How Can Hip Hop Save the World? Lessons from a Seattle Youth Service Scandal

On March 3rd, I was invited to speak at an intimate panel at Seattle University called “How Can Hip Hop Save the World?” The gathering, brought together by SU’s Mary Pauline Diaz, featured Mako Fitts, Ready C from my crew Alpha P, and myself, as well as about 10 student participants. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was inspired by the topic, ensuing conversation, and current events to write this article up.

(Photo: Kool Herc, founder of Hip Hop, currently fighting the American healthcare system.)

Before addressing how Hip Hop can save the world, you first have to determine whether it can, and what “Hip Hop” means to begin with. Now although we could debate cultural memory, nommo, and collective experience all day, the truth is that the only thing that brings most of us together under the umbrella of “Hip Hop” is that we, as artists, engage in the artistic practices deemed by Afrika Bambaataa to be the elements of Hip Hop: bboy/girling, emceeing, graffiti, Djing, beat-making, etc. Of course cultural production in Hip Hop is not just limited to that, it also includes secondary extensions of this. For example, independent media/websites/shows such as Seaspot, Flava News, Coolout Network, Untappedmuzik, All Power to the Positive, Seattle Hip Hop Street Fights, Street Sounds, Boombox FM, She Ready Radio, and Zulu Radio are included here as well as bloggers like those at Raindrophustla, Chul Gugich from 206up, Hugh from, and Miss Casey Carter, writers like Marian Liu and Jonathan Cunningham, even online forum mafiosos like the habitue of 206Proof are Hip Hop cultural producers. Promoters/venues/functions are also hugely important to Hip Hop cultural production (think Dope Emporium, UmojaFest, Obese Productions, an institution like Stop Biting at Lofi (shouts to Introcut), or Ladies First, formally at Hidmo, etc.) Extending even farther out, we can include fashion (think Mint Factory Clothing or CrisisNW Gear), photography (like Ruf Top Productions, and Jennifer Mary), and a plethora of others. Through this lens, Hip Hop CREATES communities around these artistic practices and acts of cultural production. The question then shifts from “Can Hip Hop save the world?” to “Can communities save the world?” and of course, the answer here is yes. But what role does Hip Hop have in this?

As an artist, and like a lot of artists and cultural producers out here in the Northwest Hip Hop scene, I believe in community accountability to the youth. We do not just understand and create art about issues of gentrification, poverty/job creation, educational reform, healthcare, and youth violence prevention, we organize and mobilize for positive changes within our spheres of influence around these issues, for their benefit. I’ve worked with organizations who turn crack houses into community centers and throw Hip Hop Leadership Conferences (Seattle Hip Hop Youth Council & Umojafest P.E.A.C.E. Center), organizations who connect artists with schools, play cafeterias and gymnasiums, and organize city-wide Youth Summits (206 Zulu), collectives who throw multi-day free all-ages Hip Hop festivals with youth showcases (Dope Emporium), business owners who turn their restaurants into activists hubs and performance spaces, who launch community empowerment projects (Hidmo), and I’ve been blessed to connect with other collectives, organizations, and crews in cities across the country who share the same priorities and mission in this work. (Shouts to DeBug in San Jose, W.I.T in Kentucky, J.U.I.C.E and GorillaMic in Los Angeles, IMAN & Coalition to Protect Public Housing in Chicago, B Girl Be in Minneapolis, W.E.A.P in Oakland, and all trues in the PPEHRC, UZN, HHC networks). There’s power in this groundswell.

Through my travels, connecting with “Hip Hop” communities across the country, I’ve also learned that the national policies and initiatives enacted locally on a state, county, & city level have created common struggles & challenges for us. Broadening our perspective on these issues to include the struggles of communities outside our scene allows us to see how these issues manifest in different cities, and facilitates better understanding on how we can enact change in Seattle. One example of this is HUD Block Grants that wiped out public housing in virtually every urban community across the country, shrouding the reality of gentrification and urban economic displacement under the guise of “private-public partnerships”. Another very recent example is the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (YVPI). Most don’t know that at the time this was launched in Seattle two years ago, former Mayor Nickels was the President of the National Council of Mayors, and it’s not a stretch to say his decision to entrust the Seattle Urban League with a no-bid multi-million dollar grant for executing the project locally was in no small part due to the “New Deal” partnership for the Conference of Mayors and the National Urban League announced at their centennial celebration.

