Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rise up Hip Hop Nation: Creating Sustainable Change

Original link =

At the end of 2006, I wrote this original essay (link above) and offered specific actions for individuals to consider for sustainable progressive change. I share it each semester with my students because while there are many things they want to see change (in their lives in particular, and the world more broadly), many do not know how individual actions they take can lead to major societal change. And I know many don't even know where to start in a world where social problems often seem larger than life. But Margeret Mead said it best:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

So in that spirit, I am reposting an edited version of the original essay, and will continue mentoring students on how to be the change they want to see.

I'd like to begin by offering peace and respect to everyone everywhere. While many are celebrating the holiday season, many more are suffering. Some are reflecting on the year gone by, while others are just praying the New Year will bring new possibilities for joy, peace, sustenance and justice. This is the time of year for reflection on the past and resolutions for the future. For me, this annual process led me to important questions. How can we make this a year of sustainable change? What concrete steps can we take to address what ails our communities and our global village more broadly? Wherever we are in life, whether blessed or oppressed, affluent or struggling, the condition of the global village will directly affect us all sooner or later, and it is in our best interest to work towards sustainable change.

The first thing we must do is realize that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can no longer wish for better and act the same, maintaining status quo by default. To get out of the hell that corporate greed, concentrated power, western imperialism, religious fanaticism, and “ideology over reality” have created, we must get specific about what it will take to realize people power. It is not enough to be compassionate, you must act (14th Dalai Lama, 1992). And here are a few specific things you can do:

1. Pick one local issue and one global issue that you will educate your self about and stay informed!

2. Join two organizations that deal with your issues of choice (feel free to email me if you need some suggestions).

3. Mentor one child (For parents, mentor your children fully and completely). For childless adults (21+), mentor a child at your local school, Boys/Girls Club, or Big Brother/Big Sister organizations. Each One Teach One; Each One Reach One.

4. Sign at least one petition a month. Activism in the digital age is much easier than in previous ages, and it is easier to stay informed via the internet and email. For those that do not have internet access at home, utilize your city’s public library.

5. Recognizing that all media is framed (left/right, conservative/liberal), get your news from multiple media sources. By doing this, you will learn to separate facts from ideology.

6. Attend three community meetings or rallies a year or volunteer at community service centers at least three times a year. Getting involved in your community will lead to changes on the community level which will manifest on the global level eventually.

7. Be a conscious consumer. It’s a simple as this: support what you believe helps your community, reject what does not.

8. Vote. Whether the system works or doesn’t; whether elections are stolen or not. Too many of our forefather and foremothers died to give us the right to vote, and for no other reason than that, we need to honor that right. I strongly recommend all, particularly full time workers, consider absentee voting (this way you don’t have to worry about making it to the polls on the day of the election). Visit your state’s Secretary of the State page to register to vote and/or sign up as an absentee voter. Voting is easy and doesn’t cost to do, but it might cost greatly when we do not. Do not buy into the idea that two evils are the same. Voting may not directly affect your community but not voting could. To directly affect your community, it takes activism by community members and this list hopefully provides some guidance.

9. Make a sincere effort to communicate across class, color and generational lines. Most of what ails our community can be fixed with honest, open dialogue. With this we can overcome the internal divisions that separate us, and unity (which is necessary for self determination) can be realized.

10. FORGIVE. No sustainable change will be possible until we develop the ability to be critical but forgiving, unyielding on principle but yielding on people and humanity. Mistakes have been made but if we let our mistakes keep us divided, it will impede our progress. We have to embrace our mutual interests and avoid getting clogged down in our differences. A community divided is a community conquered indeed. I challenge those in conflict to take time to dialogue on what divides us (hip hop v. civil rights generation, mainstream v. underground, rapper v. rapper, bourgeois v. proletariat) and find common ground to work together on. Sustainable change will require that brothers and sisters reconcile with our humanity, and forgive past (as well as future) shortfalls and indiscretions. It is in human nature to be self-preserving, even at the expense of our progress at times. Informants have sold out movements for personal reward – and will again; some leaders have played politics at the community’s expense for power – and continue to; brothers and sisters have disrespected themselves and their ancestors through some thoughtless actions (and even profit from some of this in hip hop). Our inability to forgive one another’s trespasses will be our biggest impediment toward self determination. While I believe critical analysis of people that hurt our cause is essential, making criticism of others our primary focus makes it that more difficult to find common ground and unify around common interests. In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, Be against nothing…just be clear what you are for.

This list is a start. It is in no way definitive, but it will bring sustainable community change if each and every one of us acts on some of the suggestions listed (and others). The reason I focus on sustainable change is because our history shows us that we are very capable of big movements (Abolition, U.N.I.A., Civil Rights, Black Power), but what we have not been able to do as yet is sustain these progressive movements. To sustain them, we need continual people power and community involvement. Micro level activism can off set macro level power imbalances.

Sustainable change will take more than just vision for a better tomorrow; it will take reconciliation with the past and acceptance of the present reality. The reality is that social structure rules our lives. And like the entire natural world, humans must adapt to survive whatever structural conditions they must bear, and today that entails an uneven distribution of resources where 6% control most and 94% have little. When we reconcile with this reality, we can move to build solutions, based on “what is” instead of “what ifs”. So while the Panthers tried to build consciousness they also served the community with hot meals and health care. Bob Marley inspired souljahs across the globe, but those in most need in his native country, he gave food and shelter to daily. It is the only way to liberation: people must live before they can grow in consciousness and self determination, and each of us can take these specific actions to help our fellow beings live, learn and grow, both physically and consciously. Through self determination, we can free ourselves from dependency on a system that has never, and will never, serve us well. So for the New Year, I offer this list of specific actions individuals and communities can adopt, and if we follow it and work together to build on it, we can finally move the crowd…to freedom. One love.

* One God! One Aim! One Destiny! – Marcus Garvey and the UNIA

* Someday at Christmas, there’ll be no wars....When we have learned what Christmas is for...When we have found what life’s really worth, there’ll be peace on Earth – Stevie Wonder

1 comment:

chibou said...

LOVE this! But then again, I don't know that you've posted anything that i DON'T love! I'm inspired to get back in the game. Thanks for specific action steps to get started on! Reposting now...