diverse, loud, filled with laughter and love.
As I walked through security a woman in front of me was pulling out her ID and said, “I’m so nervous!”. The security guard smiled and said “Why? This is the people’s house. Your house.”. I knew right then and there that this was going to be an experience unlike any other. And the event did not disappoint.
As the event drew to a close and I waited for my high heeled feet to stop throbbing before I began the walk home, I took a rest in the East Room and sat on an ornate bench near a friendly older woman with a thick Spanish accent. She was the mother of one of the spoken word performers. She turned to me, shaking her head and smiling from ear to ear, and said very simply: “My daughter in the White House. Who would have thought?” I looked around at the sea of young black and brown faces and said back to her “Certainly not me.” And I’m so lucky to have been a part of it.
With Justice Souter announcing his pending retirement from the Supreme Court, heavy speculation as to who President Obama will pick as his replacement has begun in full force. Already, women’s groups and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only female judge on the 9-member court, have spoken out very openly about the need for another woman on the court. Women everywhere are demanding that he use his choice to appoint a woman, and conventional wisdom seems to suggest that he will.
But have people forgotten that Clarence Thomas is the only person of color on the court? Should there not be some sort of representational parity there as well?
I mentioned this to a friend the other day and he immediately responded back with the question “If you had to pick, which do you prefer? A woman or a person of color on the Supreme Court?”
And there’s the problem.
Not only am I am once again having to “choose between my gender and my race” in society’s eyes (flashback Barack vs. Hillary) but I am supposed to value one identity over the other. is it more meaningful to have someone represent my concerns as a person of color or as a woman on our nation’s highest court? Knowing our nation’s history, both are of supreme importance.
But people seem to forget – we carry multiple identities. The idea that I am always forced to choose says that not only to people not understand or respect my full identity, but it also means that someone like me – a black or brown woman – is almost never one of the options. News flash: there are more people in this world than black men and white women.
What about the idea that I shouldn’t have to choose – that the Supreme Court and other high offices should have candidates that break traditional gender and racial categorization but instead represent a portion of America that rarely has strong role models in positions of power: women of color (and no, Oprah isn’t enough).
So here’s hoping that Barack Obama does the unthinkable with his one slot and appoints someone to the Supreme Court that adds not only gender or racial diversity in appearance, but also in the unique life experience that black and brown women across the world, and particularly in America, share.
I woke up this morning wondering if he remembers what he said to me last night...and more importantly, if he meant it.
Don’t worry - I’m not talking about some inappropriate, personal encounter. I’m talking about President Obama. I went to bed last night with his press conference on my mind and woke up to the fact that today is the first day after the first 100 days.
Now that the arbitrary time marker has passed, what is it that we want President Obama to whisper in the American ear to give us confidence that the path he has set us on will be filled with the effective follow through and implementation of the foundation that he has been laying since January 20th? What can he say to us now?
1. “I won’t back down.”
With the House and Senate both having passed the President’s unprecedented, budget just yesterday, many of the fights around the most important issues within it (i.e. a public option universal health care system and a Pell grant entitlement program) will continue into the summer. As the President’s proposals become increasingly bogged down between partisan bickering in Congress, those of us that support the most progressive aspects of his agenda, must be assured that he will not allow the spirit of compromise and pragmatism to water down his most ambitious goals in the months ahead.
2. “I’m not afraid. “
We have watched President Obama play the game like a pro – saying what he needed to say when he needed to say it and never going too far. But now we’re looking for him to say a little bit more. When is he going to stop talking about the middle class and start actually talking about poverty? When does he plan on touching the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? And need I ask again about crack/powder cocaine? How about looking big industry in the face and attacking the myth of clean coal? It’s time for him tell us firmly that he’s not afraid to take it there.
3. “I still need you.”
The President must continually remind the country of its own role in the process of turning our country around. Progressives – especially new young voters – are actively engaging in the civic and legislative processes and will continue to – especially if we feel as if our voices are valued and are being heard. We need the President to create an echo chamber between us and Congress that amplifies our effort and our stories. He must always remember that to get the work done, he need us just as much as we need him.
This is what I need to hear on day 101. What about you?
