Wednesday, July 24th, 2002

Rev. Al Sharpton told WLIB today he’s suing HBO for a $1 billion for libel and slander because of their airing of a FBI surveillance video from 1983 in which he was shown speaking to an FBI agent attempting to entrap him in a drug deal. Nothing ever came of the attempt back then–but it is interesting the tape has resurfaced in the wake of Sharpton’s visit to Los Angeles on the Donovan Jackson case.

Sharpton says the FBI is trying to derail his presidential campaign. That’s probably just spin control. He hadn’t formally declared or even publicly floated an exploration campaign. But HBO may be kicking itself in a year if Sharpton wins a settlement–he’ll have dough and juice to really try to make a run, then.

On another note, there’s an excellent interview with Al Sharpton in the latest issue of Transition, in which he says, among a lot of other thangs, “White leftists are the biggest hypocrites in America. White leftists and young hip-hoppers: both of them have been missing in action; both of them are full of criticism, but there’s very little participation. They fight everybody who’s fighting the system, but they never get around to fighting the system themselves.” Check it.

posted by @ 5:10 am | 0 Comments

Wednesday, July 24th, 2002

Two pieces from today’s Village Voice’s Chisun Lee illustrate the madness of the INS. The first, Sweep of Faith, describes the INS’ attempts to go after an aging Pakistani who simply overstayed his visa. In the second, Chisun speaks to Slick Rick.

posted by @ 4:11 am | 0 Comments

Friday, July 19th, 2002

Just got back from a reading at Nkiru Center by Bakari Kitwana from his new book, Hip Hop Generation. It’s a very important book (you can check my review of it here). Bakari is now getting a chance to take his message across the country, and is finding that the main question everyone is asking him is: “Where do we go from here?”

The act of him holding dialogues in various cities itself is crucial–he is literally creating spaces to discuss and debate hip-hop activism, something folks both really want and need. Bakari admits he doesn’t have all the answers, but says the important thing is to begin to build networks. Maybe everyone’s answers to the little questions can add up to some answers to all of the big ones. He’s echoing the exact same sentiments we heard on Wednesday at OSI. If you get a chance to hear him speak, definitely do it. Either way, cop the book.

posted by @ 8:56 pm | 0 Comments

Thursday, July 18th, 2002


Last night, I was honored to moderate a panel discussion on hip-hop activism hosted by the Open Society Institute. It brought together a fiery crowd of about 150 people from philanthropy, community organizing, academia, the media and the entertainment industry. Hip-hop celebrities Russell Simmons, Fab 5 Freddy, Kevin Powell, Danny Hoch, Minister Ben Muhammad, and Fab 5 Freddy were also in the house to hear panelists speak to the context behind and the struggles being fought by hip-hop activists.

These people included:

*Kate Rhee, director of Prison Moratorium Project

*Toni Blackman, hip-hop educator, poet, and founder of Freestyle Union

*Marinieves Alba, activist-educator and founder of Hip-Hop LEADS

*Kofi Taha, co-founder and co-director of the Active Element Foundation

*James Bernard, executive co-ordinator of the Project on Race and Democracy and pioneering hip-hop journalist

OSI captured the entire event on audio and will be providing transcripts of the dialogue, which dove deep into issues hip-hop activists are facing on a day-to-day basis. I’ve included my introduction to the panel below, but these words mereley scrape the surface. I would highly recommend everyone check the OSI website in about 2 weeks to get a better feel for the range and depth of the conversation. Check here.

As everyone in the room agreed, although the dialogue was amazing, much more building and networking needs to follow. Many people are discussing that work even as I write this. For updates, just check the blog.




7/17/02, New York City

Thanks very much to the Open Society Institute for hosting this panel discussion on hip-hop activism. And thank you for joining us this evening. Whatever field you are in–whether it be philanthropy, community organizing, youth services, academia, media, the arts, or entertainment—-we are very happy to have you here with us and we hope to have a very stimulating discussion this evening.

Our topic is hip-hop activism—-what is it? Who practices it? Where did it come from? Where is it going?

Hip-hop activism is a tag that young organizers, thinkers, cultural workers and activists have adopted to distinguish our generation’s emerging work for social justice.

