Sunday, August 31st, 2008 :: Day 0: Storm Clouds

History could be made this week, but not the kind that Republicans were planning for.

With Hurricane Gustav steaming into the Gulf Coast and likely to make landfall Monday afternoon, and the threat of flooding extending from Texas to Mississippi, the party’s presidential nominee John McCain said today that the first day of the Republican Convention will be all but cancelled.

“This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans,” he said.

Speeches that were expected from President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and First Lady Laura Bush have all been scrapped. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had previously announced he would not be attending because the state is now over two months past its budget deadline.

Instead the party will quietly conduct its internal business beginning at 3pm, roughly the time Hurricane Gustav is expected to hit land, and will adjourn before 5:30pm.

God forbid Gustav should cause storm surges that might lead to the re-flooding of New Orleans, but if it does, Republicans will have difficult decisions on how to present themselves during their convention week.

Earlier reports suggested that the convention could be turned into a telethon for storm victims. McCain has also been highly critical of the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. In fact, some argue that hurricane politics has played into McCain’s hands, by removing the long shadow made by W. and Cheney.

On the other hand, McCain may win support if he is able to demonstrate a deft and sympathetic hand around this unprecedented confluence of events.

Whatever the case may be, McCain has sounded the right note as Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast. Party politics are never more important than saving and restoring lives.

Our prayers go out to all the residents of the Gulf Coast for safety and strength.

posted by @ 4:30 pm | 0 Comments

Friday, August 29th, 2008 :: Day 4: The Mirror

Yesterday, the Democrats worked hard to link Barack Obama’s speech to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington.

On the floor near to the stage, the delegation from Minnesota roared when the Reverend Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “This is one of our nation’s greatest defining moments.”

It was impossible to be at Mile High Stadium yesterday and not be struck by how much the Democratic Party has changed, even from 4 years ago.

A quarter of the 4,400 Democratic delegates in town this week were African American. In fact, the Minnesota delegation seemed a mirror to the future. Fifty of the 80 elected delegates were of color. The median age of that state’s delegation seemed to have dropped by a decade in the last four years.

As Will.I.Am prepared to take the stage with John Legend, he had his own analogy in mind. “Obama is probably the first mirror of America,” he said. “The presidents that we have had before have been portraits, painted a long time ago.”

The massive crowd of 85,000—invited in to celebrate Obama’s nomination—looked even more diverse than the one at an average Denver Broncos game.

Seats in the house were certainly much more difficult to land than tickets to a Broncos game. But people were motivated.

Aaron Johnson, a 37-year old animator from Ontario, California, had shown up with his family and friends in Denver without seats. But after a contact came through, he rounded up the crew to get to Mile High 7 hours before Obama took the stage. They avoided the mile-long lines that characterized the afternoon for most attendees who hadn’t yet starred in a hit Hollywood movie.

His seats seemed a mile high from the portico-style dais, which he couldn’t see. He had all the hot summer sunshine he might have wanted, and a great view of the back of the stage. But he wouldn’t have missed the moment. “We were gonna go whether we got tickets or not,” he said.

He looked on the bright side, “You can see the city from up above.”

Sitting nearby in section 538—”Upper Northeast”, the ticket read—sat Mavis Brooks and her 16 year-old niece Lashay, from Chesapeake, Virginia. Mavis bought her airline tickets and hotel reservations to Denver in January, long before it seemed like her candidate was going to secure the nomination. She failed to land Virginia “community credentials”, but she was determined to go anyway.

And so there she was, after a lot of footwork, sitting in the heat high atop Mile High. “We had faith and we had hope, so that’s what we came out here with,” she said. “There’s a lot of people out here just like me.”


Not long after Obama’s speech, the celebrations began. And even the celebrations looked different.

On one side of town, The Cool Kids and The Clipse—The Clipse?!!—rocked a Democrats’ party. On the other, Will.I.Am’s star-studded “Yes We Can” party, first-time delegate Anton Gunn marveled at how far hip-hop had come. He had screamed himself hoarse on Tuesday at a show featuring Slick Rick, UTFO, and Whodini.

How could he have even imagined this night back in those Fresh Fest days?

Gunn was leaving early the next morning back to South Carolina to get back to work: he’s an African American candidate in a close race for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Onstage, another of his heroes, Biz Markie had stepped up to the mic as a familiar beat dropped.

“O-bama, you!” the Biz sang. You got what I ne-eeed!”

And the whole crowd joined right in.

posted by @ 9:32 am | 0 Comments

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 :: Day 3: The Battle Of Denver

Wednesday was the day that the party and its discontents decided to party.

At highly exclusive big-donor events, the Black Eyed Peas and Fergie rocked a prObama concert for the entertainment industry foundation, The Creative Coalition, while Kanye West headlined the One Campaign/RIAA event.