Two years ago, at the time this happened, I was working with Umojafest P.E.A.C.E Center, Mother’s Outreach Movement, Hip Hop Congress, and a collective of over 20 other local Hip Hop and youth advocacy organizations in the Unite for Youth Coalition, who were very much in the trenches of youth violence prevention work. The coalition members were also very concerned with the city’s move to hand these desperately needed funds over to the Urban League, an organization with questionable leadership, a history of unsavory community appropriation, and virtually no track record of notable violence prevention work. Plus at the same time, the city of Seattle was proposing to build a $110 million dollar jail, and the new Seattle School District Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson (who was just fired March 3rd by the school board over the recent scandal) was proposing to shut down six schools. We organized, and began contacting people in the mayor’s office, on the school board, and in the Urban League, and our concern only grew. As community organizers and youth service workers, we were uncomfortable with 1) the disconnect of these conversations 2) the Seattle School District’s questionable management of public funds and their inability to keep schools open 3) the lack of transparency, really the shroud of secrecy over the Urban League’s plans for the violence prevention money. Two years ago, we staged demonstrations, put out articles on the issue, and did our best to engage our communities in the conversation, for the interest of the youth. Were we successful in raising awareness and asking questions? Yes. Were we able to prevent the scandalous debacle that ensued? No.

Today, two years later, after at least four schools are closed, the Seattle Times front page is riddled with stories about the Seattle School District’s financial scandal, how over a million dollars was handed over to vendors that never did anything but get the money, and how the single largest recipient of that money was the Seattle Urban League. This all came out after the Urban League quietly lost the YVPI contract in January, after they spent $900,000 with little to show for it. (Here’s the city’s performance evaluation for the larger half of that amount). I’d be interested to hear how this played out in other cities.

Despite all this, ours was not a lost battle. Quite the contrary, the pressure and spotlight put on Former Mayor Nickels and his administration came right before elections season. Hip Hop ran its own candidate, Wyking Garrett, for the purposes of putting these and other critical issues on the table, and coalitions of urban youth organizations like the Young Voter’s League were hosting their own candidate forums at which Nickels was virtually absent. Although Wyking lost in primaries, the face time we bought with other candidates won us a huge platform to educate others on what was going on in the community, and it was out of these conversations that Mayor McGinn surfaced as a favored pick among young voters. It is the presence of this new mayor which has eventually lead to the space for transparency in the YVPI, as well as for new leadership to emerge from the community. We should not forget or downplay this victory, even if it did take some time, but we should also strive to mobilize quicker, stronger, and more effectively next time by taking key lessons from what went down in our own backyard:

1) Be proactive in creating and/or contributing to the growth of institutional alternatives to the status quo. (Instead of trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the plantation. This applies to the dying music industry & corporate media model as well as activism and youth service.)

2) Leverage the political process by running our own Hip Hop candidates who will put our issues and interests into the forefront. (Instead of raking up election year funding by remaining operatives for existing political parties.)

3) Keep building Hip Hop as an effective medium for community education and mobilization.
(Think unionizing teaching artists and Hip Hop youth service workers, building coalitions between our businesses, collectives, and organizations, and creating “rapid response” networks on youth policy issues among our independent media outlets.)

Hip Hop is a vast & powerful network. We should not shy away from being active in changing the world from the ground up. The above is only one example of the small atrocities committed daily, and the role our community of cultural producers can and needs to play in intervening and recreating. Even here in our seemingly isolated, burgeoning scene, we are a part of a larger movement with larger aspirations, and there are many reminders of this. (Take our comrades in the Hip Hop communities of North Africa for example). There’s a lot of answers to the question “How Can Hip Hop Save the World?”, but the most important answer is in the alignment of all our efforts and the clarity of our collective vision.

Julie C is a teacher, cultural advocate, and emcee. Her upcoming E.P Sliding Scale is dropping May 2011 from the indy label B Girl Media. Email her at, and comment on this story and others at

Two Words: On Wisconsin! by Tina Bell Wright

Two Words….

Self Determination.

Corporate Fascism.

Your Choice.


From the debate raging online and via twitter, I see miseducation is alive and well. Workers from teachers to firefighters once called public servants are now being called freeloaders. It reminds me of something RZA said in the documentary, Rhyme and Reason [paraphrasing]:why am I beefing with this brother and he has nothing and I have nothing while these other folks over there have everything and nobody is beefing with them. That doesn’t add up..I deal with mathematics.