Most visibly, we’ve seen hip-hop activism in the recent Hip-Hop Summit Action Network rally, which mobilized celebrity rappers, civil rights organizations and students in support of New York City teachers. We can also recall the extraordinary convergence of hip-hop activists from the anti-globalization and anti-prison movements on the streets of Philadelphia and Los Angeles during the Republican and Democratic Conventions in the summer of 2000.

But the term hip-hop activism describes a broad range of social change practices. For instance, it is applied to:

*organizers who convert rap lyrics into campaigns against corporate interests;

*cultural workers who use graffiti, poetry and theatre to raise political consciousness;

*peer educators who employ hip-hop media representations to enlighten youths about social issues;

*artists who organize transnational youth exchanges based on shared hip-hop culture;

*hip-hop celebrities who lend their names and money to important causes; and

*youth development advocates who speak of creating hip-hop leaders;

And even work that may not explicitly use hip-hop culture, like the delicate work of gang peace organizing, has been called hip-hop activism because it reaches the constituencies that only hip-hop culture can touch;

What everyone agrees is that hip-hop is the lingua franca of young people. You can’t work with this generation without being steeped in hip-hop culture.

Hip-hop emerged in the early 70s as a local Bronx youth subculture which included DJing, MCing, graffiti-writing and b-boying/b-girling. It could be said that the formation of the Zulu Nation in 1973, a group that drew former gang members into the new hip-hop culture, marked the beginning of hip-hop activism.

A decade later, in 1983, hip-hop was well on its way toward becoming global youth culture. It is now, of course, a multi-billion dollar commodity. And while its influence on music, fashion, and style has been well documented, hip-hop has also reshaped youths’ perceptions of race, power, and reality.

Hip-hop is multiracial, polycultural and local. It celebrates where you are from–your block or your ‘hood. And it has become global in effect. Young people now speak of having a hip-hop worldview. Hip-hop activists argue that ours is a worldview looking from the bottom up. Hip-hop has forced us to address where we all are at.

So to flip a famous phrase from the rapper Rakim Allah, hip-hop activism is all about where you’re from and it’s all about where you’re at.

And where we’re all at is in this post-civil rights era, where globalization has transformed traditional social relations, where national politics appears a less viable vehicle for change than ever, and where demographic change has transformed social life.

This era has been one of conservative reaction to progressive agendas and population shifts. Three interrelated trends have shaped the hip-hop generation:

*The first is the right’s attack on affirmative action, bilingualism, and multiculturalism.

*The second is the right’s culture war, which led both political parties to openly attack hip-hop culture and further widened the generation gap (especially in communities of color).

*The third is the War on Youth, the national move towards increasingly punitive juvenile and criminal justice laws and sentencing.

Many people have commented on how these trends have affected diverse communities. Young people also saw them as part of a larger attack on a rapidly browning generation.

So for this generation, hip-hop culture has offered the same kind of space to address the issues of our time that the civil rights movement did for a previous generation.

Since the civil rights movement, national politics has been more successful at rolling back reforms than at producing meaningful change. So the hip-hop generation is forced to engage a wide variety of struggles on a wide variety of fronts, all at the same time.

This is why the term hip-hop activism sometimes seems so broad and encompassing. It is also why hip-hop activism up until recently has been mainly local work, building outward from the ‘hood or the community. For example:

*In Chicago, the University of Hip Hop uses a graffiti mural program to involve youths in community-building work and political education.

*In Atlanta, the Youth Task Force works with rappers like Master P to advance environmental justice campaigns.

*In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Books Not Barscampaign creates and distributes their own music their own label to build their movement against the siting of a new juvenile detention facility.

Yet hip-hop activists also work in a world transformed by globalization. Hip-hop culture, it could be argued, is a product that has been advanced by globalization. But the culture has also created a critical space for progressive thought and action. From the anti-apartheid movement in the mid-80s to the prison-industrial complex movement now, hip-hop has taught global analysis and local practice. Hip-hop is a kind of cultural globalization, linking ghetto to ghetto, yard to yard, city streets to suburban streets, all around the world.

Fundamentally, hip-hop activism emphasizes cultural work and consciousness-raising as a crucial component of organizing for change. If our elders’ cultural movements–everything from the Black Arts Movement to the music of Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye–grew out of the radical politics of the era, the dilemma that hip-hop activists are now faced with is how we try to move cultural power toward political power.

This is where we are at now.

We are imagining and implementing a new set of practices and paradigms that will transform our new world.



