Friday, June 09, 2006

4 Easy Step to Defend Our Access to Affordable Internet Services and Information

A friend at Playahata.com just sent me an open letter written by Davey D. In this critical letter to the hip hop community, he laments the passage of Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act by Congress and calls for hip hop heads to stop paying attention to nonsense and write their senators. It was a great letter. A long letter. Followed by an article -- almost as long as yet much less accessible than Davey's letter -- about the attacks on net neutrality and the increasing dangers of corporate control of the media.
I copied the letter and sent out a bulletin to my network on MySpace. My network of 350+ "friends" consists mostly of fans -- current and potential -- of my novels. Many are hip hop heads and are rather young. Too many, I realized, will take one look at that long letter and not read it all if they even open it. As well-written as it is, it's too long. This angers than saddens me. And then I decide how to be part of the solution.
So I followed up with another bulletin. The title: 4 Easy Steps to Defend Your Right to Affordable Internet. Until now, emails have been circulating the 'net about proposed legislation to impose charges on email. To date they have been untrue. But for all intents and purposes, COPE is a real threat as it will give massive control of the internet to telephone and cable companies. With all the urban legends and internet hoaxes that get past folks, my hope that this title does the trick and gets people to open the bulletin. Then I write:
I promise this will be brief so please read this.
I recently sent out a bulletin with an open letter from Davey D about the danger of the Internet falling into the control of telephone and cable companies. I realize it's a long letter followed by an even longer article that many of you may not read. Allow me to break it down simply and give you four easy steps to follow.
The breakdown: If the legislation known as COPE passes the Senate, kiss affordable internet services good-bye. The internet will essentially belong to only those who can afford it. You think there's bias and misinformation in the media now? Imagine what happens if people like you and me cannot afford to send bulletins, write blogs, conduct research, etc. because we're not cable and telephone company moguls.
So what do you do? Four easy steps. So easy there's no excuse to just do it NOW!
1. Copy this simple paragraph:
Please do not give into the lobbyists of the multibillion dollar corporations and vote AGAINST the disingenously named Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement. It is an assault on the First Amendment as well as the principles of a free-market economy to enable telephone and cable companies to shut out competitors. Furthermore, it is against the interests of working-class people to support any legislation that hinders net neutrality and makes the internet a domain for only those who can afford to pay the tolls and rig the field. I will be watching your vote on this critical issue, and I hope you will do the right thing and defeat COPE. If you know more about this issue, and want to go off in your own words, do. It's actually better to personalize your letter. But if you can't for whatever reason, this will do. Better to cut and paste than do NOTHING AT ALL.
2. Go to this site:
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
And find your senator. If you've got more than one choice, don't worry. Trust me, you'll know who it is from whatever name sounds familiar from your local news.
3. Complete the form, paste the paragraph you wrote in the box, and hit SEND.
4. TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY TO DO THE SAME. REPOST, FORWARD, EMAIL. If you want to be able to send polls, surveys, jokes, etc. on MySpace tomorrow, you'd better take two minutes and complete this action TODAY!
Thanks for reading this through and doing the right thing.
I hope it'll work.

Forget About Snitchin'... Just Stop Sellin' Shit

A friend just emailed an article in which the managing director of Cristal champagne took issue with the popularity the alcoholic beverage has among hip hop heads.

According to AmericanBrandStand.com, Cristal is the 8th most mentioned brand on Billboard's Top 100 in 2005. Artists such as Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Trina dropped the name of the champagne 35 times. What does the managing director Frederic Rouzaud call all this free promotion by celebrities who ordinarily earn millions to endorse products?

"Unwelcomed attention."

