The Hip-Hop Generation Can Call For Peace
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This past weekend, as we mourned the countless victims of 9/11 and built with each other in passionate conversations on what to do next, President George W. Bush finally and unequivocally declared war.
He ordered a call-up of 50,000 reservists--the first step towards reinstituting the draft--while preparing Americans for a long, ground war that could leave many innocent Afghanis dead or displaced. Reversing the Powell doctrine to seize upon a desire for vengeance, he warned that there may be no forseeable end to this war, and declared no specific enemy.
This does not bode well for the hip-hop generation. As STORM, the Bay Area hip-hop activist organization says, "Increasingly, safety at home will require justice abroad." Bush's open-ended war could leave us increasingly insecure, subject to more terror not less, with less justice for all in the world.
Because of its history, the global hip-hop generation can play a crucial moral role in the call for peace--peace on the streets where we live, and a global peace free from terror.
At one time, others dissed our generation by saying that we were privileged, that we had never been tested by war. [This was before Bush's father opened the Persian Gulf War.] The fact is that hip-hop was born under the conditions of war. It grew and spread as a global alternative to war.
Before hip-hop, during the early 1970s, Jamaica's bloody tribal wars fostered a music and culture of defiance in roots, dancehall and dub reggae. This music and culture--a safe space from the bloody gang runnings on the street--immigrated to the Bronx--a space so devastated by deindustrialization and governmental neglect that when Ronald Reagan visited in 1980, he declared that it looked like London after World War II. In the Bronx, the Universal Zulu Nation, hip-hop's first institution and organization, literally emerged from a peace forged between racially divided, warring gangs.
As Reagan took office, immigration was rapidly browning the face of America. The "culture war" was declared--a way to contain the nation's growing diversity. Culture warriors went after youth in their schools; they fought multiculturalism, ethnic studies, and affirmative action. In Congress, they sought limits on movie and music content.
Hip-hop turned out to be everything they detested--it was real, truth-telling, unapologetic, and, worst of all, their kids loved it. Imagine how they felt when Chuck D enlisted millions into the opposition by rhyming, "They'll never care for the brothers and sisters cause the country has us up for a war."
In one sense, hip-hop won the culture war. By the end of the 80s, Public Enemy and Spike Lee, John Singleton and N.W.A., and other brothers and sisters had crashed the lily-white pop culture mainstream. Hip-hop became the single most potent global youth force in a generation.
But the culture war had serious political consequences, too. Right-wingers manufactured the conditions--moving drugs and guns into the ghetto via the wars in Central America--for a resurgence of gang warfare. And they succeeded in stigmatizing inner-city gangs--whose ranks, of course, were swoll with young, poor people of color--as mindlessly, irredeemably violent and evil.
Hip-hop reveled in the young generation's diversity. The culture warriors taught other generations to be afraid of it. When the 90s came, they warned of a coming wave of juvenile crime, one that would crest with the darkening demographic surge.
Their apocalyptic predications began a dramatic shift in juvenile justice, away from rehabilitation towards incarceration. 48 states made their juvenile crime statutes more punitive. Dozens of cities instituted curfews, anti-cruising laws, and sweep ordinances (which were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court but have reappeared in many cities).
Especially after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, as urgent gang truce work forged peace across the country, the new laws were implemented at a feverish clip and enforced with a heavy hand. Juvenile arrests and detention populations skyrocketed, even as juvenile violent crime rates plummeted.
Local police, the FBI, and private companies began compiling gang databases. Every young boy or girl of color who fit the profile--sagging, baggy jeans, athletic shoes, hip-hop swagger--became fodder for the gang databases. In Cook County, IL, the gang database was two-thirds black. In Orange County, CA, 92 percent of those listed in the gang database were of color. Angry Black, Chicano and Latino parents in Denver, CO, learned that eight of every ten young people of color in the entire city were listed.
Post-modern racial profiling was invented for the hip-hop Generation, the most catalogued and surveillanced in history. Along with the "war on drugs"--the only result of which has been racist sentencing and the largest prison population in world history--what hip-hop activists called the "war on youth" left a generation staring into a tense present and an insecure future.
These are the reasons why thousands of hip-hop activists came out to protest at the Republican and Democratic Conventions last year. They took courageous stands against the massive profiling and imprisoning of a generation; against the death penalty; for better education; and for stopping gang violence. They linked these issues to global struggles for economic and racial justice.
