Miles Marshall Lewis reviews a Valentine’s Day Nina Simone Tribute.
Miles Marshall Lewis reviews a Valentine’s Day Nina Simone Tribute.
The November 2008 issue of Spin Magazine (with MGMT on the cover) features a great oral history of Black Rock as told by the artists, journalists, and industry pros who made it happen. Check out the online excerpt from Spin - Black Rock: An Oral History by David Browne.
The Haze of Obama-mania
By Jeff Chang
Rosa Clemente emerged this summer as the surprise vice presidential pick of Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney.
In a year marked by deep divisions around race and gender, and a historic chain of events that leaves the nation staring into a global crisis brought on by catastrophic political and economic failures, Clemente has been a fresh voice in left circles.
Before coming to the vice presidential campaign, Clemente was best known for her work in hip-hop activism and anti-police brutality campaigns with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement with R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop and Universal Zulu Nation.
This interview occurred in Las Vegas at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, for which she was a co-founder, in late July and more recently as the 36-year old mother prepared for a third party vice presidential debate in New York City in October.
She spoke candidly about the economy, the wars, and the stakes for the election. What follows are excerpts.
Q: When I heard about you running for vice president, I was excited. Then I was like, damn, is she old enough? I guess it struck me. You hear people say, ‘Our day is coming’. And then it gets here…
R: And you get caught like, ‘How did we get here’?
R: I guess people may question if I’m old enough, probably because I wasn’t born into activism or organizing. I came to it really when I was like 26, and then really, when I wrote the letter about Russell Simmons in 2001, that put me out there.
People always say they want their officials to be held accountable. Here is (Cynthia McKinney), 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: The hip-hop generation has been successful in terms of bringing more folks out to the polls. Every election has shown 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 voters but it’s essentially defaulted Democrat anyway. 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.
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. 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: How do you and Cynthia view the mortgage emergency, the $700 million national bailout, and the global crash? What would the Green Party propose to resolve the crisis of the global markets that the two major parties and other third-parties are not?
Just today, European governments pledged two trillion to bail out more banks. Our take is that these are Wall Street billionaires who have stoilen from the people, essentially. The $700 billion bailout then became $840 billion and could become $1 trillion. When you look at that amount of money that they are stealing from taxpayers, we could fund everyone in this country to have health care. The reason this all started was because of the subprime mortgage crisis and predatory lending practices. Those people are still getting kicked out of their houses. I just don’t understand on a really basic level what is going that the majority of people in America are not rising up against it. It’s clearly corporate thievery right in front of our faces.
Cynthia has put out a ten-point economic program that will stop all foreclosures, and repeal the tax cuts. Part of it also is that everything we expect the two major political parties to do, they do the opposite. Both of the political parties are signing off on the bailout and not talking about what’s going on with the majority of people.
Q: Does the economic crisis make resolving the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more or less urgent?
It should have been happening. This doesn’t make me less want to end the war. It’s all interconnected. Something that’s missing in a lot of discussions this is not just about the stock market and not just about the elites. Whatever goes down with them is gonna economically affect us, it’s gonna change the structure of our neighborhoods, the policing. What happened in Minnesota with the police response (at the RNC) can be indicative of what could potentially happen if the global economic sphere keeps crashing around us…
Q: Let’s unpack that. Are you saying the police state we saw at the RNC will be one fallout from the economic crisis?
I think that the police state is already there. I think it’s been there post-2001. But this economic crisis and class warfare–I’m an activist so I know what’s on the ground—the police state will protect those interests if the people choose to rise up. They were clamping down military-style against people who were speaking and marching for the most part. So we can’t ever think they wouldn’t clamp down on the majority of working people if they take it to the streets. It’s interconnected.
Q: How are you feeling about the Party’s progress toward the 5% threshold you need to reach to receive federal matching funds?
I don’t think we’re going to receive 5%. We’re not polling that.
Now what’s happening to Senator Obama—the racist rhetoric, the lynch-mob mentality—is unacceptable. Clearly we as young people right now need to be writing about it, singing about it, op-eding about it. They’re setting up a lynch-mob mentality. I don’t get it twisted that in best of worlds if Cynthia McKinney was up there this wouldn’t be going on. How I’m feeling about the Green Party is that I think there are a lot of good chapters and this is the best ballot status we’ve ever achieved. Personally, I feel really good about what I’m hearing out there. It’s about people beginning to see through the haze of Obama-mania. No matter what’s gonna happen I’m rolling on the right side of things. For me, the Green Party has been learning a lot of ways of interacting with more different types of people, getting out of my comfort zone, having a little more patience, having a more long-term strategy right after the election. No matter what happens, the next day I really want to be building or rebuilding a solid left of multi-racial of working-class people. That’s what I’m waiting for.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ROSA CLEMENTE GO TO: www.thirdpartyticket.com/
HER NEXT DEBATE WILL BE: Sunday at 7-9pm, EST
Actor, poet, playwright, teacher. Liza Jessie Peterson’s activist spirit compels her to reveal human truths via a mash-up of mystic-artistic guises.
To poetry aficionados, she is Liza Jessie Peterson the tall bronze goddess of Def Poetry Jam fame, whose poem “Ice Cream Cone” exhilarates street-harassed women everywhere when, upon being told by a sleazy passerby to lick it, tells his ass exactly where to stick it.
To girls and boys in the New York prison system she is called Sister Liza, the committed outreach coordinator who has taught weekly creative writing courses to talented, incarcerated youth for over ten years.