Last week, Alex Sanchez received asylum after an epic 2 year-battle with the INS. But the post-9/11 INS roundup continues, and this time they’ve snared a hip-hop legend…

Official Press Release:



July 17, 2002

Six weeks after his arrest in Miami by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the rapper Slick Rick was denied bail in a deportation hearing held in Bradenton, Florida on July 12. Asserting that the English-born rapper represents a “flight risk,” INS Officer in Charge David Wing told Alex Solomiany, Rick’s attorney, that Rick needed to remain in custody while his case is being adjudicated. Immigration Judge Kevin R. McHugh denied bail, noting that he had no jurisdiction in this matter. Mr. Solomiany immediately appealed the court’s decision and has asked the INS to reconsider Rick’s custody status.

Rick’s problems with the INS are longstanding. Although he moved from England to America with his family when he was 11 years old and has been a legal resident since 1976, Rick never became a naturalized citizen. This oversight complicated his legal woes when he committed a felony in New York in 1990 and went to prison in 1991. The INS moved to have Rick deported to England upon the completion of his sentence in America. Rick’s family and friends fought to have him stay here. (He has no remaining family ties to England.) In June of 1995 Rick was granted the right to remain in America. When the INS appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration in November of 1995, their appeal was dismissed. When the INS appealed again, in March of 1997, their appeal was sustained. The Board of Immigration Appeals then ordered Rick to be deported.

Meanwhile, in January of 1996 Rick had been released from prison — he served exactly five years and 12 days — and promptly returned to his home in the Bronx. Informed in 1997 of the deportation order against him, Rick hired an attorney and appealed. He was never informed that there was a standing INS warrant for his arrest.

During the last six years Rick got married, resumed his recording career, and met all the obligations of his parole. He is a property owner and the supportive father of two children.

On May 28th of this year, Rick was hired as an entertainer on the Tom Joyner Foundation’s Fantastic Voyage 2002. The floating show cruised the Caribbean — including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — on a ship called The Explorer of the Seas and featured such other well-known performers as Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, Yolanda Adams, Earth, Wind & Fire, the O’Jays, the Gap Band, Third World, and the Baha Men. When the ship docked in Miami on June 1, Rick was arrested by the INS. The agency charged Rick with deporting himself and illegally re-entering the United States.

Incarcerated at the INS center in Bradenton, Florida, Rick applied immediately to the INS for bond but was denied. In court on Friday, July 12 he renewed his request for bond and was again denied because the immigration judge at the hearing had no authority to grant bond. In fact, in April of 1996, bond-granting authority was removed from immigration judges and given directly to the INS itself in an effort to strengthen America’s internal security following Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Mandy Aragones, Rick’s wife, has decried the INS’s decision to keep Rick in jail. “Ricky presents absolutely no ‘flight risk,’” she says, “I can guarantee my life on that. Ricky is a man of good character, he is hard-working, honest and humble and he would never jeopardize his life again. All his loved ones are here in America. His home is here and his family needs him, especially his daughter and son. He should be allowed to return to his family in New York while sorting out this matter with INS.”

Rick “Slick Rick” Walters was born in London in 1965 and moved with his family to the Bronx in 1975. As a 19-year-old in the summer of 1985 he scored his first big hits, “La Di Da Di” and “The Show.” Three years later Def Jam Recordings released Rick’s first full-length album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. Hailed as a showcase for Rick’s extraordinary writing and rapping skills, it quickly achieved “platinum” status for sales in excess of one million copies and has since established itself as a rap classic.

At the height of his fame in July of 1990, Rick shot and wounded two people in an ill-advised attempt to protect himself against a violent predator. Convicted of attempted murder in the second degree, he began serving his sentence of three-to-ten years in 1991. While he was in jail, he released “The Ruler’s Back” (1991) and “Behind Bars” (1994). In 1999 he released “The Art of Storytelling.” All three albums were certified gold.

Letters of support for Slick Rick have poured in from entertainers, activists, and politicians alike, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, New York State Senator David Paterson, Russell Simmons, and comedian/actor Chris Rock.

In a letter to the INS in Bradenton, actor and rapper Will Smith wrote, “I have known Rick for over 15 years, not just as an artist, but as a friend. He has always been professional, reliable and trustworthy. While I am aware of his past problems, I’ve also had the pleasure to watch him develop into a good person. His many ties to this country, and his family in particular, assure that he will not flee. I respectfully ask that he be allowed to stay in this country and released to his family as soon as possible.”