(originally posted on 4/23/09)
Let’s be honest – Carlton from the Fresh Prince was the only black Republican that ever won our hearts. Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, Don King… There’s something about black Republicans that just gets under black liberals’ skin. Especially now. Show me a black man that didn’t vote for Barack Obama and I’ll show you a million more that are angry with him. But why is it? It can’t be a purely political dislike for conservatives because there are many African Americans that are just as conservative on social issues – particularly those with even loose ties to a religious community. And its certainly not a historical legacy, because Lincoln was Republican and, based on his policy record alone, Nixon was a more progressive president than Bill Clinton.
So why do we assume black Republicans are sellouts that have some element of self hate? And why do we respond so harshly their opinions?
The legacy of slavery in America tells us that if we’re not all together, we’ll never be free and that “them” being “over there” hurts “us” “over here”. Especially when “over there” is considered the big house”of American politics – the part with more economic clout, and, as of late, governing power. And if the Republican party is the house, the Democratic party is the field. Self-preservation tells us that we’ll never get out of the field, while some of us are still in the big house.
There is, of course, some truth to the idea that a group divided is never as strong as a group united…but that is assuming that the group has one common goal. And we don’t. No one does. But political ideologies clearly aren’t our greatest divide in the black community, so our anger is sorely misguided.
Class, educational background, age and generational identification, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, are just a few of the frameworks that have set up cultural divides within the black community. We can’t even agree on the light skin vs. dark skinned issue, let alone a political philosophy.
Black Republicans are not the problem. The key isn’t to persuade, recruit, or attack those on the “opposite side”. Our task is instead to better mobilize the people who do share our goals to win victories for social justice. Period. The problem isn’t the people in the big house – it’s the people in the field not willing to run. If we actually got all the progressives together to exercise their power, we wouldn’t have time to hate on black Republicans. We’d be too busy loving ourselves.
Friday, April 17, 2009
My love affair with this dog has almost matched my infatuation with his owners. The media frenzy this week shows us that despite what some would have us believe, our love affair with the Obamas has not yet ended.
I know that as a political activist I shouldn’t admit to this. And in particular, as a black political leader, I am not supposed to admit that I’m in love with Barack, with Michelle, and with this Administration. But that’s because many of our social justice activists and leaders don’t understand how true love works.
When I love, I love fiercely. Sure lovers are loyal, supportive and protective. But in a healthy relationship, they are also honest, critical, challenging, and so connected and united that they are willing to work overtime for the success of their shared vision. The love affair that many in our communities have with this Administration doesn’t mean that we won’t question his decision to send troops to Afghanistan. It doesn’t mean that we won’t push him to address crack and powder cocaine disparities. It doesn’t mean that we won’t follow his every single move with our money on issues like health care, jobs, and education. On the contrary it means that we care and will pay attention and cultivate a political relationship of intimacy, honesty, trust, and passion – working hard to get things done together.
So for all of my fellow well intentioned activists, commentators and leaders who have come into my community and said to the excited, wide-eyed, first time voters “Get over the love for Obama”, you’ve been playing it wrong and are risking not only alienation from progressive people of color and our generation, but of souring the beauty of a transformative moment in politics that has the potential to bring people into a process that has for so long kept them locked out. Our infatuation with Bo, and the rest of his family, isn’t a hindrance to political engagement. It’s a motivator.
So stop trying to break us up. Just encourage us to be better lovers.
reprinted from 4/9/09
If you are gay or a gay rights activist in America, this past week was the week for you. First, the Iowa Supreme Court legalized gay marriages. Then Vermont became the fourth state to recognize those marriages – and the first to do it legislatively instead of through the courts. Last but not least, the D.C. Council then unanimously voted to recognize the gay marriages performed elsewhere. To top it all off, Obama did specific outreach to gay families and designated a good amount of the coveted, already sold out tickets for the National Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn.
So what does this mean for the broader hip hop community? What's the lesson for those of us passionate about other issues like poverty, education, health care, and some tangible survival issues that impact our neighborhoods and our livelihoods?
Sure, it could spark a long conversation about homophobia, and equality, and the tide is changing for discrimination of all types in this country. But for the hip hop community, or anyone else that has been historically disenfranchised, oppressed, or written off, there are three more important, political lessons for us:
1. The underdogs can win.
Sure the conservatives want us to believe that “gays are taking over” and that everyone and everything is gay now, but the reality is, no matter how much visibility gay people have, America is still a largely, overwhelmingly heterosexual and homophobic country – both in population and in culture. Gay rights activists are then in essence, an interest group, a type of minority group if you will, that has worked to leverage their power, their resources, and their messaging to bring about real political change.