Rosario Dawson hosted a party for her organization, Voto Latino, as Bun B, Fat Joe, Big Boi, Jessica Alba, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Eve Longoria, and J-Lo were spotted around town.

At the Manifest Hope Gallery, DJ Z-Trip entertained the party people. And in Boulder, Chuck D—fresh from his wedding party—led Public Enemy at a free show for an audience decidedly more critical of the Democrats.

But the biggest and most unlikely gathering of the day started the earliest—at 11 in the morning—at the Denver Coliseum, an aged arena best known for horse shows and “Disney On Ice”, five miles away from the glittering new Pepsi Center and Invesco Field where Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech tonight.

There, 10,000 fans gathered to see powerful sets from Denver’s biggest hip-hop crew the Flobots, a newly black-rockified The Coup, and the reunited Rage Against The Machine. This was the Tent State Music Festival. Tickets were free. The guests of honor were the Iraq Veterans Against The War.

Between sets, 22-year old vet Wendy Barranco drew a cheer when she urged the audience to march with them towards downtown where Iraq Veterans Against The War hoped to deliver a letter to Senator Barack Obama calling for immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq, full health benefits for all returning veterans, and reparations for the Iraqi people.

Just two years before, Barranco had been an Army combat medic based for 9 months in Tikrit, tending to wounded soldiers, Iraqi people, even insurgents. She had grown up in Echo Park and enlisted right of Belmont High School, which has one of the highest dropout rates in Los Angeles.

“I wanted to see the world. I got a paid vacation to the sandbox”, she said. “All I knew was my family didn’t have money and so therefore I couldn’t go to college.”

She had come into the Army in the full hoo-rah of the first months of the invasion, and was deployed with the 47th Combat Support Hospital in 2005. “I fell for the mission hook line and sinker. I was like, let’s go kick some hajji ass,” she said. “You had to be that way. The moment you realize you don’t have a purpose you fucking lose it.”

In 2006, she got her papers and was able to be discharged. Half of her peers, she thinks, weren’t so lucky, and had to return for a second deployment. She enrolled in Pasadena City College, eager to get on with her life.

One day she wondered into a campus forum on the war where two members of Iraq Veterans Against The War were speaking. “I was so pissed off. I kept thinking why are they biting the hand that fed them for so long. What the fuck is wrong with them?” she said. “But I still felt used (by the military).”

When she grabbed the mic to address the panel, she thought she’d give them a piece of her mind.

Instead, it all came back. The tactics the recruiters had used to lure her in. The soldiers she’d tended to who had been blown up by IEDs. The Iraqi families and children burned over large parts of their bodies.

“As I was fucking speaking, a light bulb went off,” said Barranco. “Everything I was saying, they had said.” That began the process that led her to the Denver Coliseum yesterday afternoon.

At 3:15 pm, after closing with a rousing version of “Killing In The Name”, Zack De La Rocha and the rest of Rage Against The Machine rushed out into the street to join the march. Boots Riley from the Coup and Jonny 5 of the Flobots held a banner reading “Support G.I. Resistance”. Three thousand followed. At the front, 50 servicemen and servicewomen from the Marines and the Army in uniform or combat fatigues, including Barranco, marched toward downtown in formation.

When they arrived at the Pepsi Center at almost 5 p.m., the crowd had swelled to between 4,000 and 6,000, according to Denver Police Lieutenant Vince Porter. The march briefly shut down parts of the downtown.

They came up Speer Boulevard towards the Center, where hundreds of delegates and others credentialed for the Convention were arriving. Hundreds of riot cops met them in the streets, on horses, and on trucks, both inside the Center perimeter and out.

The demonstration was diverted around the Center into a ‘free speech zone’, what protestors have called ‘freedom cages’. Penned in from all sides, the veterans decided to march back out to the convention entrance on Speer and Market. There, convention attendees, Denver residents, and onlookers confronted the strange sight of unarmed Army and Marine soldiers in full uniform facing down riot police holding tear-gas rifles.

But although tensions built, this was a different kind of protest.

Marshals kept protestors to the march route for the entire five miles. There were no breakaway clashes with police, and not a single person was arrested. Marine Lance Corporal Jeff Key carefully explained on the cell phone to Denver police that they wanted a meeting with an Obama representative to deliver their letter. They were prepared to stay as long as it took, and some veterans were ready to get arrested.

As the crowd grew, Army Specialist Jason Eric Hurd got on the bullhorn and addressed it. “I was that man with the baton in the uniform. I know what it feels like. I have to live with those nightmares,” he said. “I want to remind everyone that these police are good people, and that they are under orders.”

The troops then saluted the riot police. And there they stood, the veterans and the thousands behind them, mostly silent.

At about 7:30, word came back through the line. Former Texas Lt Governor Ben Barnes would accept their letter. Denver police escorted Key and former Marine Liam Madden into the convention center for a meeting with Phil Carter, the Obama campaign’s staffer for veteran’s affairs.

