"In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.” -W.E.B. Du-Bois
“The Green Party is no longer the alternative, the Green Party is the imperative.” -Rosa Clemente
“For me, it’s simple. It’s either the Green House or the penitentiary.” -Cheri Honkala
“Four years later and I’m kicking it with the Green Party VP candidate. Again.” -Rahman Jamaal
Jared Ball and Rosa Clemente were right. There is something taking place with the relationship between Hip Hop and the Green Party. Maybe it's because the Green Party, much like Hip Hop, can be blamed for a mess much larger than itself with no regard for the truth. Maybe it's because both of them have spent their whole existence fighting corporate media and corporate influence and getting shut out of the conversation. Maybe it's because they are both stuck in a world where the "mainstream" dictates definition, and your perspective, your contribution, your base isn't acknowledged if it isn't validated by the very thing it seeks to challenge. Maybe it's because they both imagine a world where education is accessible to all, there are no more evictions and no more foreclosures, where food production, resolving community challenges and culture is localized, and more money is spent on education and housing than on war and imprisonment. Or, as 2004 Green Party Presidential candidate David Cobb put it, "maybe it’s because Hip Hop and the Green Party are both revolutionary calls for such systemic social political and economic change that you just can't get it until you get it." Whatever the case may be, it is a relationship that keeps expanding. That expansion was given to us not just by the natural development of our economic and political situation, but also by leaders like Jared Ball and Rosa Clemente. When they took this route I did not get that. I get it now. And it looks like a lot of other people are getting it, too. Note: No matter who you are, some of this article will and should be unfamiliar to you. And that's part of the point.
2008: The Green Party Meets Hip Hop, and Hip Hop meets Obama
In 2008, Hip Hop had its first Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate in Jared Ball and Rosa Clemente. This was significant coming off of the National Hip Hop Political Conventions of 2004 and 2006. They were then at the forefront of a process that continues to unfold today. At that time Rosa Clemente famously said, "The Green Party is no longer the alternative, the Green Party is the imperative." Jared and Rosa, as well as artists like Head-Roc from the DC Statehood Green Party, were on a curve that continues to expand even as the race between "two parties" continues to tighten.
When Jared Ball, a professor, media activist, organizer and leader in the national Hip Hop community, ran for President on the Green Party ticket in 2008, a lot of people (myself included) didn't know how to process that. Still, when Jared Ball ran the “Hip Hop For President” campaign he raised a possibility that hadn't been considered in a lot of circles in any serious way yet - a Hip Hop presidential candidate on an independent party slate, bringing up and championing the issues present in the communities where Hip Hop is impacted. Hip Hop had already made some very significant strides with the National Hip Hop Political convention and an abundance of activity that took place on the state and national level. There were also a lot of folks from the Green Party who were interested in further developing that kind of a relationship, including Anita Rios, former Co-Chair of the USGP National Committee, and Dean Myerson, founder and Executive Director of the Green Institute. Jared Ball had a vision. And he teamed up with DC Artist Head-Roc to execute a creative and artistic strategy for that vision. Head-Roc and Jared Ball created a two-man artist/candidate multimedia presentation that would be a great indicator of what was to come. His reasoning is simple: “George Jackson remains correct. After the fact of monopoly capital the vote becomes meaningless. Our only hope for electoral politics is to develop viable alternatives to what currently exists. If we are to vote, we must develop a party worthy of that effort and struggle. It is the Green Party that best represents that hope.”
In other areas, the lion’s share of political activity that took place under the moniker "Hip-Hop" did so either in an independent, non-electoral or non-political way, or in many cases in a way that made the work seem automatically pro-Democratic Party in nature, even when it was not explicitly taking that position. There are many who believe that the Democratic Party machine engagement contributed to the split of the original collective who helped to organize the National Hip Hop Political convention at the time.