Unwelcomed indeed. On the one hand, companies that are embarrassed that the hip hop community embraces their products are both racist and hypocritical. I wonder if classism is not at play, too. After all, if country musicians dropped their name brands in songs (without compensation for the endorsement) and thousands of White working-class people joined their consumer base, would they, too, consider that "unwelcomed attention?" I truly don't know.
But on the flip side, hip hop artists sell things to its primarily Black and Brown working-class listeners they do not need. Hell, they sell buying, period. Aren't our communities already targeted for a slew of toxic products as it is? Junk food, cigarettes, malt liquor... And while there are many exceptions, too many hip hop artists are also selling such things as misogyny, homophobia, unsafe sex, violence and a host of other deadly ideas and practices.
So I can only stay angry for a second when I hear that the maker of some alcoholic beverage, luxury vehicle, footwear and the like fail to appreciate the consumer love they get from hip hop heads. I hardly want to call for boycotts and demand that racist (and maybe classist) companies who feel that their products are sullied when consumed by people who create and listen to hip hop music. If they don't respect our consumer dollars, why should we be fighting to stuff them into their ungrateful pockets?

And then I think about all the things that we should be fighting for -- quality and affordable education, housing, health care and other topics that many hip hop artists won't touch. I know, I know... some do, and it's precisely because of that, they never make Billboard. Where is the website that tracks how often rappers calls for justice, peace and equality? The most priceless things have no trademark.

But the conclusion remains the same. It really doesn't matter how we feel when the managing director of Louis Roderer Cristal complains to The Economist, "What can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." Clearly, hip hop artists shouldn't shill for bigoted companies who think our communities are beneath their products, but the answer is not to shout out Dom Perignon or Krug instead. Many hip hop artists pride themselves much more on promoting the truth than any brand, right? Well, the truth is that we do not need any of these brands regardless of whether the manufacturer in question desires our business or not.

Sell that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

4th Annual Hip Hop Power Shop

If like Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, you still have faith in the hip hop generation's abilty to promote social justice positive, and you can make it to Hotlanta this Saturday, don't miss this important (and free) event.
WHO: Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
WHAT: Hosts the fourth annual Hip Hop Power Shop
WHEN: Saturday, June 10th, 2006 10:00 am ­ 4:00 pm
WHERE: Tupac Amaru Shakur Center, 5616 Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain, GA
Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and the Hip Hop community are coming together to promote the awareness and empowerment of young people. We are "ARMING OUR YOUTH WITH WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION," teaching the young how to engage in the social-political system. Congresswoman McKinney believes that young people will be able to take their destiny into their own hands, and soar to heretofore-unseen levels of achievement. To that end, this year's H.H.P.S. will be the most informative and inspiring ever.
Confirmed as participants joining Rep. McKinney in the fourth Annual Hip Hop Power Shop: Bobby Brown, Professor Griff, Gotti, Public Enemy, Chuck D, M-1 (Dead Prez), Rosa Clemente, Davey D, Nappy Roots ­ Scales, DJ Jelly, Monica Benderman, wife of prisoner of conscience Sgt. Kevin Benderman, Ingemar Smith, Veterans for Peace, Denise Thomas Military Families Speak Out, Rev. Markel Hutchins, community activist, Steven Waddy Georgia Coalition for a People's Agenda, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Baba Curtis and Minister Server and many more. Nationally known DJ Greg Street from Atlanta's #1 radio station, V-103 will be the Master of ceremony.This year's Hip Hop Power Shop will also feature participation from Mr. Tony Gray a nationally recognized radio consultant, programmer and station owner.
Events include a Katrina Tribunal, Mock Congress on the Tupak Shakur Records Release Act, poetry readings, and panels on Countering Culture: Attacks on Political Musicians and Youth, and Hip Hop History and Speak Out, and on Countering Recruitment: Realities of War and Military Service. The Hip Hop Power Shop will wrap up with a performance by Moodswing Productions recording artist: "JR".
COUNTERING CULTURE: CHALLENGES AND SURVIVAL FOR YOUTH OF COLORArming Our Youth With Weapons of Mass Instruction
ADVERTISEMENT
What's coming at them:
Attack on cultural icons and leadership (Tupac and MLK)
Police repression
War on Black Youth
Dead end jobs
Cutting social support
Military recruitment and poverty draft
Options:
Go to war and kill veterans
Prisons
Real solutions:
Voter registration forms and get out the vote
Community based alternatives (have support groups table?)
Self-improvement (education, job training, talents and skills)
Building community
Empowerment and resistance
SCHEDULE
10:00-10:10 AM Welcome - Rep. McKinney and Tupac Center staff
10:10 ­ 11:00 AMKatrina Tribunal and Mock Congress on Tupac Shakur Records Act
11:00 ­ 11:10 Poetry, local artists
11:10PM ­ 12:00PM Panel 1: Countering Culture: Attacks on Political Musicians and Youth
12:00-12:30 LUNCH and Poetry, local artists
12:30 ­ 1:20 PM Panel 2: Countering Recruitment: Realities of War and Military Service
1:20 ­ 1:30 PM Poetry, local poets/artists
1:30 ­ 2:20 PM Panel 3: Countering Culture: Hip Hop History and Speak Out
2:20 ­ 3:50"American Blackout" (film showing)
3:50 pm ­ Closing remarks and Wrap-up