In the streets, the veterans broke formation to let out a roar. Barranco, other servicemen, and many of the young activists shared some tears. For her, after 5 years of seeing the worst of humanity, it was a small victory, a ray of light. From the back of the line, protesters spontaneously began chanting “Yes we can!” and “Si Se Puede”.

Then the veterans snapped back to attention. Mission accomplished, they about-faced and marched back into the dusk.

posted by @ 7:32 am | 2 Comments

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008 :: Day 2: Night Of The Hillary Voters

Last night, Hillary Clinton asked of her supporters, “Were you in this campaign just for me?”

And for the past two days, it has been easy to spot women here—mostly white and in their 40s or 50s, but some African Americans too—gripping Hillary placards and arguing with Obama supporters in the streets. McCain supporters have been opportunistic, running through town chanting, “Clintons for McCain”.

So Hillary’s speech tonight was well anticipated. Most of the tens of thousands credentialed to enter the Pepsi Center came early to grab their seats. By 8 p.m., it was standing-room only.

Even San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting—the co-chair of Asian Americans for Hillary Clinton, a group that helped give her part of the margin in the Super Tuesday California primary—had to find a seat in the aisle high up in the press section, so high Rita Marley would have approved.

He might have been pardoned for thinking, is this what voting for experience gets you? And yet Ting—like the thousands of Hillary delegates whose votes have not yet been released, and whom the media were picking off for quotes left and right as they left the Pepsi Center—sounded a conciliatory tone.

“Look, this election was historic. You had women and you had African American voters, and in order to move forward, we can’t lose a single person. We have to go into November with unity,” Ting said. “The Asian Americans who supported Hillary that I know are all going to vote for Barack Obama.”

Loretta Tuell, a Beltway lobbyist and organizer from Hillary’s Native American outreach committee, also said she was getting behind Obama. But she admitted that Hillary’s Tuesday speech was bittersweet.

“I feel like she’s done all the right things, that she’s qualified to run for president,” she said, still speaking in the present tense.

Did Loretta think Hillary was the right person for the wrong time?

She took a deep breath and said, “I don’t think that her career is over. I think at this time, at this moment, it wasn’t hers to take. But you can look at history and say that of many people.”

“It’s not over for Hillary, and that’s the exciting part for me,” she said.

But the more she talked, the more she seemed pained. “I tell you I was surprised in the beginning in how difficult it was for me to get past the energy and all the spirit you put behind a campaign.”

“Towards the end, [the campaign] learned their lessons but they learned them too late,” she said. “As supporters you could see that if there were enough time, we could be the nominee. Being so close, it hurts.”

Tuell wanted Hillary to be offered the choice to decide whether or not to be vice president. She felt that Hillary had earned that respect. “People aren’t anti-Biden,” she said. “They’re just disappointed.”

She felt that Obama’s campaign reached out to Clinton’s campaign and her supporters too slowly. “I think as a party you could never take for granted any constituency,” she said. “All constituencies need to be respected and heard.”

She did feel that the unity efforts were accelerating. “But you don’t want to feel disenfranchised from your own party and that’s what folks are feeling a little bit,” she said. “Words are important, but actions count. And action is what we’re lacking. I think if you put your actions into words you’ll get a unified party.”

posted by @ 8:50 pm | 1 Comment

Monday, August 25th, 2008 :: Day 1: Looking Forward

Michelle Obama did some of the work of repairing the party’s fissures last night. Her speech was a corrective against Democratic infighting and a strike against further Republican charges of elitism.

Hillary Clinton’s race-baiting advisor Mark Penn established the Obama-as-scary-foreigner scenario early in the primaries. So tonight’s speeches—beginning with a speech by Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, running through Ted Kennedy’s surprise appearance and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s introduction of Michelle’s brother, Craig Robinson—repeated theme words like “American story” and “American dream”.

There are probably still Hillary voters or undecided women who finished watching her speech—and Sasha Obama’s scene-stealing mic moments during the crowd-pleasing family teleconference—with hardened hearts.

But the Obamas do not want to let this nomination victory be about bitterness and looking backward. Michelle shouted out Hillary and the anniversary of women’s suffrage. She evoked MLK and the March of Washington. Both were, in this context, American stories, American victories.

What was most notable was Michelle’s tone. There was no trace of stridency, a punditocracy caricature. Instead, she was by turns, soothing, soaring, and full of gratitude.

And when Michelle drove it home, with what my son’s teacher calls “little moments”—the meaning of a parent’s goodnight kiss, the portrait of Barack Obama driving their new baby home with supreme caution—she left many in the hall in tears, including, let’s not front, many grown men. Forget all those TV shots of weeping women.