For more information, call Bill Adler at 212.645.0061 or Kymberlee Norsworthy at 201.985.8892.

To subscribe to the highly irregular Can’t Stop newsletter,

posted by @ 11:40 am | 0 Comments

Wednesday, July 17th, 2002

Today’s CEO Quotable: “I find that all of a sudden, I am a member of a class–CEO’s–that is held in lower repute than priests.”

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

posted by @ 5:56 am | 0 Comments

Monday, July 15th, 2002

From the Los Angeles Times, July 12.

Gang member turned peace activist Alex Sanchez has been granted political asylum, ending a case that was complicated by overtones of the LAPD Rampart Division scandal.

“It has great significance because we have been allowed to keep a great peacekeeper,” said Silvia Beltran, executive director of Homies Unidos, an anti-gang program.

“It’s wonderful news,” said former state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), who befriended Sanchez five years ago and testified on his behalf. “He’s helped a lot of young people stay out of trouble and out of harm.”

Sanchez, now 30, was deported in 1994 to his homeland, El Salvador, because of a decade-old auto-theft conviction and a subsequent parole violation for possessing a firearm. A year later, he returned illegally to the U.S. and eventually helped form the local chapter of Homies Unidos.

Police critics turned Sanchez’s case into a cause celebre, saying it was an example of how the Rampart Division tried to run roughshod over problematic witnesses by having them deported to prevent their testimony.

Sanchez had planned to testify on behalf of a teenager arrested by Rampart officers on suspicion of murder.

In requesting political asylum for Sanchez, his attorney, Alan Diamante, argued that his client might be killed if he was returned to El Salvador because of his links to the Salvadoran gang Mara Salatrucha and his stance against police corruption.

The police chief of San Salvador, Hayden, three anthropologists, a photojournalist and a psychologist were among the witnesses who testified on behalf of Sanchez.

Earlier this week, Sanchez’s conviction for firearm possession was vacated. Two years ago, his felony conviction for auto theft was set aside. With both felony offenses tossed out, the path was cleared for the immigration judge to grant political asylum, Diamante said.

The ruling Wednesday by Immigration Judge Rose Peters means that Sanchez will now be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, Diamante said.

“It has totally changed my life,” Sanchez said. “It’s a new beginning for me. Now I don’t have to run anymore. It’s a good feeling.”

posted by @ 1:02 pm | 0 Comments

Saturday, July 13th, 2002

Amazing. This Jackson beating just gets deeper. First, the young white guy who videotaped the incident is hounded by the DA to give up the original tape, and when he refuses, he is arrested. Then he is beaten (by cops?) and hospitalized. Then he is extradited to Placer County on some minor charges. Meanwhile, it turns out Jackson was actually beaten worse than had appeared on tape. Stay tuned…

posted by @ 5:37 am | 0 Comments

Wednesday, July 10th, 2002


Yesterday, federal immigration judge ruled in favor of Los Angeles gang peace organizer Alex Sanchez’s request for asylum. Alex now may remain in the U.S. and will be eligible to apply for legal residency. Alex’s lawyer Allen Diamante was also able to get a previous felony charge vacated.

In early 2000, the INS detained Alex for deportation, after being aided by the LAPD in a blatant violation of a city ordinance. Alex and Homies had been organizing gang members to stop the violence in the backyard of the notorious Rampart Division. (See my story here for details.) Supporters feared that his deportation would mean certain death at the hands of Salvadoran gangs opposed to the truce movement or by right-wing Salvadoran death squads.

Folks at Homies Unidos, the organization which Alex works for, said they were thrilled and a bit shocked. It’s been a long ordeal. More details to come…

posted by @ 11:04 pm | 0 Comments

Wednesday, July 10th, 2002

Here we go again. Dirty cops beating folks on videotape, this time in Inglewood. Reports say that the boy was developmentally disabled. Check the story and the video here.

posted by @ 5:07 am | 0 Comments

Tuesday, July 9th, 2002

Think COINTELPRO is over? Check – The Village Voice’s special “The Attack on Civil Liberties”, a good overview of how Ashcroft and friends have been plunging you from behind.

posted by @ 5:20 am | 0 Comments

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