Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guante: "The Hero" (Live at Occupy MN)

This is one of my favorite songs that I've written (and I've included it on about three different mixtapes, haha).  You kind of have to listen to the whole thing to get it, though.  The beat is by Big Cats!, and fits the song perfectly. It's always such an honor to be asked to perform at events like this, and I think that some of my songs/poems really take on new meaning in that context. This is definitely one of them.

Here's a more in-depth commentary on the song and what it means to me, courtesy of Culture Bully.  And here's a free download if you want the MP3:

The Hero (prod. Big Cats!) by Guante

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yes, Your Halloween Costume is Racist

(Poster campaign against racist costumes from students at Ohio U)

Here's the thing: I know you weren't TRYING to be racist. I know that I'm not getting "what you were going for." I know YOU think your costume is just "riffing on stereotypes" or only represents "one specific character, not an entire race." But dressing up as a caricature of someone else's culture is still a terrible costume idea and you should have thought of something better.

And make no mistake, these costumes are racist. Even if you don't think they are. Even if I'm just being a big oversensitive PC baby. Even if your counterarguments to all of this are well-reasoned, you're still on the "uncreative jackass" side of this debate.

And that's what this comes down to, in the end. These costumes aren't just offensive and oppressive, they're really boring too. I mean, if you have one night to dress up like something--anything-- that you're not, and the best you could think of is "Jamaican guy" or "Mexican," that's pretty sad.

So this Halloween, forget the sombreros, feather headdresses, turbans, kimonos and (ugh) blackface makeup. Be a robot instead. Be a vampire. Bake some muffins and be the goddamn muffin man. Or just stay home and eat candy. Isn't that what Halloween is all about anyway?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What the Occupy Movement Has Already Accomplished, and What's Next

That's a video from the incomparable Jay Smooth, one of the smartest voices of the hip hop generation.  If you don't know him, watch ALL of his videos.  He has a talent for breaking things down really well.

One thing he mentions in this video is how OWS has already been successful in framing the conversation, in making it perfectly clear "who the ringers are and who the muscle is."  Of course, a lot of people already knew that, but this movement has made it the #1 issue of this moment-- not just "the economy is bad," but "the economy is bad because of unregulated corporate influence in politics, a broken banking system, the fact that the rich are making fortunes off of our labor while we make do with less and less, and maybe even capitalism itself."  That's a significant difference.

And while I don't want to overestimate how much this movement is actually accomplishing, I also think we shouldn't underestimate how important that re-framing of the debate really is.  If everyone went home tomorrow, they'd have already accomplished something enormous, a real cultural shift in how people think about class.  That will play out in the 2012 elections, but it will hopefully also have an enormous ripple effect through our world beyond electoral politics, beyond Democrats vs. Republicans, beyond the old ways of thinking.

The movement has also opened up spaces-- people getting together, some for weeks now, to just build.  Conversations happen, debates flare up, we all grow as activists and as people.  One of the primary functions of large-scale protests is to radicalize new organizers, and a long-term protest like this one does that really well.  Being out there, you learn what tactics are effective and what aren't, you learn about how to deal with the police, you learn about how to best fit your talents and interests into the larger movement.  That kind of "professional development" stuff is invaluable.

It's also been a kick to the ass of progressive organizers of all stripes.  We haven't had something big to easily coalesce around for a while.  But one point I keep trying to make is that whether you work on environmental issues, anti-racist organizing, public education, LGBTQ activism, homeless advocacy or whatever, we all need to be working together-- we need to make the connections between issues explicit.  The Occupy movement, even when it isn't doing this on purpose, is a "big tent movement" with a lot of space for flexibility and creativity, and it's created a space for everyone to step their game up-- even those activists who want nothing to do with Occupy and organize separately.  At least that's what I've seen.

And if you know me, you know I'm not a cheerleader or even an optimist.  I'm usually the first person with criticism, and I still have criticisms of this movement:
  • There still needs to be more of an effort to reach out to under-represented communities-- not just people of color, but working people, activists who work on other causes, suburbanites, hipsters, the elderly, high school kids, EVERYONE.  I'm still seeing a whole lot of white college kids out there.  Nothing against them, but a mass movement needs to include-- and be led by-- a truly representative group.  
  • While I think the reasons for the occupation are perfectly clear, the goals and action plans still aren't.  That's probably partly because it's incredibly complex and is going to take some time.  But that's the next step.  We've come together, we've raised our voices, what's next?
  • Personally, I think the protest needs to evolve.  Winter is coming.  An "occupation" outdoors, with no tents (at least here in MN) may not be realistic.  But maybe we can transition into some other model of constant protest.  That presence out there is powerful, but it's not sustainable.
All in all, however, this is a very special time, a very important time.  While not everyone supports the Occupy movement, or feels safe physically attending the protests, or has the time to devote their lives to this movement-- I do think that we all need to figure out how we fit into what's happening right now.  Maybe it's about making more of an effort to go to the protests.  Maybe it's thinking up new ways to protest.  Maybe it's about spreading the word and communicating these messages to everyone we know.  Maybe it's something else.  Whatever it is, though, now is the time.