The girls came unscripted—Malia wiping her tears away with a big hand, Sasha holding the mic like a grudge. They became unwitting icons: they may be to the hip-hop generation the equivalent of what Caroline and John Kennedy were to the boomers.

This afternoon, the future was alive at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Young Leaders forum. The panel had its star appeal. Kerry Washington and Will.I.Am both gave generational conversion stories that would be echoed in the closing lines of Michelle’s speech—stories in which they “decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming.”

Washington, as moderator, also introduced a number of new young leaders: 29-year old Georgia assemblywoman Alisha Thomas Morgan; 29-year old Tallahassee city commissioner Andrew Gillum; hip-hop activist and pastor Reverend Tony Lee; and businessman and motivational speaker Ephren Taylor.

But the 24-year old Bakari Sellers, elected 2 years ago to the South Carolina House of Representatives, closed it down with a speech that seemed to capture the spirit of the moment—a sense, especially among young African American Democrats, that now is the time, that Barack Obama has finally legitimized the value and potency of youth.

He recalled his father’s story of the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, the deadly university shooting at South Carolina State that predated Kent State. “The South Carolina motto is ‘Dum Spiro Spero’, ‘While I breathe, I hope’,” he said, linking it to an Obama quote. “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”

Sellers drew Obama-esque images, linking the laid-off postindustrial worker in San Francisco to the rural teacher in Marlboro, South Carolina, to the accountant in New Orleans who has turned carpenter because no one else will rebuild.

“There are those who will say that we are too young, too inexperienced, and too idealistic. They’ll tell us that it’s too hard. They’ll tell us that you can’t make people care. They’ll tell us that one day when we’re older we may understand,” he said. “But we know better and America knows better.”

Just check Sasha Obama. When her dad asked her what she thought of her mother’s speech, she answered, “I think she did good”. She didn’t stutter. Her little voice seemed rich with pride, but also a little bit of insouciance, even a little bit of sass, as if to say just give me a little bit and then you can ask me what mommy thinks of my speech.

Perhaps this election might simply be about making it good to be young again.

posted by @ 11:49 pm | 0 Comments

Sunday, August 24th, 2008 :: Day 0: De Colores

On the way in from the airport, highway cops are pulling over speeding, oblivious California drivers. It’s a ticketing bonanza. The highway alert signs read, “Welcome to Denver and Colorful Colorado.”

For that past two decades, that color has mostly been red—the latest polls show McCain ahead of Obama by a single point. But there’s no doubt now the Democrats have now taken over Denver.

The sign at the Conoco gas station down Speer from the Pepsi Center says, “Welcome to Obamarado.” And the National Black Republican Association billboards in this Highland neighborhood—where crack heads and dog owners, liquor stores and 4-star restaurants, new condo owners and working-class brown families share the streets—have been altered. This morning they read, “Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican”. This afternoon they read, “Martin Luther King Jr. is a Obama-can.”

Perhaps the most unmistakeable sign that the Democrats were in town this morning—beyond the hipsters in black Run DNC tees and the masses on the 16th Street Mall flying their blue credentials—was the overwhelming presence of riot cops. Not just Denver PD, but hundreds more imported from Aurora and Lakewood.

They were outside the Record Exchange spot on Colfax, pissing off the aloha-shirted owner. They were at Union Station protecting the Patron Tequila Express train car. They were roaming the streets, nine deep astride white O.J. Broncos. They were waving to the pro-war demonstrators who cheered them when they drove by. They were gone by the time the pro-war demonstrators handed their mic to a woman who sang a rendition of “God Bless America” as if she were auditioning for a 7th inning in the Bronx.

And after a large gathering on the Capitol steps this morning headlined by Dead Prez and Green Party VP nominee Rosa Clemente (with presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney watching), they were chasing down a thousand protestors riding under the bizarre banner of “Recreate ’68” as the marchers headed to the Pepsi Center.

Protesters made holding the Democrats accountable to their two-year promise to the end the war the theme of the day. In the afternoon, a second set of marchers went through the 16th Street Mall, shut down traffic in parts of the downtown area, and resulted in some stand-offs with riot cops.

But aside from traffic tie-ups and ritualized stand-offs, these were not the stunning surgical strikes that greeted the Republicans in Philadelphia in the summer of 2000, shut down the city for a day, and resulted in hundreds of arrests and not a few bashed heads. Nor were they Rage Against The Machine’s Battle of Los Angeles at the Democratic Convention that year, which ended in a teargas-clouded police riot before the band even hit the stage.

No, although one white R68 organizer Jill Dreier told me it was racist to ask her whether some voters didn’t think Obama might represent change because he was of color—interesting definition of racism, that—the feel wasn’t so much in-your-face as lazy Sunday afternoon.

