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News ::
25 Sep 2002
Modified: 02 Oct 2002
From Sept, 20-22nd in Boston, a conference was held to help bind social activism and art through hip hop... Workshops included the "No More Youth Jails" and "Women's Voices", with artists from around the country present, including Suheir Hammad and Dead Prez... The following includes interviews I conducted with a son of a political prisoner and local organizers in Boston... (VIDEO SOON)
This past weekend in Boston was the first annual Active Arts Youth Conference, a convergence of activists and artists from around the country to come together to promote social activism and conscious hip hop within our communities. Zakia from RAW Earth spoke about the networking that took place, breaking it down in the way, I SEE as a fundamental aspect of the conference, using revolutionary gardening as a political weapon, "...not only do they get fed but they go back to their communities and plant those seeds also..."
The conference, organized by AFSC's Critical Breakdown, included such acts as Dead Prez and Medusa, and workshop facilitators like Fred Hampton Jr. and Rosa Clemente. It was an attempt to engage Boston inner city youth on issues that effect their everyday lives, like the prison industrial complex, AIDS, and the role of mainstream media, engaging solutions through the medium of hip hop and art.
Around 10 workshops each session on Saturday, Sept. 21st were crammed into Northeastern University's Curry Student Center. Speaking from the hype, as I didn't attend every single workshop, there was 1 "empowering" continuous workshop that was extended throughout each session with the sons and daughters of political prisoners. This forum seemed to be geared more towards folks who are personally affected by this type of incarceration, yet those involved reported a sense of growth and enhanced connection to the bigger family. There was also a workshop dedicated to how to build creative arts programs in prisons and youth detention facilities, and various interactive workshops working through some of these issues by creating guerilla art and spoken word performances.

I have now just transcribed interviews and documented words that I conducted over the weekend... I included some of my personal reactions to the video record of discussion that I was left with. I wanted to create more of a context for the words to fall into.. Please everyone, involved or not, keep this broader discussion going..
I also hope people that attended might have personal experiences that they had at the conference that they would be willing to include in this archive of evaluation...

I'll start here:::: The aspect that hit me the hardest over the weekend was by far the revolutionary role of women within the conference.. The concert Friday night had a lot of strong females on the mic, including Medusa and La Bruja... They clearly represented the female politic within hip-hop and life... Medusa, clad in her warrior wear, camo work clothes and cowboy hat, was brought into context in a workshop, as they emphasized the strength of a women's voice,...."now how much room did Medusa give you to question her?? She gave you no room."
RAW Earth later told me how hard they had to work at becoming part of the Boston hip hop scene, because it's so male dominated... "We used to have to literally grab the mic from men, who wouldn't let us step up... If someone's not giving you the mic, you just take it. You take what's yours.." I was actually a bit turned off, oddly enuf, to the testosterone that emerged when my favorite hip hop words of Dead Prez came out in full force at the highlight of the evening... (yeah, they were really short and when they starting burning stuff, er flag and money, the house lights came on)
*check out my video pics, as soon as I get em up!