Finally, I posted this as an addendum to the last post here, but in case you missed it, I found an HQ video of my speech at Occupy MN last Friday:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mini-Documentary about Occupy MN featuring me

Spilt Magazine, along with Above Ground Magazine, produced this video. It features me, Ilicit, Brother Ali and a bunch of the occupiers.

Occupy Minnesota from Spilt Magazine on Vimeo.

It actually features a lengthy segment of my last-minute poem/speech about how the word "revolution" has to be a concrete thing and not just an abstract concept, that progressives have to have a gameplan beyond "raising our voices," that struggle means sacrifice and hard work and paying attention to the day-to-day details of movement-building.  I didn't want to just read a "rah rah we're so great" kind of activist poem (after all, the other speakers were inspiring and optimistic), so I ended up with this... a pretty awful poem, honestly, but a speech that spoke some hard truths.  At least I hope.

The very best thing about the Occupy Movement that I've experienced is how it opens up conversations.  I've talked to more people about activism and movement-building over the past two weeks than I have in a long time.  That's incredibly valuable.  But there's a lot more to be done.  Follow the progress here and on Twitter here.

Also, I'll be performing a hip hop set down at the People's Plaza on Wednesday at 5pm before another march on the banks.  Hope you can make it!

Related: "Thoughts on Occupy MN" by me and "How the Occupy Wall Street Protesters Can Defeat the Corporate Elite" by Yotam Marom (forwarded to me by Dan DiMaggio); worth a read.

EDIT: I just found a HQ video of my entire speech:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A LOUD HEART release party news

Mark your calendars.  For real.  If you don't come to this show, I'll become a Republican or something. Here's the Facebook event page.

More promo, videos and details will be released over the next few weeks, but A LOUD HEART is the acoustic rap EP that me and Claire Taubenhaus have been working on.  Some of you may have heard the first single, "Just a Song," on my mixtape or on the Best Love is Free compilation (if not, peep the link for a download).  The album as a whole turned out really good, and we'll have 100 limited edition, painstakingly hand-made copies w/ lyrics sheets available at the show.  It'll also be available online, but not before the show.

Best of all, we got BLACK BLONDIE and an acoustic set from KRISTOFF KRANE opening up.  That's a very special lineup.  For real.  I want to see you there.  It's the early show (7-10), so you can still go do whatever afterwards.  And it's 18+.  Like I said, more info to come, but please set aside the date. (Thanks to Ali Oswalt for the watercolor!)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Praise and Constructive Criticism for Occupy MN

So yesterday was the kickoff for Occupy MN, the Twin Cities version of the big Occupy Wall Street protests. I wasn’t there all day, but was around for most of the afternoon and into the evening, and got to witness the rally (where I also performed), general assembly and milling-about time.   Wasn't able to make it back today (I was speaking/performing at the Ramsey County Youth Conference), but I plan on being there throughout the upcoming week and beyond.

Anyways, I hate to be an arm-chair organizer (I haven’t been around for planning meetings or whatever), but I’d rather share my thoughts than keep them to myself.

First, a few thoughts and observations on what was good:

1. Spirits were high. All-day protests are tough because the crowd ebbs and flows. But there were a lot of people there, seemingly all day, and I didn’t get the sense that people were frustrated with all the milling about. People were having conversations, networking, hanging out—it was fun.

2. This movement is coming from a very ideologically pure place. I would argue that it doesn’t always work in practice, but at the very least, the intentions behind horizontal organizing and true democracy and wanting everyone to have a voice are very cool. Lots of people taking care of one another out there today.

3. I wouldn’t say that the crowd was super diverse, but it wasn’t as white as it could have been. Faint praise, maybe, but I think this is something that all of the organizers are really thinking about and taking seriously. Again, I’m not sure what they’re doing tactically to reach out to communities of color, working class people and other underrepresented groups, but the fact that the speakers’ list was genuinely diverse is a good start. And the speakers themselves did a great job.

4. The most exciting thing about Occupy MN, for me, is the opportunity to engage in some good community education. We’re going to have workshops and teach-ins and discussions all week, and I think that will be great.

5. Media coverage has been quite good, at least from what I’ve seen. Even our local Fox News affiliate covered the protest in a very positive, almost encouraging, light.

And a few thoughts and observations on what could have been better, because that’s always more interesting (and useful) to talk about:

1. Although the speakers were all good, I’m a pretty firm believer in the idea that at a rally, it is more important to put on an inspiring, dynamic program than it is to let everyone who deserves to speak get a chance on the mic. Maybe that makes me a horrible progressive, but I’m thinking about movement-building here. Have a meeting a week before the rally, figure out what people are most concerned about expressing, and consolidate those points into the speeches of three-to-five dynamite speakers instead of a dozen who may or may not be that engaging. Trim the fat, basically. At most rallies, most people say the same stuff anyway. Of course, the speakers’ list has to still be representative, but it’s something to think about. The audience has to come first, because that’s who you’re trying to inspire and motivate.