Shit was so chill that those 200 afternoon marchers who had set out for the Capitol finally arrived there about a half-hour after Blue Scholars and Common Market had finished their blazing set. (The performers had even started, as asked, on hip-hop time—an hour late.)

Tourists and bicyclists—Denverites love bicycles—stopped to gawk at all the cute kids in their fashionable black bandanas, their orange and black flags, their blue “Riot 4 Peace” sign. Food Not Bombs even fed a few of them. Then the marchers, after a brief facedown with the cops, took off down 17th Street, leaving the frustrated old soundman to dismantle the entire speaker system with his wife.

Three other groups of demonstrators marched in the other direction, to the north, gathering in Cuernavaca Park for a different rally. The Tent State gathering, assembled by organizers who broke off from R68 earlier this year, attracted 10,000 to call on the Democrats to end the war. On Wednesday, they will take over Denver Coliseum for a morning show with Rage Against The Machine, Flobots, and The Coup. And on Thursday, R68 and Tent State both expect to support a massive rally for immigration rights.

There will be a lot more color to see this week, and once the Convention opens Monday night with a keynote by Michelle Obama, that color may be primarily blue.

Stay tuned.

posted by @ 10:31 pm | 0 Comments

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008 :: Obama Chooses

Obama has texted America his choice. It’s Senator Joseph Biden.

Biden, the 65 year-old Senator from Delaware, doesn’t just provide an older white maleness to Obama’s young Blackness. He’s the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and has spent most of his adult life as an elected official as a Senator. He’s expected to wow the skeptical Budweiser voters who chose Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

Biden is also known for being as loose-lipped as Obama is careful. Last year, as an opponent for the Democratic nomination, Biden spoke about Obama’s candidacy in these words:

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

Obama texted supporters early this morning. He’s set to make an appearance with Biden at noon Eastern Standard Time in Illinois.

Come back here to to follow all the latest breaking news from the Democratic National Convention.

posted by @ 2:58 am | 0 Comments

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Hip Hop VP: A Q+A With Rosa Clemente

As cell phone users await Barack Obama’s text message informing them who his Vice President choice is, we present a Q+A with Green Party VP nominee Rosa Clemente.

The 36-year old hip-hop activist took some time in Las Vegas at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention last month to talk candidly with us about her historic run, the state of hip-hop activism, the Green Party and its discontents, and how she really feels about Hillary Clinton and Obama. What follows are excerpts from a long interview.

Q: How did this nomination happen for you?

Cynthia called me on July 5th. It happened very quick. I didn’t hesitate because that’s just my personality. But by the time I got to the convention in Chicago, it was such a whirlwind. It was so fast, the nomination, meeting hundreds of Green Party members. It wasn’t ’til I got off that stage that I was like, holy shit. I’m gonna be on a ballot in 40 states. That is so surreal.

In 2001, I had submitted a proposal to a foundation and it was called Hip-Hop Vote. They rejected me and they said that there was no way that a hip-hop generation—no matter how it was being defined—was going to make headway in voting. They could not see young people being so engaged in the electoral political system. And it’s funny because now that’s all they do. Any foundation is trying to fund young people like Generation Vote, Russell Simmons (Hip-Hop Summit Action Network), the National Hip-Hop Political Convention.

Q: How is it that you got involved with Cynthia McKinney?

I came to know about Cynthia McKinney when she had the hearings on political prisoners in Congress. And then she started talking about Tupac and his files and trying to get the files from the FBI. I was in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and we were working on so much around political prisoners. She started bringing me out to her brain trust as part of the Congressional Black Caucus. She was involved in the State of the Black World with Ron Daniels which I was involved with. And then she brought me out to this big Tupac event in Atlanta with Chuck D. Of course when they got her out of office, she went to Cornell to teach one of those two-week things and she just got so harassed. She got death threats. This was after the September 11 hearings where she was grilling Rumsfeld, after they arrested her—whatever the capitol police did to her. I hadn’t talked to her in a long time. I just know that I joined the Green Party in Brooklyn.

People always say they want their officials to be held accountable. Here she is, being held accountable, because her party didn’t keep to their promises in ’06 when they all got in. Pelosi and Conyers and all them finally get these ranks and—no impeachment and no pullout of the war. She actually stood to their principles. She could just have stayed in the DNC. She could have stayed the incumbent and she just didn’t.

People have always said, ‘You gotta tone it down Rosa, you’re too honest. You can’t always say what you say.’ And I think everything I did got me to this position, because I think I am genuine and I think that a lot of cats aren’t. It has come at the expense of a lot of shit. I know that. But I can’t be any other way. And I think Cynthia is just, she’s completely uncompromising. That is the most needed value right now in our movement.

Q: Were you prepared to understand what the politics of the Green Party itself was, particularly the racial politics of the Green Party? Because this ticket is a big departure and it seems like there’s been a little bit of a backlash within the Party around Cynthia’s nomination and your nomination.