On Saturday there was a wide array of interactive workshops and presenters from around the country.. I was having an awful morning, exhausted and stressing about the lack of role IMC was having in the conference... Fortunately, my life was saved by being able to attend the workshop, entitled "Women's Voices", a panel of female poets from nyc that was set up as a safe space for women, NO BOYS ALLOWED! It's impossible for me to remain objective as a so-called "journalist" , to report in words what happened during this workshop.. If I were to do so, I feel I would be discrediting the inherent nature of the workshop... It was more about the sharing of emotions, and less about the concrete. So in the same right, I think it's just as important that I attempt to perpetuate that dialogue here....
It's strange that I'm even trying to write words about the workshop, because although I can't stop telling people about it, I haven't found myself really able to tell them "anything"... It was so beautifully orchestrated, that when I try to put the emotion into words it just feels so inadequate in comparison. I can honestly say that I have never attended a workshop or class that has ever moved me as much as this array of voices; strong and militant, and yet soft, soft like only a woman, who huddles over her children nurturing them with quiet lullabies, as bombs rain down upon her back..
This workshop presented a panel of female artists; Suheir Hammad, La Bruja, Queen Godis, and Rha Goddess, who began with their own spoken word performances.. After this intro, they told their personal stories and we THEN had time to create more of an interactive environment. While it was focused mostly on the particular voices of these women on the panel, who were so eloquently prepared, I could feel the presence of this collective solidarity within the room.. So yes, for that hour, I chose like many others, to live vicariously through these women who were positioned above us, as if speaking from a pedestal of experience... Surprisingly, this didn't bother me as much as it might in other situations, because here I could truly trust the genuiness of their shared experiences and the warmth of empathy that was extended outwards....
"If we don't speak, we die.... And I think as women raised in a culture of silence, it can be the hardest thing for us to do..... When I start to look at where my voice is absent in my life, I bring that voice to those parts of my life that support my liberation and my livelihood as a human being..."
She later went on to discuss how the time for women to step to the healm is here.. "We have to stop looking toward other people to deliver... It's time for us to grow up...."

A lot of what was discussed can be broadened to include more than the female experience, like that of the "lower classes", a motivation to rise up collectively and reject our historic roles as tools to the systemic big picture....

One of the women on the panel,( I won't release any names in this forum), laid it down like this:
"It is not a white supremacist society. They want us to believe it is, they want us to act like it is. You see what I'm saying? We have to start to take back some of these conversations. I'm not oppressed. I'm free. You just don't know it yet.....
If I don't ever get a chance to ever say anything else to you::: Reclaim your existence.... I don't struggle. I stand. We have to start recognizing where we we understand that history and where we perpetuate it... I'm nobody's victim."

An older woman in the 'audience' posed a question, which I found very curious; She seemed to feel a loss of direction. She wanted clear answers. " I worry that we will walk away from here and have no sense of action.. I feel like we need some kind of leadership....."
I was excited to find one of the panelists quickly jump to the mic on this one... She came in kind of quietly, weaving her way around the topic, and then suddenly ended it with a slam:
"The age of the dynamic, charismatic leader is dead, y'all. D-E-A-D. It is up to you. So what the fuc are you going to do!?"

more insight:
"Revolution is not huge. Revolution is every day. It's every hour.. It' s how we treat one another..."

"...When I do intereact with people for whatever cause, whatever situation, I will become truth and divinity... When we come together having our true voices inside here and being able to share them, emanating from every pore of our being, that's when we affect change.... Be the peace, before we make it..... That energy is really enough to make somebody over in Afghanistan or the wars here put their guns down. Even if it's just one person...."

Sunday afternoon at the Middle East during our "networking brunch", I was eating with Russell Shoatz and another son of a political prisoner, listening to them chat about the "deep vibes" they got from the conference.. I was feeling Shoatz' positive energy, so I asked him to come outside with me and conduct this interview.. We crouched down within a doorway nook, trying to compensate for my lack of a fancy mic. I asked him to give an introduction to himself and how he felt about the conference:

"I am Russell Shoats, son of political prisoner.... I'm here at the conference to meet other children of political prisoners, trying to build with them, do therapy with them on the effects of cointelpro, try to put out info with them about our parents and the effects of the situation they created... It's very important that we do broad base work around our political prisoners and that we also make a connection to those who have been unjustly criminalized, unjustly locked up around Sept. 11 events, who have been singled out, basically conspired against, people who have no real connection to the 911 event, people who have been profiled because they fit a certain look... They have been locked up unjustly. They haven't been given due process.. They are people, at least 2000 people, who have been given United States citizenship and now the U.S., for lack of better terms, is saying to them, 'you don't have any rights, you're suspected of being criminals and this is very similar to what happened to my father and those times in general during the 60's.. So these people who are locked up on those grounds are ALSO political prisoners in their own right, quite different from the Black Panther and BLA style, but nevertheless the connection must be made that those who've been locked up and criminalized from Sept. 11th... the connection has to be made..."

td(me): The dis-connection lies in these people being discriminated against SOLELY because of their exteriors... It's very similar to the Japanese concentration camps we set up in this country and the unfortunate thing is these people (many immigrants, and unaccountable for) don't have the same support network that these activists, communicating with the outside world have. We have no idea what's going on really and no way of accessing this information when we don't demand anything from these old white racists calling the shots.