2. Everything isn’t a national battle.
Sure a federal law allowing same sex marriages would be a bigger victory than small state wins. But leaders of the same sex marriage fight are smart enough to know that state victories create political momentum, targeted areas to fight, and winnable campaigns. Rather than looking to Obama for everything, they are looking at local leaders, state houses, and courts to gradually, state by state, give the small victories that will one day lead to a national win.
3. Things can change.
If you had told my grandmother 20 years ago that same sex marriages would be legal anywhere in this country, she wouldn’t have believed you. Now she looks at the tv in disbelief and says “Well I guess anything can happen in America.” Power grows slowly but it does grow and you can be a part of a movement that will actually achieve political gains. It just takes time, dedication, and strategy.
Let’s learn some strategy from this past week so that you, your community and your issues can also have the best week ever.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Imagine if your city didn’t have representation in Congress. There would be no one protecting and representing your interests in federal politics, even though everyone in the rest of the entire country had Senators and Representatives.
What if, after decades of battles, when a bill that would finally grant you a fraction of representation is about to pass, they tell you that the only way you can get it is to change the gun laws that your city created to protect your community, even though the two issues have nothing to do with one another?
What if at the same time, the Justice Department was challenging whether or not it was even legal for you to have representation?
The only place that this ridiculous, dysfunctional situation would occur is in our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C.
Two weeks ago, the DC Voting Rights Act, a bill that would grant the city one voting member in Congress, was stalled again – this time because a few pro-gun members of Congress slyly attached to the bill a random, unrelated amendment that would force D.C. to loosen their own gun laws. (As the former murder capitol of the U.S., D.C.’s gun laws are stricter than most).
Now the Justice Department is fighting over whether or not the voting rights bill is even Constitutional because D.C. is not really a state. So its looking like the bill won’t be considered again until May. So where is the public outrage from the rest of the country?
D.C., a city that is 60% African American, a city without a state, is a city with no true political voice. And no one outside of D.C. seems to care.
But the people and families that live here do have a voice. I’m not talking about the Washington that people think is a city of politicians and lobbyists from other states. I’m talking about the other part of the city – where the people have been living for generations, where the kids attend some of the worst public schools in the nation, where they gave us Duke Ellington, Howard University, Marvin Gaye and Dave Chapelle. Where they listen to go-go music, eat mumbo sauce, and have jobs, and friends, and churches. Obama’s new ‘hood. I’m talking about the D.C. of the people.
The powers that be are using loopholes, tricks, and laws to justify relegating that D.C. (an overwhelmingly Democratic population) to a lower political status than the rest.
So where are our national civil rights leaders talking about this? Where is that celebrity from the area (or the urrrea as we say) that’s going to pick up this fight the same way Russ did for Rockefeller drug laws and Clef did for poverty in Haiti?
And more importantly, where are you?
D.C. residents have hopped on buses and walked across state lines to protest civil rights violations for everything from Jena 6 to Amadou Diallo to the voter suppression in Ohio. This may not be as dramatic, but it’s just as important. And it’s time folks return the love.
President Obama supports the cause, but It’s your Congresspeople that hold the fate of the District in their hands. Which means it’s your voice that counts.
Make sure they hear it.
Many are calling the fight over the economy the fight for our future – and it indeed is. But it is also the fight over our political present. Do young people, the most promising, newly respected voting block, and in particular, the young progressives that propelled President Obama into office, still have the power? And can we keep it through the first substantive political battle of the new Administration?
If the rhetoric around newly engaged voters during the election was “You don’t vote. You never do.”, it’s very easy for the post election assumption, even after we voted in record numbers, to be an extension of that same message: “So you voted. You won’t stay involved and engaged. You won’t actually hold your elected officials accountable.”
The minute you win the title, even with a TKO, there’s someone coming for your spot.
It will be easy for underrepresented communities to be written off (again) if we remain silent during the debate over the budget and the distribution of the stimulus money.
The economy isn’t just Obama’s first challenge. It’s ours. The stimulus and the budget are our first opportunity to substantially weigh in on a contentious policy debate, the outcome of which will directly impact us and generations to come.
It's time to flex our new found political muscle by paying attention and speaking up.
