On the Spot: Slam Bush
Why is this election season different from all others? The answer may be fun. If you've been to political functions in the past, you've probably run across the same problems many others have: Borrrring. Not to mention the wall to wall white male faces spouting the rhetoric of inclusiveness and multiculturalism.
Last Wednesday night's Slam Bush party, in a tony Soho bar, featured homemade hip-hop and some world-class slam poetry from Andrew Tyree (currently a semi-finalist in the prestigious Nuyorican poetry slam championship).
On one level Slam Bush is a nationwide slam poetry contest where rappers and poets compete "with their best anti-Bush songs and poems." Twenty-five "rhyme contests" in swing state cities culminated in the championships last night, September 29, in Miami (go here for that story). This is no small potatoes; the Roots performed and counted among the event's judges was hip-hop God and former Public Enemy frontman, Chuck D. On another level it's a massive get out the vote effort designed to give a forgotten demographic some political clout. But more on the innards of Slam Bush below. First, the event.
Things began on a slightly unsteady note. At the open bar, beer and wine flowed but the music, unfortunately, did not. The featured DJ, getting a quick preshow bite and unable to pay the tab for whatever reason, was forced to run and borrow some money before making it to the gig.
That aside, the night was lively, smooth, hopeful, and refreshingly fun. If the activist dream is to create an awareness- (and fund-) raising event you'd go to even if it weren't "important," Slam Bush comes damn close.
After Slam Bush founder (and former AlterNet managing editor) Tate Hausman, briefly introduced the event as a partnership with Billy "Upski" Wimsatt's League of Pissed Off Voters, slam poet Andrew Tyree took the stage. (The "stage" was actually just the front of a booth-lined room filled to capacity with cocktail tables. Performers worked the narrow walkways like 70s lounge singers or game show hosts.) Eyes closed and body working in rhythm to the vocals Tyree recited the first of two anti-Bush rhymes filled with humor, indignation, intelligence and irony:
Without a permit/we can't protest/our government/'cause we don't have a permit/issued by...our government.
The crowd, more ethnically diverse than at any event I've been to, clapped and hooted with great enthusiasm. Following a performance by the winner of one of Slam Bush's Online Competitions, Philadelphia's Verbal Tec (who performed opposite a bumbling Bush surrogate in a rubber mask), Hausman once again took the stage to explain the what, why and how of the Slam Bush project.
Though the form had come from Pissed Off Voters' book, How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office, the shape was born of some good news/bad news numbers Hausman, a hip-hop devotee, was struck by; A whopping 92% of hip-hop generation voters voted for Al Gore in 2000, but only 24% were actually inspired to vote. Lay those numbers over conservative estimates of 20 million hip-hoppers (5 million in battleground states alone) and you've got a sleeping giant.
And rousing that giant for the November election and beyond, is exactly what Slam Bush is all about. That and an excuse to have fun. Apart from the overwhelmingly progressive-leaning sentiments of the Hip-Hop Generation, comes the added benefit of their age. Defined as "18-35 year-olds primarily African American, but also Latino (and increasingly Asian and white kids) that identify with hip-hop music and whose vision of the world has been shaped by hip-hop," this demographic, according to Hausman has a long, long way to go as engaged voters.
He emphasized that this wasn't just about the upcoming election. Once a connection is established and databases created, hip-hoppers could play a crucial role in shaping everything from environmental policies, to arts funding, to women's health issues – the possibilities are limitless.
Resources, he went on, are typically used to convince unaffiliated voters in other, more advanced age groups, who will then need to be courted again and again, come each new election. The younger hip-hop generation can be integrated into progressive causes and form identifications and affiliations that will remain for life – if they're able to turn out in sufficient numbers and politicians pay attention to their concerns. According to Hausman, we should think of investing resources in the concerns of the 20 million strong hip-hop generation, "As a 401K for the planet."