Soon President Obama was winning the nomination, and it was all but sure that the Hip Hop vote would lean in his direction. It was a legitimate position at the time, because every rapper and their mom were taking photo ops with the soon-to-be President. My position on Obama at the time can be found at http://debugcommunity.blogspot.com/2008/01/barack-obama-is-new-oj.html. But the Green party delivered a one-two punch that would shock the world. Former Democratic Party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney became the Presidential candidate for the Green Party, and announced Rosa Clemente as her running mate. Both Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente had a great deal of support within the Hip Hop community, although that support would struggle to be organized. Jared Ball and Head-Roc would continue their campaign, only re-focused in a manner that was supportive of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, setting their own egos aside long enough to get in line with the Green Party program.
And while Cynthia McKinney had developed a particular platform on a national stage, Rosa Clemente was a new and unexpected element. Rosa, who was a founder of the National Hip Hop Political Convention, a member of the Malcom X Grassroots Movement and one of the people who would help define Hip Hop Activism since its inception, added something new into presidential politics. She was a candidate who related explicitly as a Hip Hop candidate. Rosa would go on to make appearances at the Hip Hop Congress National Convention in Biloxi, MS and the National Hip Hop Political Convention in Las Vegas, NV. This would be the very same year that, in a moment of movement prophecy, Rosa Clemente would stand with the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, marching with PPEHRC National Coordinator Cheri Honkala and thousands of people at the March For Our Lives in St. Paul, MN. Rosa was also working to get Dead Prez at the march following a performance at one of the many cultural events during the RNC protests. This march hit many sites in St. Paul including prisons, shelters, and significant areas from St. Paul movement history. Halfway through the march, Rage against the Machine, who were hosting a concert that was spontaneously canceled, directed their 4,000 attendees to join the March, already 6,000 strong and being led by Cheri and Rosa. Little did the world know that that march held both the 2008 and 2012 Vice Presidential candidates of the Green Party. And they were marching for the lives of poor people, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, White, Women, Men, other gender qualifications, Children, Elders, unborn and ancestors alike. It was a prophetic moment, indeed.
2012: Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
Fast forward to 2011, and Cheri Honkala running for Sheriff in Philadelphia. And get this-- Cheri and the Greens were running on an explicit platform of NO EVICTIONS, NO FORECLOSURES. Imagine for a hot second a sheriff who simply refused to evict poor people from their homes! Now imagine hundreds of them. That’s a good example of what it looks like when Hip Hop gets focused on implementing our program, not just envisioning it. On top of that, there are folks in Hip Hop on the ground doing this kind of work locally, nationally and internationally every day.
Fast forward a year later. Cheri's now the Vice Presidential candidate for the Green Party, running on a ticket with Massachusetts’ Dr. Jill Stein, whose Green New Deal jives closely with the platforms and concepts first elaborated on in the platform statement released by the National Hip Hop Political convention some eight years earlier in 2004. And Cheri Honkala has a long history of working with organizers and cultural producers like Mic Crenshaw in Portland, OR, Manny Phesto in Minneapolis, MN, and Rebel Diaz in Chicago, IL. The Green Party in general, and Cheri Honkala in particular, have often reflected many of the radical positions that have been expressed in Hip Hop movement and activism. While there continues to be critique and engagement about the value of the Green Party, this presidential and vice presidential campaign continues to embody much of that natural connection.
Just take a look at some of the activity that has taken place over the last two weeks.
We begin with a rally in New York where Global Block Foundation founder and former Chairman of the Hip Hop Association George Martinez, who was also a Congressional candidate from within the Occupy movement, performed in support of Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala. He performed for the audience, and is currently advocating, a three-point platform which fits directly into the platform of the Green New Deal, as well as this past year's monumental Occupy movement. That platform is as follows:
GROAmerica (Grass Roots Organizing America) is an integrated community empowerment and civic engagement initiative that represents the evolution of multiple experimental, collaborative organizing frameworks. GROAmerica operates with a sense of urgency, as inner city communities everywhere are at a crossroads of economic instability, street violence and failing trust in public institutions. It is designed to promote local activism and resource exchange to connect community members who are not otherwise engaged to local resources. It fosters practical, creative and culturally relevant solutions to address long-term community needs. And it can be used to address emergency issues and conditions in any community. The end goal is to build a grassroots system between public, private, civil society, and community stakeholders to collectively identify and tackle local issues through the convergence of cultural expression, civic engagement, and community resource management/mobilization.