There’s no doubt we’re paying attention to the crisis: It’s blasted all over every newspaper, magazine, blog, tv show, and paycheck. We see it with our unemployed family members, our friends dropping out of school, and our coworker that’s working three jobs to get by. So we do the easiest thing to do when we’re suffering: Shout loudly about what’s wrong. But are we being just as loud about how to make it right?
For a demographic of people that popular culture thinks can’t balance a checkbook and is drowning in debt, it’s a difficult issue to start off with. Not only is economic philosophy complicated, the idea of cracking open a 150 page copy of the budget isn’t at the top of my list of “fun things to do”. In fact, I know firsthand from being on Capitol Hill that there are freshmen Congresspeople who don’t even understand all of the ins and outs of the process.
But let’s at least find out the basics (how does all of this work and who are the major players) and then, perhaps the most important part, get some key messages and spread them like the chickenpox. Key messages are simply core ideas that support your position. So for example, one key message for me, as someone in favor of the President’s budget, is:
We need a budget that supports improving education, reforming health care, and investing in clean energy. The President’s version invests in the change we voted for and we demand that Congress protect those priorities.
Take that message, or any other that represents your own position, and get to work. Blog about it, call in to local radio stations…and the if-you-do-nothing-else-please-do-this step: Call/email your congressperson. It’s easy, effective, and if you do it once, you’ll be hooked.
Political power is all about participation and you’re only as good as your last fight. If we don’t make our voices heard now, not only could we lose the potential for bold, aggressive economic decisions that pay for what we want, we lose some of the political respect that we fought so hard for and deserve.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I fundamentally disagree.
There is another, equally important part of the political process that has the potential to engage and involve every single person in my generation: Knowledge may be power, but message is powerful. A message is the set of words that articulate a feeling, a desire, a need, a principle, and a demand. A good message is one that spreads. A great message is the one that millions of people, all across the country, are saying at the same time. The best message is the one that becomes a part of our culture, and makes things happen. Message, not just policy, is the key to politics.
Don’t get it twisted – civic education is an important part of my day to day job. Its absolutely necessary that we understand the system in which we live, especially since EVERYTHING IS POLITICAL – where we live, what we eat, what we get paid, even our music. But the average person has such limited time to be engaged at a high level in the political process that they stay silent, thinking that they’d rather not talk about something they know so little about. And if they’re not comfortable enough to talk about the process, do you think they’ll actually get out and do the hardcore work (signing petitions, lobbying their elected officials, organizing at alocal level) to impact the process? Probably not, because message inspires action.
So message is the first, most important step in getting folks involved AND representing people and their interests to the government and mainstream media in a true, honest, and effective way. Talk may be cheap, but an effective message, is priceless and ultimately, message makes the world go round. Here are a few recent examples:
- Messages elect governments. Barack Obama didn’t sell us policy. He sold us the idea that America needed “change” and that young people were an important voting block. And not only did that message get him elected (and a record turnout from our generation), it got many other people at lower levels of government elected as well.
- Messages start wars. All the Bush Administration had to do was tell us that we should be afraid, that we were unprotected targets, and that force is the best way to combat “evil”. We bought the message that saidnational security was our most important concern (despite crippling domestic poverty, a crumbling health care system, children who are getting shot and killed in our neighborhoods), and the rest is Iraq war history.
- Messages hurt communities. Do you think that the people who support the so-called war on drugs have ever themselves had a loved one struggling with addiction? Or lived in a community where drugs was a primary economy as a result of a failing education system and bottomed out job market? Probably not. But they bought the message that the way to solve our drug crisis is to lock up poor black and Latino kids for life. We know how that turned out.
- Messages make policy. Once the Bush Administration got us to believe their message of fear and protection, they used our “support” to tap phone lines, take our troops into an ill conceived war, spend billions of dollars and all other sorts of criminal acts. President Obama is counting on the same thing. Because we bought his message of dramatic change during the election, he was able to close Guantanamo, sign an equal pay for women act, and pass the biggest recovery package in American history, all before most of us knew what was going on. He didn’t need us to take action and make noise about every single decision – he (and Congress) simply made the priorities match the message.
Unfortunately, as communities underrepresented in the political process, we’re losing the battle. Our generation, able to text, tweet, and spit verses so lyrical it makes your head spin, has the potential to be the king- and queen- pins of messaging and unify our voices. But no one’s stepping up to do that work and start the national conversation. There are no PR firms and communications directors for the average American. But I can do my part.