Well, here are some numbers to consider:

1. The Walmart Corporation is richer than over 150 countries.


2. And a good amount of that wealth goes to 4 people: The Walton family members who take 4 of the top 10 spots on the Richest Americans list, with net worth totaling 80+ billion dollars.

3. While the pay gap between a company’s CEO and its employees has a ratio of 11 to 1 in Japan and 12 to 1 in Germany, the United States ratio is an exorbitant 319 to 1.


4. And for the most staggering numbers: the 500 richest individuals in the world have the same income as 416 million people on the poor end of the pay scale….416 million.



Probably the two most dreaded words in American politics = class warfare. But they are still embraced quicker than these two hated four letter words: Karl Marx.

The reason Karl Marx is so feared is because he rightfully exposed the fallacy of wage labor.

Capitalism is a way to make money off of other people’s labor. But Walmart could not make any

money without the cheap labor it gets from the workers that make the manufactured goods it

sells [usually Chinese workers making slave wages], or the employees that provide the labor and customer service at its’ stores [making near slave wages with few benefits], or the customers who buy the goods its’ WORKERS produce [and those customers are spending money that they earn working for (sometimes near slave) wages ].

Marx predicted that this alienation (outlined above) would eventually lead to class consciousness…and the truth is, we may finally be seeing forms of class consciousness playing out all across the globe as we speak..from Egypt to Wisconsin…Bahrain to Iran. And the bigger truth is, we have corporate fascists and overreaching leaders to thank. As I’ve said many times, power will take as much as it can get away with and no less…people must fight for what we rightfully deserve. No one will give it to you.

The choices in this country could not be clearer.  On one side is the language of “cuts” and “deficits” and “sacrifices”, but in this language only one side of the coin is being shown. As I tell my classes all the time, one’s advantage is directly linked to another one’s disadvantage. They are inevitably linked. The big lie that hegemony in society perpetuates is that folks gain at no one’s expense. But on a finite planet, the pie of resources is limited. And how it is dished out at the dinner table matters. If one person takes 99 slices, that leaves 1 slice for 99 people to fight over. The other option is a more equitable distribution of resources. Only people that get more and are okay with others having less prefer the former.

What free trade did to the private sector, political corporatists are now trying to do to the public sector…weaken collective bargaining and workers’ rights. Instead of all seeing the reality of a new guilded age where the rich are getting richer, the middle class is being asked to accept the new “reality” and join the ranks of the working poor while big banks get bailed out with our tax dollars so they can horde that cash or use it to open markets overseas.

The truth the U.S. middle class has not been told is that it is expected to join the global race to the bottom, where we will be expected to compete in a global market where workers make less than a dollar a day. They are setting up Americans to “sacrifice” …to get used to a lower standard of living and accept this new world order where a small elite of corporate fascists get 95% of the pie while 95% of the world must fight for the 5% crumbs…including you now America.

Unfortunately it never is the 1% that does its own bidding…it always is the manipulated who have bought in to the narrative that the elite has sold them. People that believe that giving tax breaks to corporations and busting unions will bring jobs to America have no geopolitical sense of reality.

example =

Instead of bashing me and my fellow union members for collective bargaining and securing better wages and benefits, why not demand the same for yourself?! Stop doing the bidding for corporate fascists and start putting your interest first!


Despite the resistance to change by some, resolve and growing class consciousness may be too strong to stop this time. But know this, even where peaceful protest can not overcome police state barbarity, universal law will. The house of cards will fall…it always does.

Two Words:

Stay Strong

Keep Pushing

People Power

In Unity

….On Wisconsin!

For more on this topic. please see my previous note: The Fire this Time: A Few Thoughts on Egypt



Here’s What We Should Teach Our Kids on Ronald Reagan Day

Today, February 6 is Ronald Reagan Day and to be quite frank, I’m happy to celebrate. As folks gear up to pull out all the stops and all the bells and whistles to commemorate what would’ve been the Big Gipper’s 100th birthday, (today in 2012 with the re-issue of this article..its his 101st) I too wanna leave no stone unturned. People all over the world especially our children deserve to know the truth about the man who was nick named ‘The Great Communicator‘.

First let’s start by noting that it’s been fascinating to watch as many in power in particular corporate interest who greatly benefitted from his 8 year reign have been hard at work re-writing history and making one of the most detestable figures to ever reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave seem down right angelic.