GROAmerica is an open source, do it yourself (DIY) model with a three-pronged approach:
a) public assemblies that combine culturally relevant dialogues, tool-driven workshops and creative expression;
b) issue/need-based direct actions;
c) Community-resource Mapping Network System (ComMNS®): a GIS mapping and mobilization system connecting community resources and needs.
That was followed with the Stein campaign’s Associate Campaign Manager, Erika Wolf, attending the "Give a sh*@" Happy hour hosted by Chicago votes, an organization headed and created by TJ Crawford of Chicago's National Hip Hop Political convention. Later on in the week, Cheri Honkala came to California’s Bay Area, where she attended a community Q&A hosted by myself at San Jose's own Silicon Valley De-Bug with the support of the Santa Clara County Green Party. Its taking place there is significant, as De-Bug as been at the forefront of culture, justice, labor, immigration and youth work in the South Bay since its inception in the late 90's. One of its founders, Raj Jaydev, is well-known in the community for his work with families, organizations and individuals. He welcomed the event into the space with grace, gratitude and vision. In attendance at the event were some independent Hip Hop notables such as DLabrie, Rahman Jamaal and B-Jada of Hip Hop Congress and RonDavoux Records, Dione Johnson of the Multi-Media Center, Society of Metafizix, Arman Mahoudi of KSJS and Open University and Malcom Lee of The San Jose Zulu Nation Chapter and many others. It was a potent mix of attendees who identified with Hip Hop, Occupy, and the Green Party. Cheri took questions about her journey to becoming the VP candidate, police brutality, health care, forgiving student debt, and the Green New Deal.
The process continued the following day with a group of over 70 students at De Anza college in Cupertino, the sixth largest community college in the state of California. That was followed by an event at Youth Uprising hosted by the Hip Hop Chess Federation’s visionary founder Adisa Banjoko. Honkala couldn’t stay because of traffic concerns with the Giants game, but the movie screening itself, “Brooklyn Castle" portrayed the struggles of public education and programs for our youth. That was followed by a post-presidential debate panel discussion hosted by Hip Hop journalist and historian Davey D, who's been on top of covering the campaign since the Democratic National Convention. It was there that Davey noted that much of the mainstream press wasn’t covering the independent party candidates. The Panel included folks like Rob "Biko" Baker of the League of Young Voters, Josh Harley of Youth Together, and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Green Party Candidate for Mayor of Berkeley who is also the founder of Students for Hip Hop at UC Berkeley. Kahlil was also responsible for co-hosting a community event for Cheri Honkala, where they took questions together as local and national representatives. Among many issues they both drove home was how both of them were being locked out of the conversation. Cheri elaborated on being locked in a warehouse for over 8 hours with Dr. Jill Stein, while nobody from the campaign knew where they were, after trying to participate in the Presidential debates. Kahlil shared how the Democratic Club of Berkeley refused to be democratic when it came to his participation, making efforts to keep his voice out of their public debates. DLabrie performed the powerful cut, "It Ain't EZ," while J.R. Valery, respected activist, organizer, journalist and freedom fighter from Oakland, dropped science on how candidates can best engage non-profit and public radio stations.
2012 and Beyond - What else is possible?
Have whatever opinion you'd like, but here are the facts. The movement and the platform of the Green Party, along with the people interested in taking leadership, are increasingly young people, and people of color who may or may not identify as Hip Hop but are definitely connected to Hip Hop activity and political action. There are also more and more people interested in supporting the Green Party as a place to challenge the Democractic Party paradigm as the electoral vanguard of the movement.
Taking a look at the Green New Deal, and the work of Dr. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, and of leaders like Rosa Clemente and Jared Ball, it becomes an unavoidable question. Or even better, an answer to a question that was asked of us four years ago when Jared and Rosa first ran. Was getting Hip Hop involved with the Green Party worth the effort? Well, in many ways, it looks more and more like an inevitability, with the only question becoming what role, if any, you will play. Even Bakari Kitwana, Co-Founder of the National Hip Hop Political Convention, and author of the upcoming book, "Hip Hop Activism in the Obama Age”, acknowledges that a functional and healthy relationship between Hip Hop and the Green Party could help resolve some of the Green Party's challenges with expanding its base, reach and community grounding, while the Green Party offers a political infrastructure that Hip Hop has yet to develop, and that is still young enough to be open to creativity and leadership.