R.S. : "One of the things that I really felt good about was it was a therapy session for a lot of the children of political prisoners and freedom fighters... It was a space that they felt comfortable, to talk about how their mothers and fathers get locked up unjustly.. It was a space where people could learn how to talk about their mother or father's case, because everyone there wasn't an orator or speaker but it was very necessary for those people to be able to put their parent's stories out into the community, specifically from that child's perspective because a lot of times that draws in the crowd and into the case, and makes them want to know that specific political prisoner. So I was very happy to see some of those children who don't generally come out to come out and speak about their mother or father and show emotion around other people who have emotions around these same issues.. it's really important to get these people together to get them to show love, get them to trade experiences, and get them to put out info around a righteous cause around people who have basically died or given their lives so they can have a better life. And even though their mother's and fathers are toted as criminals, toted as terrorists, they have a safe haven this weekend that they could come to and say hey your dad's not a terrorist, he's not a criminal, he's a freedom fighter... that was really key to me.."

R.S. : "Logic; just ideology wise, I feel that we have to do better coalition building and under the flag of coalition building we have to learn how to strategize better amongst different races of people, different reigns of people, different ideas, different forms of struggle, different ways that people connect.. It's really imperative to me that people who are in different organizations or struggles, that they understand that we have collective goals, that we have lines that we are tied to that are similar and that whenever we can work together we should work together, and also just be open to new and different ideas and to how other people think and why... And try to be open and accepting of that ideology, not meaning that you have to accept it, but at least here it through and make a conscious decision at that point."

td: So this conference was intended to be geared towards the youth. How do you think that aspect went?

R.S. : "I always think that the youth turn out could be more.. for me it' s never enough, until we literally have millions of youth in the street, helping us to call shots, helping us to be a real democracy and helping us to make changes and to build things and to start institutions and start curriculums..."
"I didn't think that the outreach to the young populace was done enough.. I think it was a fair job, but we can always to better, so we can get this specific information to the youth and I think their representation was pretty good in the staff, in the tabling and vending.. I think the turn out was probably best at the hip hop shows, so I think there's some work to be done around bridging the gap between the hip hop show and the actual panels and maybe we need to mix those into one space or try to make sure that kids get from one space to another and get the information and the culture in one piece.. Overall my support to the youth.. Thanks for coming out and continue to come out. We need you.."

td: Over the weekend, there was some attention paid to the problems with education, especially in communities of color and lower class... I think a lot of these workshops were set up with the idea of creating an alternative arena to school, providing a space for some real-life skill sharing and positive self-empowering education that is severely lacking within the school SYSTEMS of Amerika.

td: We then spent some time discussing the burnout syndrome within activism and I asked Russell how we could limit that..
R.S. : "It's a big thing to constantly surround yourself and evolve yourself with like minded people and like minded events in order to keep yourself uplifted.. It's almost like church.. Some people go for some spirituality, some people go to jump up and clap and get the holy ghost.. So ya know, I think we need to come and get the holy ghost from the struggle, ya know dance and jump up and down and clap and whatever, but USE THAT as the energy to keep us going day to day to day to day to day.. Because one of the major problems we have with the 'activist scene' is we have major early burnout, people do it for whatever amount of time, that they get so tired from putting so much energy in and not balancing out that they burnout...