I feel much of that is based on some serious misinformation on who we are as a generation but also the non-ability for most progressives to particularly see women of color leading. I’m still grasping how local people feel about the Greens. I don’t know I just, I’m ready to follow Cynthia in that regard. And second, I don’t see hip-hop being represented any way politically at the level that it should be. So I’m going with people who are at least moving out the way for us to have space.

I haven’t felt uncomfortable. The young people in the Green Party—the mostly white young people—have whole different racial and class analysis. (They) were clear that they came into politics because they had gone to some hip-hop event. They had seen Dead Prez perform, they had seen Immortal Technique, they had read something on Tupac, and they said they felt no other party was paying attention to their issues. So I don’t want to be like Pollyanna and say I ignore it. But the Greens are a national party, it’s a national organization, and there are over a hundred Greens running for all different types of offices. They nominated me and Cynthia.

Q: The hip-hop generation has been successful in terms of bringing more folks out to the polls. Every election has been landmark numbers. But the numbers that, in terms of registration, they’re mostly the college kids. How do you reach the working-class young people, the youths of color who are completely alienated, the overwhelming majority of young people who still aren’t even registed to vote?

That’s what I’m trying to stay focused on. It’s a difficult situation. You can get into the communities because you now have a name, but you might not even have the resources to get a flight there. And that’s how real it is in our campaign. Even though the Green Party has been infrastructured for 25 years, they don’t get matching funds. And the less we’re in the media, the less people know we exist so there’s no money in the coffers to do that type of campaigning which is what I want to do. I want to get to the cats that aren’t even registered to vote. I don’t give a fuck about turning no Barack Obama Democrat around. I’m not even trying to waste my time.

It’s interesting that with the new vote rising, it’s defaulting to the Democrats. Who is gonna vote for John McCain? So what it essentially is, the Democrats in the back of their minds gotta be thinking we ain’t even got to talk about these young people’s issues. There’s this fervor because of all the work we’ve been putting down since 2003—all these hip-hop organizations—there’s the fervor to get out there and to register vote but it’s essentially defaulted Democrat anyway.

I think the Greens are gonna have to put in some serious infrastructure planning for the next 20 years, if we’re gonna even move all the people who aren’t even registered to vote to have any faith in the political system. Because that’s essentially what they’re saying—they’re withholding their vote.

So what it becomes incumbent upon me to say is: am I doing this for the Green party or am I doing it for my generation? Is that connected? If it is, how does that play out? And I’m trying to stay really focused on getting to the people that are completely dissatisfied and completely marginalized, not necessarily from joining the Green Party which would be great, but to begin to tell them that this two-party system—that has to stop now. We cannot afford another two-party election. But within hip-hop, actually, that conversation becomes very difficult.

Q: How do you mean?

I think anybody running a hip-hop organization now that has a grant, they can’t just drop their shit and support the Green party. I think that’s the danger of the whole non-profit grant system that most of the hip-hop organizations are in. Finally you have a party that if 5% of the hip-hoppers voted would give us 5% of the electorate, and everybody’s scared now? Now that it’s right in front of you everybody’s backing up.

Q: Well, they’re going to Obama.

Of course. They’re either going to Obama or they’re saying they’re not, but they default to that. You have a voter registration drive, would you be pushing the Greens? We’re not even on the ballots. You can’t push us in 10 states. Most cats are not registering Republican. Default to the Democrats.

That’s gonna require a lot of cats in hip-hop making some real choices right now. Are you gonna back up a party that nominated not me, but nominated a hip-hop activist, a person that’s been out here for 7-8 years on the forefront of hip-hop work? At this moment, cats can’t say they’re for me and Cynthia because they’re afraid they’re gonna lose their GOTV money?

Q: But on the other hand, Nader didn’t have any problem raising any money. He raised millions of dollars. Has the Green party abandoned you and Cynthia?

I think (when Nader ran) in 1996 and 2000, it was so much easier to have a third party, in that the media was still at least doing its job, giving equal time. Eight years after the stolen election and Bush, the media is such a farce. The fact that they will not let Nader, Bob Barr, or Cynthia in any of the debates speaks volumes. And I think that is simply because at the end of the day, the Democratic machine and the Republican machine would rather ebb and flow power than concede power together to a third, fourth, or fifth party.

Has the Green Party abandoned us? I don’t know. I’ve only been here for less than a month. I don’t think the Green party is ready, I don’t think the apparatus is there.

Q: Is it the Green Party apparatus? Is it will? Or is it race?

I think it’s the apparatus and I think it also has to do with how you fundraise in this day and age and how media is used as it relates to young people. I don’t think they have a grasp of any of that. I truly believe that you have to market this. You have to brand it and there’s not a brand. Nader was the brand. So when Nader in 2000 gets 2% of the vote, that’s a big deal. But now 8 years later, look at how they destroyed Nader. If it wasn’t for him Gore would have won, now we’re the spoiler spoiler spoiler. So no longer are we the third party, the Green party is now the spoiler party.