Heck while these folks are busy constructing this revisionist make over of Ronald Reagan why not to make overs and put a smiley face on Idi Amin Dada, Saddam Huessin, Augusto Pinochet, François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, Benito Mussolini and maybe white slave owners here in the US…Oops sorry, I went too far.. We are doing revisionist make overs of slavery,  thank to the Texas State Board of Education who want to refer to ‘slavery‘ as ‘Atlantic Triangular Trade’.

Thank you Kentucky Tea Party which is home to freshman Senator Rand Paul. These nut cases want to disassociate the fact that our founding fathers were slave owners. Certainly we won’t dwell on the fact that today’s congressional lawmakers after insisting on the Constitution be read during the swearing-in of the 112th congress decided to skip over the parts where it was declared that Black people are 3/5th human.

So in short revisionism here in the US is on par to the revisionism that notable figures like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are undertaking. We are completely white washing important facts and the legacy of Ronald Reagan is a prime example.

So today as we celebrate Ronald Reagan Day lets remind the kids what this man was all about.

Should we start be reminding folks that Ronald Reagan was the ultimate corporate pitchman? Should we tell how he started out working for General Electric which as you know is one of the world’s largest weapons makers and that he modeled himself to be the ultimate peddler of corporate interests. He was one of the first indicators that the presidency was no longer for the people but for the corporation. Reagan was the personification. In their new documentary Rendezvous with Destiny, GE lays out how Reagan selling skills laid the groundwork for his assent to being the nation’s 40th president.

Should we remind the kids that Reagan was a union buster?  We should dig deep into the archives and look at the Air Traffic Controllers strike of 1981 where Reagan fired 11,ooo workers and ultimately got the union Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) decertified. Reagan’s mass firing was a major line drawn in the sand. The demonizing and attacks on unions especially those within the federal government have been going ever since.

Should we remind the kids how Reagan ignored the AIDs epidemic that sprung up during his two terms? People were dying all over and good ole Ronnie was steadfast in not talking about the dreaded disease in any form or fashion. The sad joke at the time was he cared more about UFO’s than he did victims of AIDs.  Ronnie was out to lunch on that crises.

Speaking of lunch, maybe we should teach the kids about how Ronald Reagan insisted that ketchup and relish were vegetables as he aggressively fought to push inner city school lunch programs to cut cooked and fresh vegetables from their menus. 30 years later we have a major health problems especially in the area of obesity amongst our youth.. Thanks Ronnie you did good.

I could always teach the kids about Reagan’s trickle down economic theory where he fought to allow rich corporations and businesses to cut taxes which would allow them to create new jobs thus benefitting the masses. I guess I should also teach the kids how many of those rich folks who got those tax breaks promptly took their American jobs overseas where they continued to enjoy tax breaks while our economy was turned upside down..

I’ll be sure to teach the kids how Reagan opposed the Equal Rights Amendment even though women at that time and even today still make less than men. we’ll also remind the kids about Reagan’s tricknology. he promised to name a woman to the supreme court (Sandra Day O’Connor) if the ERA was defeated. The end result is as we celebrate Reagan’s100th birthday he gets props for opening up the supreme court while forgetting that he threw the average everyday working woman under the bus.

We could also talk about how he was vehemently opposed to the Black Panthers and pushed for the Mulford Actwhich was specifically designed to target and disarm them

We should also remind the kids that Ronald Wilson Reagan opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act which was championed by Dr Martin Luther King. He said its passage was a ‘humiliation to the South’.

The Father of Crack

I guess because so many kids are enamored with rap star Rick Ross, perhaps I could use his popularity as a teachable moment. I could start by letting kids know that Ross the rapper from Miami derived his name from Freeway Rick the drug dealer out of Los Angeles.

Freeway Rick who has been touring the country lecturing against the harmful impact of drugs is erroneously called the Father of Crack.  His South Central LA operations is legendary as he’s reported to have moved up to 3 million dollars worth of product a week,  but that’s only part of the story. Freeway Rick was not the Father but the proverbial God son.. The real Father of Crack was Ronald Reagan. It’s a sore point of contention to Reagan revisionists who bristle at the notion, but we know better.

You see Freeway Rick was allowed to flourish because our government at the time had some dirty war business they wanted to conduct and found it difficult to circumvent the law and limits set up by Congress. Freeway Rick was able to lavish the hood with tons of crack cocaine because of little scheme we came to know as the Iran Contra Scandal . It was the biggest scandal this country had ever known. Even bigger than Richard Nixon’s Watergate.