Remember the 150 page budget I talked about earlier? You don’t need you to read it word for word, but you can’t be silent on it either. We need you be calling your senators, and talking to your city council, and sending emails to your school board, and calling into your radio stations, and blogging, and chatting in the barbershop repeating the messages that represent us: “The money needs to get directed to the communities that need it the most “ and “Its time to finally invest in education, health care, and the things that will impact our future, no matter what the cost” and “Big companies got a bailout. Where’s mine?” and “We’re not in this mess because poor people bought houses they couldn’t afford. We’re in this mess because the economic policies of this country protected the interests of greedy rich people.” and so on.
My purpose is to speak those messages of political empowerment to my people (and no I’m not going to define “my people” – ya’ll know who you are) and speak the messages about my people that make everyone else listen, take notice, and give respect.
There’s a battle going on in this nation over our present and our future that we cannot afford to lose. So let’s get the message right.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A dear friend of mine, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, was on Bill Maher several days ago crushing the conservative, newly libertarian Andrew Breitbart.
Was it a rhetorical and, dare I say, intellectual mismatch? Obviously. And frankly, it amazes me that there are people still surprised by statements about the disparities between low-income, urban schools and well resourced suburban schools, or the realities that school teachers in those environments face, or the idea that there is such a thing as coded racism. But buried within the usual progressive vs. conservative arguments about science, racism, and education was a nugget of observation from Dr. Dyson that I found to be the most subtly profound statement of the entire show:
You live in a bubble…collectively, a right wing worldview that disallows interaction with other people.
There is something frightening and
saddening maddening about a political ideology whose modern day practice stands on a foundation of utter rejection of truth and an isolation from not only “the least of these” but from anyone with functioning eyes. It is the denial of the Lower Ninth Ward before Katrina; the denial of police brutality before Rodney King; and while ignorance – the state of not knowing – is in and of itself a shame, the outrage is the denial of Lower Ninth Ward-like poverty after Katrina; the denial of police brutality after Rodney King. It is the denial of
A difference in opinion about how to solve problems (big government vs. little government, religion vs. politics, etc.) is not only understandable; it’s a valuable part of what makes multiplicity of thought central and unique to our national conversation. In fact, arguing about how to solve problems inevitably creates the best solutions. But an argument about reality? Using Bill Maher’s definition of science as something unequivocal and indisputable in its existence (“evolution isn’t a belief,” he says. “It’s a process that happens” whether or not we choose to acknowledge it), a discussion of poverty, classism, racism, and any of
For progressives, particularly those with a mission of social justice, having to first jump the hurdle of acknowledging the existence of a problem (i.e. racism still exists, black children on average receive an inferior education, education policy is inherently tied to housing policy, etc.) before figuring out how to solve it – makes the road to progress long and hard.
Many thanks to Dr. Dyson and the other sharp needles who take on the added task every day of speaking truth, bursting bubbles and telling it like it t-i-is.
(Relevant reading: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas )
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Now, let’s get on with the business of unabashed criticism.
For those not familiar with the recent kafuffle between Steele and conservative, shock jock radio host Rush Limbaugh, here’s a quick summary:
During an interview over the weekend with CNN’s D.L. Hughley, Michael Steele was quoted as saying that “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh—his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly." When Hughley referred to the radio host as "the de facto leader of the Republican party." Steele replied decisively, "No he's not. I'm the de facto leader of the Republican party,"
Bravo, Mr. Steele for taking to task the biggest blemish on your party’s new and improving reputation. It was, I hoped, a forecast of other house cleaning to come.
But my excitement was short-lived.
Limbaugh promptly responded as most imbeciles do to the truth: with anger and incredulity. Within hours, Mr. Steele retracted his honest and courageous statements so quickly and completely, I had to google the story to make sure that it hadn’t all been a figment of my imagination.
“I looked back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not. I’m not going to engage these guys and sit back and provide them the popcorn for a fight between me and Rush Limbaugh. No such thing is going to happen. … I wasn’t trying to slam him or anything.”
Seriously? Because the last time I checked, Rush Limbaugh was, actually, the boogeyman.
More insightful than that finer point, is this: To have the official, appointed head of the Party cow-towing to a hot-headed radio personality either dramatically inflates Limbaugh’s importance or actually confirms and exposes the reality that Michael Steele tried to disguise in his original statement: Steele is but a figurehead, beholden to the same old guard leadership, rhetoric, and one can assume, divisive and separatist strategies of the Republican party.