25 Years, 40 Million Lives and Counting

Today is a sad anniversary. On June 5, 1981, the first case of AIDS was diagnosed. In just a quarter of a century, 40 million people throughout the world have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Thirty million -- that is 3 out of four -- have already died from it. In the United States, one million people are living with this disease with no cure.

This is unacceptable.

We have come a long way -- not far enough, mind you -- in stemming our ignorance about HIV/AIDS and those who live with it. As more of us become directly affectedby this disease as it spreads in our communities and even touches our own families, we recognize that a HIV/AIDS diagnoses need no longer be a death sentence.

I often fear, however, that our comfort is leading to complacency. This is a disease that is still spreading at an epidemic pace. It is still a disease that severely compromises the quality of life those who contract it. It is still a disease that kills.

So sometime over the next week, do something, anything, one thing, to stop AIDS. Make a contribution to an AIDS organization be it time or money. Educate yourself and then share that information with someone you know who is holding fast to the myths. Practice safe sex. Speak out against bigotry towards people living with HIV/AIDS. Send a letter to your congressional representative to demand that more goverment funding be allocated to the search for a cure.

Let's not suffer this epidemic for another 25 years.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

California Love

E-Fierce, PattyDukes and I arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday. We're here on our usual mission -- to bring back hip hop to its roots as a culture that gives voice to the voiceless (as opposed to an industry that silence so many for not being male, wealthy and vicious.) This is my third trip to southern Cali, and I'm convinced. This reputed hip hop rivalry between East and West coasts -- if there's any truth to it at all is -- is a mere byproduct of industry BS that is more about corporate gangsterism than it is about cultural production.

Our friend and camarada (and Compton's native daughter) Lourdes picks us up from the Omni Hotel in the Civic Center and takes us to Hollywood. She has convinced her employer Hoy to sponsor our tour which will bring us to two Los Angeles high schools and end at la Feria del Libro. But tonight we have dinner at Velvet Margarita to meet with the first Mexican rapero to be featured as one of The Source's unsigned hype Malverde and his manager Brian of Machete Music.

According to its own hype, Velvet Margarita is a cross between a Tijuana cantina and a goth lounge. Don't ask me how, but it works. I order the chicken asaba and a Blue Velvet and listen to Malverde break down the bandido legend behind his stage name. The true Malverde was the Mexican improvement on Robin Hood although his legacy has been co-opted by those enarmored by narcocorridos with no thought let alone desire to rob from the rich and give to the poor. He gives us copies of his CD and tells us how his track Marcha, a song inspired by his mother who worked for decades as a farmworker. Malverde wrote this song long before immigrants and their allies took to streets across the U.S. this spring to protest xenophobic reforms, proving that his pulse is one with the people. After a living dinner conversation that spans the trends (and tricks) of the recording industry to the purposeful failing of public education, E, Patty, and I grow excited about sharing the stage with Malverde. We're fierce women who do not suffer sexism lightly, but it is evident that Brian and he are 'bout it.

