(Cross-posted from EENR blog)
"The more you listen, the more you gonna hear the truth"
Listen, folks, listen first -- then I'll tell you more...
Sess 4-5, No Surrender No Retreat
Tonight, the Hip Hop Caucus and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA joined in presenting the We Care Concert on the eve of the 5 year anniversary of the war in Iraq. The concert was held at the 9:30 Club in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC, near Howard University.
Outside, an area struggling to make it--caught between gentrification and folks just trying to get by.
Inside, brash young people--mostly black, with a few whites sprinkled around and some older folks (like me) who want to believe in the power of music and culture to engage the next generation of activists.
The concert is the first of many more to come as Amnesty International reconnects with its own past in using music and culture to get the message out -- the human rights issues facing our country and the world are real, raw, and solvable.
Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees
The United States is facing a two crises of our own making: the "Internally Displaced Persons" (IDPs) here in the U.S. from the man-made disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina, and the 4.5 million displaced Iraqis because of the U.S. occupation of Iraq (2 million are IDPs inside Iraq and 2.5 million are refugees in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.)
Musical performances tonight were by Brooklyn Rapper Saigon, Wize Intelligent (formerly of the legendary Hip Hop trio Poor Righteous Teachers), New Orleans based rappers Mia X (formerly of NO LIMIT RECORDS) and Sess 4-5, along with host of other performances by Mambo Sauce, Rebel Diaz, Uncalled 4 Experience, Young Singo, All Night Showty, Emonifela, Akir and Head-Roc.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus and Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA spoke to the media before the concert, but I found myself looking around at the people waiting to get in. One question formed in my mind.
"Why are you here?"
So I asked, over and over again.
First up, Bashir Malouf and friend, standing on the curb facing the folks lining up. Why are you here? I asked and heard what would become a common response: For the issues, as part of the Hip Hop Caucus. Bashir also shared his view that the media does a bad job of telling what's really happening, and that folks who look like me often buy into what we see and hear from the media. We're the ones who need to wake up. To which I whole-heartedly agree!
Then over to the line to a group of four young people, nicely dressed, definitely not white middle-class America's idea of hip hop fans. Turns out Bernard produces events, one of his friends is helping with tonight's concert, so he's here to support his friend. Laura, Simone and Nadia are along for the fun -- and because they support the cause.
I tried to talk to a couple of very young giggling (but way more street-wise than me) girls who turned out to be twins. But there was no way they were going to talk seriously to this crazy white person asking them why they're here, unless they really meant it when they said "to have fun." ;-D
Nancy is a first-time volunteer with the Hip Hop Caucus, she was handing out the free t-shirts (fill out a survey, get a shirt). A little older than some but probably not by much, she wants to be a part of something that can help the community, the kids, the country.
I talked to a couple of young men (okay, to me, boys but that's just my age showing). Nick from Takoma Park (just across the DC line in Maryland) and Lars from Essen, Germany are in town over spring break from a boarding school outside of Philly. For them it's about the music, and getting Lars some American culture experience. I suspect they got more than a little music, culture and a message to take back to school.
Standing away from the line, four older guys were watching the goings-on before the doors opened. Producers, managers, cops? "Why are you here?" I ask. Civil servants all, turns out they're also dads who brought their kids to the concert, to support the Hip Hop Coalition, Rev. Yearwood, and just incidentally to get their kids home afterwards.
Over to the IVAW guys standing together I go. (IVAW stands for Iraq Veterans Against the War.) I've seen quite a few in town over the past week, many here for last weekend's Winter Soldiers event and staying for the many events happening in the area tomorrow. My question seemed a bit lame given the subject of tonight's event. But, well, not to presume, I started up the same way, "Why are you here?" Turns out I'd forgotten something pretty important: Rev. Yearwood is a member of the DC Chapter of IVAW. The answer was obvious, "When one of our own stands up, we all roll."
I also had a chance to talk briefly to one of the IVAW members well-known to anyone who's been to a peace action in Washington over the past few years, Geoff Millard, president of the DC Chapter of IVAW. (Geoff saw service at Ground Zero in New York on security detail with the 42nd Infantry Division, New York National Guard, and served 13 months in Iraq beginning in 2004. Geoff is also a member of Veterans for Peace, and has joined the project board of Voters for Peace.) One thing you'll notice when you talk to him, he is sure in what his mission is now and I suspect could talk rings around any neo-con or chicken hawk foolish enough to try to debate him. For Geoff, aside from supporting one of his own, the concert tonight is another way for activists to keep the issues in the forefront. "Too much money is being wasted on this war."
Am I too old for hip hop?
Maybe the better question is one my son raised, "Mom, have you listened to the lyrics?!" And he's right. There's a lot of mysoginistic crap passing as music under the label of hip hop still. Check out some of the links above; there are a few pieces that make my blood boil.
But there's another side to hip hop that is fascinating and wonderful to me (oh, how the artists would cringe to hear their work described so). Listen to the way the words spill out, listen to that beat in the background, listen to the raw, brutal, honest delivery of Akir's Presidential Coin or Politricks. Or take a look and listen to Head-Roc's War Machine video:
This is the music of the streets in many cities, and I gotta say, I don't give a flying f*@k if I'm too old. Maybe I'm still just too pissed.
This is Poetry in Motion that speaks to me.
Background on Displacement in the Gulf Coast (from the AI fact sheet):
More than two and a half years into the human rights disaster of Hurricane Katrina, tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents remain displaced.
Under well-established human rights standards, every single one of them has a right to return home, regardless of race or class, and the federal government is ultimately responsible for guaranteeing that right.
Federal response to the housing crisis has been slow and incomplete. But last year, the House passed legislation to address the crisis. It is not up to the Senate to follow suit.
What you can do right now: Urge the Senate to pass the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act.
For more information, go to: amnestyusa.org/katrina
Background on Iraq's Displacement Crisis (from AI's fact sheet):
The humanitarian crisis triggered by the mass exodus of people fleeing violence in Iraq shows little sign of abating. In fact, recent estimates show this to be the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world, with millions displaced both in and outside of Iraq. The situation in host countries, notably Syria and Jordan, is increasingly critical. Overwhelmed, they ahve closed their doors to Iraqi refugees fleeing persecution.
Meanwhile, the international community has utterly failed to adequately respond.
The authorities in some countries have been prepared actively to put people's lives at risk, including through forcible returns to Iraq, cutting off basic assistance to rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers while they remain in their countryies, and revoking refugee status.
For more information, go to: amnestyusa.org/refugee