td: Do you think that has something to do with the glamorization of our culture? We're trained to keep jumping for that pie in the sky, and when it's not always smiling on our plates, we feel unfulfilled.
RS: "The lack of ability to deal with change and what's coming down the pike and not being able to create our own realities, that's a big piece of it for me. If we're just following the steps of our oppressor or creating ideology through that or trying to build systems or institutions through that same western ideology, it's really tough. So on the burnout question, I don't think we are very creative in trying to prevent the burnout or ideologically trying to come in to the struggle with the right mindset to prevent the burnout, kinda sorta, so I think those things really have to be worked on to help people stay longer in the movement.... Even the whole western idea demands that we consume up something and then just throw it away, so a lot of people just consume up the movement and then just throw it away, they see everything they can see and then after that it's just like 'ok'..."

td: Would self-sustainability help us?

RS: "There's so little crumbs on the table, and when we get the little crumbs we do get it's hard to be self sustaining with those little crumbs, and again I believe in practice, and we haven't practiced a lot of these ideologies or these ideas that we have to do things, so when it comes time to do it, we're pretty much stinky at it or we don't do it very well, so we have 50/50 results.. So if we can work on that, our results would be a little better."

td afterthoughts:
I've also been thinking about how we're such perfectionists and idealists that perhaps this too is the reason we can't sustain ourselves.. There's so much already keeping our minds occupied, that we don't have the time to genuinely devote to ourselves..

td: Did you notice any hierarchy within the way the conference was organized?
(Russell interrupts me, throwing me a sarcastic eye, "A LITTLE!?" He then starts talking about how the youth are involved in that process...)

RS: "...the youth haven't been able to learn how to deal with it, how to answer questions around ego, how to address a crowd, how to answer questions, without it ending up in some situation where hierarchy comes into play.. And it's unavoidable a lot, especially if the organizers haven't set out initially to break down the stereotypes, but I don't think they did a terrible job, but it's definitely there, along with the male top heavy standard sexism style of conference that, for whatever reasons, people can't find enough 'qualified women' to put into the same situations that they're putting men into so that continues on EVEN in the 'revolutionary circles'. The same with homophobia and on down the line..

td: I would like to speak on behalf of being involved in the organizing and some of the difficulties that arose... While the majority of work was handled by a select few, at least in the final meetings, there had been genuine attempts to make sure everyone's voice was spoken for.. In these meetings there was a woman facilitator, yet it was always the same woman.. I didn't mind so much because she made our time go by faster, adding a lot of humor and strength. It would be nice, however, if we didn't always rely so easily on situations that are so easy, instead opening them up to develop such great qualities in a larger handful of folks.. Outside of these meetings, I didn't feel they were trying to reach a multitude of diversity, and a little bit of ego ownership was on the surface... However, the main organizers are amazing dedicated warm people and I wouldn't see it past them to not address some of these problems in the future....

OPTIMUS from 88.9 gave me a quick run down on his feelings from the weekend:

"I am Begwe, aka Optimus, 1/3 of the group called Foundation, socially conscious hip hop.. Basically my whole opinion of the conference that Critical Breakdown did is a beautiful thing, they brought a whole bunch of people from all over the United States and there was like a culmination of people and energy and thoughts on different ways that people can unify and come as a cohesive unit.."
"The critique I have is, particularly from the workshop that I went to, is that people need to leave with a sense of action, otherwise it's just discourse and people are talking about things that need to be done, rather than actually doing it.. As great Cuban revolutionary, Jose Martiz said, 'the best way of telling is doing', so that's the phase we're at now, that's what we have to do..
Another one of things I would of liked to see is, especially from people coming from all over the U.S., is to have more Boston representation there, within workshops, speakers, and the artists that got to perform.... some of the people that traveled far have a little bit of a skewed view of what Boston is really like..."
"Another thing that I would have liked to see, especially with the whole slew of POLICE SHOOTINGS that have been happening recently in the Boston area, that if we had all this political voice, all this political power unified, we could of had some commentary on that, because that's a local issue in Boston right now.."