Now that President Bush has declared an open war with no clear enemy, the global, multiracial, polycultural hip-hop generation can elevate beyond the chant of "No justice, no peace"--a cry that, in truth, sounds much different when uttered by Bush.
If we can understand the history of wars from Israel to Afghanistan the way that we understand our own generation's history, we can link what is happening on our streets with what is happening in our world.
We can call for peace on our streets--to be free from profiling and imprisoning, to be free from the cycle of violence that causes us to kill each other needlessly.
And we can call for peace in our world--to be free from the kind of terror that strikes our bodies and our hearts, to be free from the cycles of violence driven by geopolitical posturing and economic greed that cause us to kill each other needlessly.
Everyone deserves a better, safer future. Hip-hop has already survived many wars. Time and again, we have learned how to react to crisis by forging a principled peace. As we stand on the brink of the biggest war we have ever faced, let us come together to find the most powerful, lasting peace yet.
-30- [The following is by STORM (Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement), Bay Area activist group with deep hip-hop roots.]
9-11 ATTACKS: STORM'S FOUR MAIN POINTS IN RESPONSE TO THE BOMBINGS OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER & THE U.S. PENTAGON 1. Oppose terrorism, and build people's power: We mourn the loss of life and the great pain endured by those who have suffered as a result of these attacks. Those of us who desire a world free from exploitation and oppression must rely on the consciousness, capacity and confidence of working class and oppressed people to carry out our own liberation. There are no shortcuts in this process. Acts of terrorism against civilian targets do not advance this process, but retard it. We oppose the use of terror tactics - especially such tactics against civilian populations -- as destructive to the fundamental aims of the liberation movement. We must organize our people to liberate themselves with the clarity of their own minds, the courage of their own hearts and the work of their own hands.
2. Oppose the narrowing or elimination of the people's democratic rights: The U.S. government must stop using the suffering of the victims of these attacks as an excuse to narrow and eliminate the people's democratic rights. We oppose any and all efforts to increase the funding and authority of U.S. police and intelligence agencies as a "solution" to this crisis. We are disgusted by the present attempts by the U.S. security and surveillance establishment to use this tragedy to orchestrate a cynical power grab and to cash in on the pain of the victims. We oppose any efforts to wipe out the people's fragile and precious privacy rights; we oppose any efforts to curtail the people's basic First Amendment rights to assemble, speak, publish, protest and organize free from government harassment and surveillance. We must now be extraordinarily vigilant against threats directed against the people - not from underground cells, but from the highest levels of government.
3. Rely on global justice to deter future attacks: The system, in the United States and worldwide, has continually denied peaceful, "legitimate" attempts by those seeking justice and freedom. Through its own reckless, violent and oppressive actions against poor people and people of color, the United States government has fueled frustration, grief and outrage here and across the globe. Just as we mourn the pain and the loss of life stemming from these recent attacks on U.S. soil, we continue to mourn the pain and the loss of life that U.S. military and economic domination inflicts on people worldwide. Suffering under this oppression, people throughout the world are becoming more and more desperate. Neither police repression at home nor U.S. bombs abroad will ease this fundamental despair; to the contrary, such actions will only continue this vicious cycle of frustration and violence. Ordinary people in the United States can best deter future attacks by insisting that the U.S. government abandon its oppressive role of keeping down workers and dominating poor nations around the world. Increasingly, safety at home will require justice abroad. Intensified police crackdowns at home and military savagery abroad are not the answer; the answer is justice. We must not allow the United States to respond with bombs for Third World people and continued support for repressive dictatorships and rapacious corporations. Instead, we demand that the US respond to this crisis with efforts to meet the legitimate demands of the majority of the human family.
4. Oppose racist, anti-Arab bigotry: The media is already feeding the frenzy of anti-Arab hysteria. We cannot allow U.S. racism to blind our minds or cloud our hearts. Stereotypes and scapegoating will not lead us out of this crisis. Solidarity and compassion will. All people -- and especially African-Americans, Asian/Pacific-Americans, Latinas/os and Native Americans -- must stand in solidarity with our Arab and Muslim sisters and brothers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CALL STORM/Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, 510.496.6094
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