2. Although the turnout was good, it could and should always be more. We’re talking about an issue that directly affects everyone, not just this professional class of activists. How can we reach out to people who don’t normally come to protests? I think part of it has to do with the fuzziness of the protest’s goals and agenda. And I realize that that’s part of the open, democratic nature of how it was organized, but I would argue that “regular people” (i.e., not hardcore activists or college students) need something logical and pragmatic to latch on to—especially if they’re coming straight from a long day of work or have to find a babysitter for the kids. “This teach-in will feature this amazing speaker so come see it.” Or “this rally will spark a specific campaign to address a specific issue.” Or “this march will directly target this politician/CEO/jackass so come and be a part of it.”

3. The general assembly was kind of a mess. Decision-making with enormous groups is always a challenge, and this WAS the very first one here, but still—I’d argue for breaking people into committees right away. We’d already been standing around for hours, let’s get down to some action. That way, we can also do away with the ridiculous call-and-response speeches—just have facilitators in every breakout group explain the process to groups of 20-40 people at a time. When you have 200 people ready to get involved, ready to ACT, you can’t let them get bored. You can’t let them get frustrated. Not right away. Energy like that needs to be focused, immediately, into an activity or discussion that is truly participatory and inspirational.

4. The endless nature of this protest makes me nervous. You can mobilize a thousand people for one day. But day after day after day? Into the winter? I’m just wondering what the strategy is here? I’d rather have, say, a week of events, or an every-Friday protest ongoing, or something other than an every day, all day occupation. It just seems like the kind of thing that, aside from being logistically complicated, will turn more people off, like “I respect their goals, but I ain’t sleeping outside.” And besides, it’s not really the kind of occupation that’s truly disrupting anything. It’s visible, though, so that’s a good thing—as long as the numbers stay up.

5. If you can’t tell, I’m a pragmatist. I think this protest could benefit from having a flyer—maybe one side is what the protest is all about, and the other side is five concrete action points that people can take. Maybe this is something that comes out of the general assembly, or maybe it's something that I should just go ahead and do, but those two questions—“why should I care” and “what can I do”—are incredibly important when it comes to creating new allies (as opposed to continually trying to mobilize the same few hundred folks who make up “the usual suspects”).

But all of these are relatively minor points, and wide open to debate and disagreement. Did other people have similar thoughts? Am I off-target on any of these? Let’s talk about it.

Overall, I’m excited about the prospect of a strong, multi-issue movement that can challenge the powers that be. I’m excited about taking part in community education sessions. I’m excited about this movement—or more specifically, the people who make up this movement—figuring out what we’re doing and moving forward with concrete actions. It’s an exciting time to give a damn about the world.

Finally, I want people to check out this short essay from B.Dolan, one of my favorite hip hop artists and co-founder of KnowMore. It’s a suggestion for some concrete things that this movement can accomplish. Definitely worth a read.

Hope everyone can get involved this week.  Follow on Twitter at @occupymn or #occupymn.  Big ups to everyone already there.  Keep fighting.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Unique Techniques Podcast featuring Guante, plus "No Capes" video

Guante -- No Capes (Acapella) from Unique Techniques on Vimeo.

Unique Techniques is a podcast facilitated by Patrick Pegg, aka Precipitation.  He's a producer, MC and youth worker, and his new podcast is something serious.  Episode one featured Carnage (a local legend and one of the most talented people you'll ever meet), and episode two features me.

If you have an hour to kill, check it out; we had a pretty engaging conversation-- about hip hop, poetry, activism, influences, tattoos and a million other things.  Here's the link to the podcast episode, and it should be on iTunes as well.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

New song! The Rube featuring Guante & See More Perspective

Rube - Shotgun Soliloquy feat Guante & See More Perspective by UrbanWorld Records

The Rube is a great guy and a really unique producer.  He specializes in "electro-swing" with some hip hop undertones.  This track is called "Shotgun Soliloquy" and features some shit-talking raps by me (first) and See More Perspective (second).  A lot of fun.  Check it out.

In other news, a bunch of really cool shows coming up-- benefits, college shows, club shows and two VERY special ones:

1. A LOUD HEART release party at Honey on 11/11.  This is the acoustic rap project that me and Claire Taubenhaus have been working on.  Expect more promo stuff for this soon, but mark your calendars now.  It'll be an early show, 7-10pm.

2. DEATH POETRY JAM at Intermedia Arts on 11/28.  This is a show I'm putting together that will celebrate life by talking about death.  Expect poems, songs and stories about ghosts, zombies, ancestors and the life/death cycle.  It's really going to be something special.

Hope to see you there.