td: In fact, during the concert on Friday, there was a bit of an uproar in the theater, because of the lack of attention addressing how 8 people of color have been shot by the BPD in the past month or two... Someone was speaking about Camilo Vivieros's case and a lot of people started shouting.. "What about the Boston Police Department... They're not just interrogating our people, they’re shooting them in the back of the neck.."

td: I then asked Optimus how he felt the conference equally accented different communities..
"One of things that could have been done differently is more input from various organizations, various groups, when they have Critical Breakdown maybe they could've handed out survey sheets.. I feel that a good scope was covered, everything from homophobia in hip hop to how art incorporates into the revolution."
"The aura, the vibe of the conference was good, I got to meet new people, I got to network, have places to stay when I go abroad, so overall it was a good thing, I'm sure the second one will be better.. Peace and love, thanks for the interview, Optimus signing out..."

"In my community there's diverse people and when you say hi to someone who's an older white male they won't say hi back.. They think that something's going down because I'm a different race than them and they all be like, oh no another black person just moved in and they're taking over, and I don't feel that way... In Philly it wasn't like that, but where I live now it is, and it's kinda scary...."

"As the media shows negative images of our community, those that don't see our community on a daily basis, they end up hating us or resenting us, cuz they don't get another view... The prejudice that's within Boston is deep.. It's not in your face, more or less overt. You gotta watch your back more. You gotta be more on guard, because if not the puppets that play out the prejudice acts will get to you, eventually help to destroy your soul and the soul of the community..."

td: How can we change this?
Z: "Just by getting out there and educating, by going into their community and doing what we do that is positive to give another perspective. And it won't happen right away, but over time, after pounding them in the head over and over, the system that's set up for us not to advance, can be depleted if we all work together, not stooping down to the level of ignorance..."

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thanks... (english)
26 Sep 2002
thanks for this personal account of the conference. i was wondering how women had experienced it- there WAS a definite focus on male performers and workshop presenters, even though the "estro flow" came thru in full effect during the concert. i heard from many friends, and i also feel, that the way dead prez was held up above everyone else at the show was not a positive thing for the show. this type of hype of one person or crew takes away from a feel of real democracy. all the performers should be equal, and when one is held up above the others it causes bad feelings. even though im feeling DP's lyrics and energy, the result of holding them up above everyone else is damaging- how are people in boston (and elsewhere) supposed to be empowered to organize when they have to compete with these gods? and there was too much focus during their set on the whole male militant vibe- the only time them mentioning 'sisters' was during 'mind sex'. luckily for us, medusa (and suheir and la bruja and them) held it down for us.
another thing was that i wish there was a way for the women to share/educate with the men after their closed workshop. male domination in hiphop and even the so-called conscious community is rampant- we need to challenge this every time it comes up, in front of everyone not just with other women. whats the point of any revolution which does not work towards equality and empowerment for all people.
but on the whole, this conference was fun and educational, and i know for sure i have friends all over boston now.
Different impression of the show (english)
27 Sep 2002
I was at the show and thought the real peak of the show was Medusa, whose energy spread through every person, to every corner of the hall. For me, maybe it was because Dead Prez were what they always are, while Medusa was totally new. Other people that I talked to also said the same thing - that Medusa, who was all about her female energy - was the high point of the evening. People who had seen Dead Prez before said that that was not their best night. That's not to detract from their political/revolutionary message, I'm just talking about energy and connecting with the audience. I felt like the show was very woman-positive. And I love 'Mind Sex'. It's totally sexy and respectful of women at the same time. Altogether, the conference was incredible, due to the hard work of many women & men.
La Bruja at AAYC Concert (english)
30 Sep 2002
DP still (english)
02 Oct 2002
Dead Prez pic : take 2 (english)
02 Oct 2002
1 at a time here....
trouble w/ the lo-techer....