I have, up until now, given Mr. Steele the benefit of the doubt. I cringed when progressives and African Americans called him Unlce Tom and Sambo for daring to be a black Republican.
Perhaps my willingness to forgive him his place within an overwhelmingly racist and classist political party comes from my own religious experiences. Indulge me if you will this dissimilar but analogous comparison:
I have been a member of my non-denominational but Baptist/Pentecostal-leaning church since I was 9 months old. My parents, its founding pastors, started the church in our basement and since then have grown it, beyond my father’s untimely death in the pulpit nine years ago, into a small but thriving community. Throughout the course of the past 25 years however, and in particular during my academic and professional awakening, I have developed decidedly liberal political and thus theological views as compared to the rest of my congregation and its clergy (still led by our fearless pastor, my mother). Despite these differences of theory, and sometimes practice, I hold several leadership positions within the ministry due in part to my love for the people and the fundamental (not fundamentalist) principles which provided a foundation for my growth, spiritual maturity and wellbeing.
The justification for my staying despite some pretty significant differences in theological interpretation is that without me, I fear that the church I so desperately love might become more conservative on issues of choice and sexuality, and thus farther and farther away from where I believe they are actually called to be. In short, I love them too much to not believe in their eventual enlightenment.
It is with this background and context that I, perhaps foolishly, identified with Michael Steele. I believed his pleas that there could be open-minded, balanced, people – people of color, for that matter - within the Republican party just as I hope many believe my cries that there can be open-minded, politically progressive people within a largely evangelical religious institution.
So against my better judgement, I turned the other cheek during his 2006 Senate race when it was discovered that someone paid homeless people to distribute inaccurate fliers in my home county, an overwhelmingly Democratic precinct. The materials blatantly lied and said that the Ehrlich-Steele ticket was a Democratic ticket.
Maybe he wasn’t capitalizing on the ignorance of low-information voters and in particular voters of color in my neighborhood. Maybe the voter suppression ploy had nothing to do with him, and he was just a victim of the type of dirty politics that his colleagues played, just as well-meaning Hillary supporters were often victims of the guilty-by-association racism that was instigated by other anti-Obama Democrats.
I tried to turn the other cheek…again against my better judgement… several weeks ago when he began throwing around phrases like “bling bling” and talking about “off the hook” strategies to recruit young people to the Party. Maybe he wasn’t tokenizing young people and in particular, young people of color, and in particular, young people of color who identify with hip hop culture. Maybe he’s just an old guy trying to understand the MTV generation?
But I’ve now run out of cheeks to turn (or at least any that I’d like to include in this metaphor).
Michael Steele’s apology as the head of the party to Rush Limbaugh could be compared to me ascending to senior pastor, arguably the penultimate position of leadership within my church, and still espousing, allowing or supporting beliefs that wholly represent the congregation that are contrary to my own. Even worse, it would be like me as the senior pastor, cowering under the reprimand of a loud-mouthed usher who happens to have the meanest, ugliest church members behind her .
Why backtrack on the three kernels of truth said during the interview? 1. Rush Limbaugh is entertainment. 2. He says ugly things. 3. Steele is the confirmed leader of the party.
To say that this was a misstatement all but shouts that 1. Rush Limbaugh is more than entertainment – he is certified, significant leadership and the things that he says on his shock jock radio show are to be taken as serious, substantive views that represent your party. 2. What he says is not ugly, and even his most incendiary remarks are not worthy of reprimand. 3. Even you must answer to him, because you are an impotent RNC chairman.
Mr. Steele, if you are going to continue to do your traveling road show, attempting to convince everyone, and in particular communities of color, that you are the breath of fresh air that the Party so desperately needs, we’re going to need some proof. (Or has us hip hoppers like to say – We don’t believe you. You need more people.) Start bringing to the forefront some fresh leaders – the ones who you swear up and down have been biding time during the Bush years feeling as if the rhetoric and policies of hatred, oppression and fear don’t represent them as loving, positive, open-minded Republicans. Because until I see you practicing what you preach and unveiling at least a solid contingency of your party that values diversity, equality, and civility as much as you say you do, you’re going to have a difficult time changing the party from inside Rush Limbaugh’s shadow.
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