Monday, November 19, 2012

Song Spotlight: "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution" + a few post-election thoughts

This is a live video shot and edited by Patrick Pegg (who also did our music video); it was the second-to-last song in a 90-minute set, so I'm a little ragged and sweaty, but there it is. Over the next few months, I'm going to highlight individual songs from the new Guante & Big Cats album and talk about what they mean to me (in no particular order). This one seems appropriate for right now. Here's a link to the album version, which is a little more polished:

Before I talk about it, though, here's another video that's definitely worth watching. A bunch of Twin Cities activists (plus me) got together and filmed this the day before the election, to be released the day after the election, no matter what happened:

I think these two videos complement each other. Even though I've talked, rapped and written at length about how elections are not the only-- nor the best-- way to create change, there is something special about them. Elections are about concrete, achievable goals. You see something you want, you work to get it, and sometimes you win. Activism isn't always like that. Sometimes we're shaping trends that won't play out for decades. Sometimes we're winning victories that feel more abstract. It's one thing to get enough votes to defeat a referendum that would ban same-sex marriage in our state constitution; it's something else to fight for the true, total, sustainable liberation of an entire community.

It's like in poetry: a poem about "racism" as an abstract idea is never going to be as engaging as a poem about a specific, concrete act of racism or resistance and the down-to-earth, human reaction to it. And I think that's why we can mobilize millions of people to elect politicians or pass/beat referenda, but when that following Wednesday rolls around, so many of them disappear.

But rather than whine about it, or feel superior and more-progressive-than-thou about it, I think we need to see this as a challenge. How do we keep people engaged? How do we build a sustainable movement that can challenge our leaders no matter what party they belong to? How can we create systems and frameworks for change in our communities? I'm thinking about this at two levels:

I think organizations can take some of these lessons and apply them to their work. Let's give people concrete goals or tasks to hold on to when they join up. Let's frame the work we do in a media-savvy way, to attract new activists and media attention. Let's continue to build coalitions between organizations and entities who don't always see eye-to-eye on every little thing. I think it's possible to take the campaign-model and use it even when the goal isn't to get people to vote for something (when it's appropriate, of course). Let's put energy and resources into outreach-- it's not enough just to "be right" about an issue. We need principles, but we also need strategy, and we also need tactics; those three things aren't the same.

To use myself as a case study, I'm using this post-election glow to re-commit, kind of New Year's resolution-style. I've never been as much of an activist as I get credit for, but I'm figuring out where whatever talents I have can be of the most use. In 2013, I'll be focusing on media and education, doing a lot of traveling, facilitating workshops on social justice concepts and tying what I do as an artist more explicitly to what I want to do as an activist. I have some big plans in the works around media activism, video and social justice education. I'm excited to make some connections between spoken-word communities and media justice communities-- it's going to be a very busy 2013.

Which brings us back to the song. I wrote this song to counter the current of conspiracy theory rhetoric that has infected so much of political hip hop, but I also wrote it as a direct message to whomever listens to my music-- change is hard, but it's not complicated. Change happens when people organize together, using their individual strengths to create mass movements. We can't lose sight of that. We can't get sucked entirely into electoral politics, or drowned in philosophical debates about ideologies and hypothetical situations. We just need to start working. Of course, self-work and self-education and critical reflection are all important, but the work can't end there. We don't need perfection or heroes, and even the "heroes" we have already are really just regular people with flaws and uncertainties and insecurities just like us. Join an organization. Educate yourself. Dive in. That's really all there is to it.


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