Friday, April 17, 2009

If Loving You is Wrong...

I don’t want to be right. And certainly not this week: The Obamas have an adorable new dog named Bo. The media has gone wild with its fascination over this pet, and I must embarrassingly admit that I have to.

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.

The Best Gay Week Ever

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

No Love for Chocolate City?

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.

Watch the Money & Defend Your Title

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.