Q: Talk about the platform. What do you think the Green Party has over the other parties?

This is the only party that even has social justice as its core principle. When we say ending the war, we mean all the wars. We need to get all the military out of every country, we need to begin to deal with issues of what peace can look like, how do you sustain that. Obviously, the green party is at the forefront of pushing the environment as a core value, that was innovative then. There should be an end to imprisoning young people, an immediate stop to the death penalty, a livable wage, not a minimum wage. Impeachment for George Bush and them is critical. I think if we don’t hold them accountable as a people, then anybody can do the same shit that they did.

Words are words, but we can make the words into deeds. If people would even open up the platform, they would see that neither the Democrats and Republicans would even talk about young people having rights and that we should be signing some of these international treaties, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The hardest part is to literally get people to open it up and want to be exposed.

Q: Do you think the Obama campaign is a false hope? A false kind of change?

It’s hard for me to see Obama and not feel like there’s a good heart in that. So I feel like it’s not false hope if he’s not a pessimistic or opportunistic person. Because when I see him, sometimes it’s magical. You’re like, damn. But then I weigh it. Is it just because we’ve been under 8 years of Bush and company?

When Obama comes around, first it’s historical. No matter how it goes down, it’s history. There’s a moment when I watched him become the presumptive nominee that I have to recognize that is historic. I’m married to a black man in America. I could see if you’re African American in this country and you’re over 50, that is a moment of brilliance and shine. Like, this is what I fought for. This is why I fought for the vote.

You respect that. And I don’t agree with any of the racial shit that Fox puts out on Michelle or him just like I didn’t agree with that when Hillary Clinton was running, even though I’m completely opposed to her politics. As a woman, why you talking about her ankles, her chest? She’s running for president of the United States. To me, I’ve been very clear to people—look, I’m not hating on him because he’s Barack Obama or because he’s a black man, OK? I’m hating on him because his policies are wack. (laughs) They’re wack and we should just say that. We understand the historical nature and then we get back to the accountability factor. That’s how I see it.

Q: But if you and Cynthia get elected, that would also be historic.

Wouldn’t that be incredible. (laughs) That would be amazing.

Q: But it is a question that comes up. “Why even run if you don’t really have a chance?” Especially amongst folks in the community who feel like, “We got an historic opportunity now. You don’t want to be what Nader was to Gore for us because that’s gonna devastate us so much more in so many different types of ways.” How do you answer that?

I mean history was made. But history can be good or bad. You know? Cynthia said that when she got to Washington DC, there’s a table where people sit at, where the Democrats were and the Republicans were and they had locked the doors and everybody else was looking on the outside. And she said her goal is to get 5% of the electorate so she can pull up a chair at that table. That’s what I say. I’m trying to get 5% of that electorate. I want to be at that table. I don’t want to be outside. I don’t want to be petitioning to get in anymore. Because I think once we’re at that table and we’re treated as a legitimate major party and get access to it, in the $18 million that each party gets just with taxpayer money, what we could do with that money just in spreading the platform and principles of the Green party—we would conquer this within 4 to 8 more years. I believe that.

posted by @ 10:03 am | 2 Comments

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Scenes From An Uprising? Part 1

On Saturday at the Rock The Bells festival in the Bay Area, 20,000 middle fingers were raised against Fox News.

“They are the past. We are the future,” Nas shouted from center stage, before dropping the beat from “Black President”. “We can change the world.”

Hip-hop gatherings seem lately to have been taking on the feel of political rallies or cadre discussions. Could it be that there’s a new wind blowing?

At the Ozone Awards, Davey D asked an artist panel what their role might be in the upcoming elections. Rather than shrug, as rappers have often done in the past, Killer Mike responded like a seasoned strategist, outlining the moment in the context of a history of Black politics. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

Backstage at Rock The Bells, folks like De La Soul, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique had a lot to say about politics, but so did folks like Redman, Wu-Tang producer Mathematics and rapper Streetlife, and many others. They talked about whether or not to vote, and whether, as YZ once put it, a Black President might be the solution or just another question.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Method Man laughed. “And ever since I’ve been doing this, there hasn’t been this many questions about the election. Nobody has ever asked me that until Obama started running.”

On the grounds at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, hundreds of kids in colorful Obama shirts roamed through the crowd. One kid wore a black tee that altered De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” logo into a statement: “Gas Is High”.

Rock The Bells promoter Chang Weisberg said the tenor of the festival had changed since last year. “People are not happy with gas prices, they’re not happy with the mortgage crisis, they’re not happy with their life in general,” he said.