Inmates at Rykers Island and Sing-Sing prison know Sista Liza as a lone storyteller who comes bearing her magical gift of theater. “The Peculiar Patriot” is Peterson’s dynamic one-woman play about Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a woman whose devotion to her imprisoned lover compels her to collect and sew together the inmates’ stories like a beloved family quilt. She’s performed the play an astounding forty-four times, and her audiences, from the OG’s and newbies, are often moved by her work in ways that still surprise her. “Once I did the show on a hot summer day with an auditorium of 300 guys, and I had been billed as a comedian. So these guys thought they were coming in to see a comedian, which I’m not. I’m like ‘Oh my God, this is gonna be problematic.’ But after I finished the show, they all stood up and gave me the black power salute.”
When the show is over, Liza conducts a Q&A session, personally transcribing the inmates’ feedback for “Voices From The Inside,” a program designed to give insight about prison life to her adolescent students back at Ryker’s. “I take [the older inmates] comments and have discussions with the youth, to then comment back to the OG’s”
“The Peculiar Patriot” is a multifaceted project that encompasses the play, a feature film, documentary and an erotic pin-up calendar featuring the former couture model, all to be released under her LJP Inc. banner. When asked the obvious question, “why a pin-up calendar?” the actress responds with candor: “The prison pin-up calendar is speaking the language of the current culture which is celebrating the hyper-sexualized black woman, and it is my answer to that, in bringing back the totality of the Goddess through these images. I’m putting honey on the blade.”
Liza is also clear about her purpose in performing “The Peculiar Patriot” for audiences too often forgotten by the outside world. “There are millions behind bars. We see the chaos in our community because the order is behind those bars. We need to restore order by bringing their voices back.”
Liza Jessie Peterson’s forty-fifth performance will take place at Sing-Sing prison on July 19th.
Once upon a time photographer and woman-in-the-global-streets Lauri Lyons shot her way into a book called Flag:An American Story (Vision On). Therein she gave diverse citizens across the republic an American flag to drape about and comment upon in their own inimitable styles. Critical comments on the books Amazon page range from ‘ “I think Flag is a brilliant and beautiful book” to “It seems that Lauri Lyons went out of her way to find the dregs of society to interview and photograph. There are many negative and hateful comments about the USA and I can’t imagine why any publisher would publish this book.’
Her even bolder new collection Flag International (Blurb) will surely divide the nation in half too. This time Lyons shows and tells how people of various ethnicities in eight European countries feel wholecloth about the whole red white and blue thing. As before Lyons gives random folk her traveler’s edition of Old Glory and let’s them work out whatever visual statement they deem appropriate. The results are generally nothing less than pointed and poignant, frequently stylish and unforgiving, and often as shocking as any commie-pinko-terrorist symp might long for them to be . Ditto goes for the freehand commentary all served-up to let the world know what sorts of feelings arise when they think Team USA.
Speaking of real jazz, everybody interested in how a group of black-rebel musical anarchists might manage to collectively stick to the point for four decades needs to read George Lewis’ A Power Stronger Than Itself, The AACM And American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press) .For those unaware or just plain ign’ant the Association For the Advancement of Creative Musicians is the Chicago based organization from whence came such rugged musical individualists as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Pete Cosey,Henry Threadgill, Nicole Mitchell and Matana Roberts. Author Lewis isn’t just an advocate, he’s also an equally visionary member in his own right– being not only something akin to the Jimi Hendrix of the trombone, but, as well, the designer of an improvising software program( Voyager). You dont need to be so polymath to read his book –its an existential page turner. Kinda like an engrossing Russian family novel about working-class African American moms and dads in 50s and 60s Chicago who made sure their dreamy ghetto-born kids could be anything they wanted to be. Not being ones to squander such efforts on their behalf the members of the AACM went on to become models for how that wooly and fragile thing known as Black Genius can be made ridicolously self-reliant and learn how to play avant-reindeer games well with others. Lewis doesnt skim on the race and gender politics and basic adminsitration fluckups the organization blundered through along the way. This unabashed handling of the truth gives the book a bracing critical honesty rare to ‘movement histories’ written from the inside.
For seven days of creation,(July 5-12) the mutha-tfreakin’ Afro-Punk Film and Music Fest came back to Brooklyn with a bigger than ever bang of free rad performances, dangerously dark cinema and a half-pipe skate park. While some younguns were curling, looping and hurling through the air, others tentatively nodded, shuffled and stuck a toe out towards the fervently Afrocentric mosh pits that kinda-sorta whirled about appearances by Tamar-Kali, Game Rebellion, The Dirtbombs (who destroyed us all with a set of Motor-city mayhem the likes of which likely made Babylon fall) , Janelle Monae( thepictures above by Richard Loussaint say it all), The Noisettes (a no-show unfortunately), Bazaar Royale, Sophia Ramos (who not only rocked but exposed DD’s as is historically her wont when the soundman isnt doing her right), Kudu, The Carps, Whole Wheat Bread and DJ Rich Medina. Had we launched a week ago like we tried to we would have advised you break into a light trot to secure tix and seats for the screenings of flicks about P-funk, Lee Scratch Perry and two rarely seen black indie film masterpieces, Bill Gunn’s Ganja and Hess–which is to other ‘groid vampire movies as the writings of Anne Rice are to those of Bela Lugosi–and Larry Clark’s Passing Through which is to other jazz flix as the mind of Sun Ra is to the deep thoughts of Chris Botti’s curling iron. Bravo to organizers Matthew Morgan and James Spooner and to our favorite rock n’ roll DJ’s The Dustbin Brothers