If you still want to vote for Obama, that’s okay with me. Honestly, as a Black man, and a father who wants his children to see that and know that they can have that ambition, I feel that. As a son who was happy that his parents got to live to see that, I can understand that. I can relate to that and respect that decision. As Tina Bell Wright, noted Hip Hop Professor and writer of the “Rise Up, Hip Hop Nation” series said, “in 2008, a vote for Obama was a vote for history." But we have still got some key questions that need rapid answers.
If you are in a state that is already going to Romney, or already going to Obama, and you agree with the Green Party platform, why wouldn't you vote in its favor? Why not support candidates like Jill Stein, Cheri Honkala and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi? If five percent of the electorate voting for the Green Party presidential candidate will mean 20 million dollars in the next four years to develop the party, what position will you take in that? If you don't believe in the Democratic Party anymore and you're only voting for the lesser of two evils out of fear, when do we start building something different? What are our plans for making these ideas real in the next week and the next four years? Do the tactics and strategies of electoral organizing and community organizing also have to remain as an either/or proposition, or can we begin to use them as a tandem strategy of both/and? Will there be a space to discuss internalized classism, corporate influence and poverty in US politics, or will that be pushed further and further into the margins to be filled with conversations about race, gender and sexuality that, while important, don’t address the whole of our challenges as a planet or community right now? When we know that the lesser of two evils isn’t bringing up the education-to-prison pipeline, or ecological disaster, how long will we wait to address them on our own or through some other means? What are the daily, weekly and monthly actions that happen on a consistent basis that will build the relationships and credibility for that? What else is possible?
David Cobb is one Green leader excited about the possibilities. "We need each other," he says. "The Green Party needs the youthful energy, the cultural component, and the multi-racial juice Hip Hop brings and represents. And frankly, we need Hip Hop to push and challenge us on important issues like white supremacy, the school-to-prison pipeline, and a host of subjects. We don't know what we don't know in the Green Party, and we need to be schooled by Hip Hop."
Cobb also reminds us the need goes both ways.
"Hip Hop also needs the Green Party," he continued. "Hip Hop needs the institutional capacity we have developed, the fully developed political program that incorporates peace, justice, ecology and democracy. And frankly Hip Hop needs the focus that a serious, radical electoral campaign that can provide."
He concludes with this metaphor. "The Green Party has built a stage, and it's available for Hip Hop to perform on. And mutual need that benefits two allies is the sweet spot of real solidarity. Let's get on with it."
Shamako Noble - Hip Hop Artist, Education, and Community Organizer, San Jose, CA
Jared Ball - Associate Communications Professor, Morgan State University; Radio producer and host, WPFW, Washington, DC
Kahlil Jacobs Fantauzzi - Mayoral Candidate, Berkeley, CA
DLabrie - Hip Hop Artist, President of RonDavoux Records and Community Organizer, Oakland, CA
Ashley Proctor - Community Organizer, Oakland, CA
Rosa Clemente - Community Organizer, Independent Journalist, Hip Hop Activist
Kimberly King - Assistant Psychology Professor, California State University Los Angeles; Producer, The Beautiful Struggle, KPFK
Cheri Pace - Educator, Activist and Artist, Atlanta, GA
Malcolm Hoover - Community Organizer and Data Analyst, Oakland CA
Khalilah Collins - Former Executive Director of W.I.T. (Women In Transition) Louisville, KY
Krista Keating - Blogger, Revolutionize Yo' Block
Ron Gubitz - Educator, Co-Founder of Hip Hop Congress
Sandy Perry - Outreach Minister, Christian Homeless Alliance Ministries, San Jose, CA
Janice Carolina - Housing Activist, San Jose, CA
Manny Phesto - Hip Hop Artist, Community Organizer, Minneapolis, MN
Rahman Jamaal - Hip Hop Artist (Project S.E.E.R.), Educator
Dione Johnson - Founder, Multi-Media
Head-Roc - Hip Hop Artist and Activist, Washington, DC