When the festival comes to Denver next week to informally open the Democratic Convention week there, it will signal the arrival of a number of hip-hop artists the likes of which no political convention has ever seen in this country.

Aside from the RTB lineup, folks like Bun B, The Coup, Rage Against The Machine, Rebel Diaz, Blue Scholars, Wyclef, John Legend, and the Black Eyed Peas will be in town. Celebs like Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson will also be on hand.

Some will come to participate in the Convention, some to protest it, some to party with the party, some to party in spite of the party—most to witness the history they might finally feel like they have a hand in making.

Silhouetted against the sunset on Saturday, Nas looked out into the crowd and said, “I don’t believe in politicians or none of that. I believe in the people.”

And the people roared.

posted by @ 11:21 am | 0 Comments

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Obama Comes Home

It was like almost any other day in a Honolulu waterfront park. Ka’au Crater Boys playing on the sound system. Kids throwing a football around. Tradewinds blowing savory smoke in from the barbecue pits at the far end of the parking lot, and the occasional light rain against a sunny sky.

Except for the line of 4,000 people that stretched all the way around the perimeter of the park.

They had come to witness the first visit by a major presidential candidate to the islands since Richard Nixon in 1960, and the first ever nominee from Hawai’i. When he bounded up with his wife onto the small makeshift stage, threw up a shaka, and shouted, “Howzit!” into the mic, the crowd went crazy. Barack Obama had come home.

The rally was a last-minute addition to what was supposed to be a quiet family vacation. “I didn’t come here to politick,” Obama, dressed in a black polo and pleated khakis, told the crowd in their “One In A Million” and “Obama ‘Ohana” shirts. “I’m going to get a plate lunch. I’m going to go get some shave ice. I might bodysurf at an undisclosed location.”

But after a week of taking a battering from the McCain camp for having the audacity to take a short week-long summer break, Obama campaign staff looked his schedule—which only had a Tuesday $1 million fundraiser at the uber-bougie Kahala Hotel—and hastily added an appearance for the people.

In claiming Ke’ehi Lagoon Park, they displaced the ceremonies for Samoan Flag Day—the biggest Samoan community celebration of the year—and everyone knows you don’t get the clans angry. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann surely had some roundtable diplomacy to do.

By Obama standards, the rally—which most islanders only found out about when it was announced on the front-page of the morning paper—was ragged. There were no Obama merch vendors, the volunteer staff looked thin, the program was barely over a half-hour from beginning to end.

Obama himself seemed a bit exhausted. He turned his “non-political” speech into a brief version of his stump, but barely touched on the economy and missed opportunities to craft his message to local concerns, like the proposed rapid transit system or environmental issues. This state is bluer than the Pacific; no politicking was necessary.

But the crowd didn’t care. Here was a genuine keiki o ka ‘aina, a child of the land, Hawai’i’s own. Instead of playing to their needs, Obama played to their dreams. Islanders want nothing more than to be respected as equal Americans, but respect is hard to come by when you’ve been reduced to giving leis to haoles from Japan or “the mainland”.

So the local political luminaries who introduced Obama—from Senator Daniel Akaka to old Obama family friend Congressman Neil Abercrombie to Hannemann—spent their few CSPAN minutes talking up Hawai’i’s diversity.

Hannemann, in particular, recalled seeing John F. Kennedy speaking here in 1963, making an impression on the young politico by saying that Hawai’i represented where the rest of the country needed to go. Forty-five years later, the culturally literate Obama is the living proof.

Where Obama’s 20-minute address was thin in details, it was long in history. “A lot of people ask me how Hawai’i has shaped me”, he said. He told them that it was the aloha spirit that taught him the value of empathy, gave him the understanding that everyone needs to be responsible for each other.

He spoke of how his haole grandparents saw the islands as “the New Frontier”, a place where they could still reach the American dream. “Everybody here understands that,” Obama said, “whether they’re coming from east or west. We’ve got to make sure that the dream still lives.”

Lofty, sure, but it’s also what indigenous people call the ‘settler’ narrative. The sad truth is that Hawai’i has never been as racially egalitarian as it likes to make itself out to be. The day before Obama’s speech, Native Hawaiians at Naue on the north shore of Kaua’i blockaded a haole developer from tearing up 30 ancient gravesites to build himself an ocean-front McMansion.

But we do figure out ways to get along. In a small space bounded by water on all sides, you must learn to.

The hope of Obama—whom everyone in the crowd understood was in a hurry to go and see his tutu, his grandma from Kansas—is that he can help make things pono, make things right. The worry is that he won’t find the correct balance.

In Hawai’i, the space where the water meets the land is a place of celebration and gathering or where dreams and histories get paved for parking lots.

Before descending to shake hands and give hugs to the home crowd, Obama grinned broadly and waved.

“I’ll see you on the beach!” he shouted.

posted by @ 10:17 am | 0 Comments

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