By M. Solis
It's a sunny day in Brick City, New Jersey and delegates from across the country have gathered to shape a national agenda for a "lost generation."
Young dancers dot the downtown street corners and inside Metropolitan Baptist Church the inaugural National Hip-Hop Political Convention is making noise. Academics and activists, including Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, the Reverend Calvin Butts, dream hampton, Ernie Paniccioli, Rosa Clemente, and Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka are in attendance as dead prez's M1-Mutulu lays it down.
"This is the America that's waiting to arise," he says. "This is the community that's waiting to speak. We're here to follow out the work. We're here to create social justice, economic self-defense. All across the world we have this problem. Everywhere we are oppression is, it goes down the same way everywhere we are.
"We on drugs, we homeless. There is no opportunity for the resources which we rightfully should own so all across the world we living with the same statistics. Welcome to the real CNN, the Black CNN, the shit you can't hear because of the lies, so let's talk about it now."
Throughout the four-day conference, references are made to the 1968 Black and Puerto Rican Convention held in Newark, New Jersey, which set the stage for the historic 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. After much discussion and spirited debates, a five-point agenda materializes. Education, Economic Justice, Criminal Justice, Health, and Human Rights emerge as the key issues, with an underlying theme focused on bridging the gap between the Civil Rights generation and the hip-hop generation. Even without Barbershop and Bill Cosby, the divide between the two groups is quite evident, which makes the observations of Black Arts Movement pioneer Amiri Baraka particularly pertinent.
"Cultural revolution is the only way to inspire the people," he says. "When I first heard people like Africa Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, all them people, Sugar Hill Gang, early Public Enemy, that to me was exactly what it was supposed to be. Now it's co-opted. The corporations got these dead negroes, they already dead. They got the corpse negroes, the wooden negroes. We call them a three-cent negro masquerading as a nickel.
With free performances by MC Lyte, Nice & Smooth, Tony Touch, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Floetry, Wyclef Jean, Black Moon Rah Digga, Treach, Busta Rhymes, and dead prez, music plays a key role in attracting youth to the conference. Once they arrived, however, politics took center stage with dynamic workshops with topics ranging from "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office" to "911 Is a Joke: Updates on Health Disparities in Communities of Color" to "Why We Don't Have Any Money: Reparations, Gentrification, and You Bad Ass Credit."
By the end of the conference, organizers succeed in creating a cohesive union that includes artists, activists, and younger members of the hip-hop generation. As delegates joyfully dance to dead prez's chants of "It's bigger than hip-hop," for a brief moment it actually feels like the effort is fleshing out M-1's agenda from earlier in the convention week.
"I think the biggest misunderstanding is that we're not serious," he says. "That somehow we may not be talking seriously about where in the end that we want to be, where this music is leading. And I know it can be misleading because the mind has been co-opted. In this war, our minds have suffered some of the greatest casualties.
"If we knew what this game was worth to us, hip-hop and otherwise, we would take it, and use this resource to create a future for us. We want to give that to the youth but don't know if we can handle that responsibility. The biggest misunderstanding is 'Can the people who are talking the talk, walk the walk?' and yes we can." •
By M. Solis