WireTap

The Convention Will be Televised

Participants and organizers at the first National Hip Hop Political Convention have their say.
gatheredA melding of live performance, film, panel discussions, and rallies brought some 3000 delegates and participants to Newark, NJ last week for the National Hip Hop Political Convention. The group, which represented an impressive cross section of the hip hop generation, came together from urban areas around the nation to educate and inspire one another's activism and grassroots involvement.

And while there was much talk of the important role this group can and should play in November, the focus went far beyond election 2004. The hope was to create a solid infrastructure that can take hip hop beyond the realm of entertainment and improve the relationships between the older, "Civil Rights Generation" and younger hip-hop heads. Instead of endorsing a single candidate or drilling the importance of voting into participant's heads, convention organizers remained focused on the issues -- from education to health care to the prison industrial complex -- that most need attention. Now, in November and beyond.

Here are some of the voices from the convention.

ayana"I had seen an ad on TV and they needed volunteers, so I came and volunteered. There's a lot going on in the world. And this year, with the war...it's just crazy. Bush is spending all that money on the war when we need better schools. "
–Ayana, 15, Newark resident and convention volunteer

"The best thing that could come out of this is a sustainable, strong movement that creates a progressive political agenda and has the capacity to implement it.

To break that down, if we can have a lot of organizations working together on the grassroots level, trying to implement change through voter registration and education, through civic action, advocacy, direct action, etc. I think that that type of a movement that has multiple facets, that's youth-led, that's creative -- I know it's lofty, but that's the best thing that could come out of this event."
–Baye Adolfo Wilson, Conference Co-Chair

sekou"One of the challenges is convincing people that they have the capacity to [make change] because Americans are so demoralized. Using hip hop as a tool to do that is exciting because there's an inherent value that hip hop gives to people "off the block" in terms of what politicians ignore. And hip hop, itself, has a democratic sensibility. It's very regional and very localized while always having a national appeal. I'm from St. Louis and when I hear people sing about the streets I grew up on, you know what I'm saying, there's a democratic sensibility...so it can counteract and overcome the lack of value that young people feel in relation to the political system, but also in their everyday lives.

The political infrastructure that exists is not appealing to young people, nor is it accommodating them nor is it recruiting them. Whether it is within electoral politics and partisan politics, or in traditional civil rights organizations. And even organizations that have come into existence after the civil rights movement still have not valued youth voice. The constituency that we are organizing has no infrastructure now...other than through club networks, through street teams and local organized groups.

But the primary challenge is that people don't feel that the democratic ideal has value to them, therefore electoral politics are irrelevant to them...at best they are suspicious, at worst, they disdain such politics."
–Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, 32, Community Organizer and Convention Coordinator

san jose organizers"I was talking to the aide to a city councilman here in Newark and he was talking about education and empowering youth of color here. I work for Californians for Justice in San Jose and I gave him some newsletters 'cuz some of the educational issues are similar. So it's like if we can really show the national government that we're doing this in all these places, it's more powerful than just in our states ... to get every state to rally around these same issues, I think that'd be real cool."
–Lindsey Long, 19, San Jose Hip Hop Political Convention Commitee

I think it's a historical moment, to be at the very first, ever, national Hip Hop political convention. It's so important to be able to do that with culture ...and Hip Hop is no longer just culture, it's a philosophy, a way that social justice work is organized. It's a way that people are coming together across races and classes, and to be part of that this weekend and voting on a national agenda is tight.
–Organizer, San Jose Political Hip Hop Convention Commitee

angela woodson"My own personal goal here is to empower as many people younger than me as possible. While I'm still young, I still want to give this energy to someone even younger than me, so I can sit back at 50 or 60 yrs old and enjoy watching them moving the country in the direction it needs to move, because there've been too many mistakes and too much, as we say drama, so it's gonna take years and years and years to repair, but at least we've built the ground floor to start to try to change it.

The challenge is "where do we go from here?" How do we keep the momentum that we build at an event like this?
–Angela Woodson, 36, national co-chair

"I work in a re-entry program for ex-offenders ...and I'm a hip hop artist. I live hip hop. I dance, I write and I tap into my creative energy and that is the model I use to navigate myself through life. Anytime you have a phenomenon such as hip hop that sweeps the mind of so many people, that has to be politicized, as far as I'm concerned, because anything that can influence you or put something in your brain that wasn't there, is worth using as a tool to break through stereotypes, to enlighten people, etc.

angela woodsonThe hip hop culture isn't looked upon as a substantiated culture, because it's bigger than, say "Appalachian culture" or "Native American culture" or any one kind of people from one place ...it has spread to a point to where it has to be accepted, dealt with and respected!"
–Sol Jasun Prophet, MC and Community Organizer, Cincinatti, OH.

"I'm here to spread awareness about the work we're doing in Atlanta and to show brothers and sisters that you can make moves with hip hop that have a lasting effect on your community. I'm also here to represent from the perspective of everything I've seen and activate people into doing something. So my whole role is to do everything I can do and lead by example, basically. I work in a penitentiary in Atlanta ...and that's what keeps me going is brothers calling me, from the pen, telling them how much it means to them."

–Thomas Gibbs, delegate, Atlanta, GA

"I run a program called the Racial Justice Campaign Fund at Progressive Majority and we work to elect people of color at the local, state and national level. Part of the reason I came to the Hip Hop Convention is to meet progressive young people of color who are getting more politically active and hear from them about why it's important to elect progressive people of color, to get united behind folks who are gonna stand up for our communities and our issues."
–Darshan Khalsa, director, Racial Justice Campaign Fund

Darshan
"For me, there isn't any one issue that's more important than the others. Because the prison industrial complex, health care and education -- it's all the same on some level, it's about equal opportunity and equal access and people having true and honest potential for greatness. Everybody is born with the potential and the right to be whoever it is that they're supposed to be. And then you go to a school where they don't have books for you, or you get sick and you can't afford to get better, or you're discriminated against because you're gay or because you're a woman or because you're black and it stifles your potential and it puts you in a position where you have to fight to be who it is you're supposed to be in the first place. And a lot of people don't have the skill or the wherewithal or the information to know that they're even allowed to fight in the first place."
–Anasa Troutman, convention organizer, Atlanta, GA

poster
"What hip hop head can resist the appeal of meeting other hip hop heads from Chicago and Detroit and seeing what's going on in different places?

I'm riding around New Jersey, here in Brick City and I'm looking at cats and the situation is so familiar. Dudes is even looking familiar, you know what I'm saying? So it's the same problems. So, holler at fools here, holler at fools there, and connect on that tip. We might have the police issue worked out in Oakland and they don't over here, so we share solutions, and just trade."
–Dan, MC, from Oakland.

"I have so many friends getting locked up. I'm sure if they had been here they would have left this room with a different perspective on their lives. But they're not here. So my job, my responsibility, is to go back and let my friends know, let them know what's going on out here."
–Helen, 18, ACLU volunteer

Sol Jasun Prophet contributed to this collection of interviews.

T. Eve Greenaway is an editor at WireTap.