The next morning we visit Belmont High School, and we immediately notice that many teachers and students are milling about silently, resorting to sponteaneous sign language and scribbling across paper to communicate with one another. They wear t-shirts that say Shut Up and Heal the Silence and badges around their necks suspended by rainbow cords. The badges explain that they are participating in a Day of Silence, a campaign of solidarity with LGBT students and faculty. Through their silence they protest the notion that anyone should be condemned to hide who they are or who they love. As the students file into the auditorium for our presentation, we introduce oruselves and commend them for standing up agaisnst homophobia. The funny thing is all they can do is nod and smile.

Because he is a native son, we ask Malverde to set it off which he does lovely with Marcha. The kids are feelin' it, but they can't sing along so E, Patty and I do it for them. Let it be known that we ain't hype girls for no one, but like I said, Malverde's a brother for the sisters so we have no problem having his back.

The E-Fierce reads an excerpt from The Sista Hood. The girls in the front row titter because in the scene the shero Mariposa hides her sketchbook behind her textbooik and writes a love poem to her crush EZ instead of listening to her boring history teacher. The teacher -- described as "Wonder bread white" -- catches Mariposa and reads her poem aloud, of course, sin sabor. Methinks the girls chuckle because they can relate to Mariposa's plight. Then Patty takes the mic and performs the poem as it should be, and although they cannot speak, the group smiles and sways with her rhythm.

I got next and read the scene from Picture Me Rollin' where Chago teaches Esperanza a thing or two she didn't know about Tupac Shakur. I do my best to channel my mother's Dominican accent as I play Chago. Only later when I do it read the excerpt for the second time do I realize that I ain't channeling shit. That accent's all mine, courtesy of Ma Dukes, but still it's me. It may not be my default pattern of speech, but it lives deep within me, ready to burst through at any time.

Finally, PattyDukes closes us out with the theme song for The Sista Hood. Even though the bell rings in the middle of her performance, very few stand and leave. Even the non-Latino teachers give us dap with one even saying to E, "Please don't think I'm one of those Wonder bread teachers." If she would bring her class to come hear hip hop authors and artist talk about rebellion against consquistadores both in the past and present, clearly she is not. Another teacher with tears in her eyes -- a Latina abiding by the Day of Silence -- hands Elisha a magenta-colored sheet. She writes that even though she cannot speak she wants us to know how much we moved her. We are sure to request our own Day of Silence t-shirts before we leave.

Lourdes takes us to Thai Town for lunch, and we unwind over a great meal on the sidewalk. Next stop is Woodrow Wilson High School. This is a more intimate crowd, and we meet them in the library. The Sista Hood journals that E had designed by Urban Envy are a major hit, even with a few of the boys (hell, I'm a grown woman, and I want to collect all five.) With no vows to remain silent for the day, these students are free to respond more loudly to our readings and performances. They ask questions about writing, linger after the bell to take pictures and say, "You better add me," when we tell them they can find us on MySpace.

Now it is Saturday afternoon, and E-Fierce, PattyDukes, and I break for lunch in our hotel room. We've been working individually yet simulteaneously after a kick-off breakfast for la Feria at City Hall. While there we saw a poster of the small group of Latino authors invited to participate. We are proud to be in the company of such people as political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz (who I sometimes refer to as our Aaron McGruder although he has been in the game much longer than the brilliant creator of The Boondocks) and literary novelist Victor Villase├▒or.

I whisper to E and Patty that there are some Latino authors who would refuse an invitation to be here because they wouldn't want to be "ghettoized." We unaimously disagree. We're excited to be here. It feels like home. Of course, we want to participate in "mainstream" events like the LA Times Book Festival. I have done and enjoyed the South Carolina Book Festival and the Miami Book Fair International. But no matter how much I may like to travel and engage different kinds of people, it always feels good to come home. This feels particuarly good to me as a Native New Yorker who profoundly also feels the culture differences -- the domninance of chicanismo, the dependence on cars, the much slower pace...

Then I realize that it feels so good because I'm not supposed to feel at home here. The hip hop industry has tried to tell me that I should not feel safe let alone embraced in LA. That when I come here, I need to watch my back. But it's the thriving hip hop culture that keeps telling me, "Come back soon."