To sum it up what you had was in the early 80s, the US was beefing with Iran and the US was beefing with left leaning factions in Nicaragua called the Sandinistas. Reagan and his boys wanted to knock off the Sandinistas because they didn’t like their politics and the populus movement they represented. Latin America was on the rise and overthrowing dictators who were backed by the US. Reagan wanted to overthrow the Sandinistas by arming a bunch of CIA backed rebels called the Contras. Since we’re supposed to be a freedom loving country we couldn’t do our bidding publicly, and as I noted Congress wasnt with the program, so Reagan’s senior advisors launched a secret war.

What they did was covertly sell arms to Iran and take the money and use it to fund Contra operations in Nicaragua. Additional money was netted for the Contras through the sale of crack cocaine which suddenly overnight gained huge popularity in hoods throughout the country. Freeway Rick and South Central, LA was ground zero.

LAs notorious gangs became the main traffickers who spread all out the country with Freeway Rick being the kingpen. Some of this is outlined in Ice Cube’s song ‘Summer Vacation‘.

Freeway Rick’s connection to all the cocaine was a notorious drug supplier named Oscar Danilo Blandón who worked with the CIA and was a key link to the Contras. This is where the whole CIA-Crack connection story emerged . They were outlined in the explosive 1996 San Jose Mercury expose and book called Dark Alliances written by the late Gary Webb.

Oliver North

When all was said and done damn near all of Reagan’s senior advisors were convicted, like National Security Council member Oliver North who played a central role and was later pardoned. Reagan the Great Communicator was protected with folks saying he had no idea all this was happening on his watch. The exact term used was Reagan was ‘disengaged’

Supporter of Apartheid

The term disengaged is an interesting one because it’s in opposition to what Ronald Reagan prided himself. Here was a guy who supported South Africa’s Apartheid Regime. He aggressively opposed Nelson Mandela who was in jail as a political prisoner during Reagan’s presidency. Reagan called Mandela and his and the African National Congress a ‘terrorist organization‘.

During the early 80s, worldwide resistance to South Africa emerged including a call from the UN to have an embargo. Recording artists all over the world launched a boycott to Sun City which was a popular resort in South Africa where some of the Apartheid laws were relaxed.

Ronald Reagan Opposed Nelson Mandela. He saw him and the Adfrican national Congress as Terrorists

Ronald Reagan along with Israel and Great Britain opposed all of it. Reagan said he supported South Africa because they stood alongside us during all our wars.. He said the best way to get rid of Apartheid was not through embargos but through this term he coined called  ‘Constructive engagement‘. When he first used it left everyone stunned and asking WTF? There was nothing to engage. People were calling for an end to the brutal Apartheid regime and Reagan was opposing it. It was so bad that after he vetoed sanctions, Congress did a rare thing and over rode his veto.  This man who supposedly loved freedom was on the wrong side of history when it came to making sure it was a reality for Black South Africans. It’s no wonder Nelson Mandela didn’t attend his funeral in 2004.

We can go on and on when talking about Ronald Reagan. He was a hero for those who yearned for the days when many people in marginalized communities were behind the 8 ball not in front of it.  Yes when February 6th rolls around.. I will say Happy Ronald Reagan Day and commence to undo the revisionist history the power elite in this country have spent years constructing. I’ll leave with two musical heros who went in hard on Reagan back in the days. Gil Scott Heron with the song B-Movie and Melle-Mel with his song Jesse.

In the song Jesse, Mele-Mel goes in on Reagan with this classic verses.

See Ronald Reagan speaking on TV, smiling like everything’s fine and dandy
Sounded real good when he tried to give a pep talk to over 30 million poor people like me
How can we say we got to stick it out when his belly is full and his future is sunny?
I don’t need his jive advice but I sure do need his jive time money
The dream is a nightmare in disguise (Let’s talk about Jesse)
Red tape and lies fill your for spacious skies (Let’s talk about Jesse)
But don’t think that DC just did it first (Let’s talk about Jesse)
There’s a lot of DC’s all over this universe (His name is Jesse)
He started on the bottom, now he’s on the top
He proved that he could make it, so don’t ever stop
Brothers stand together and let the whole world see
Our brother Jesse Jackson go down in history

The 30th day that’s in December is a day that everyone’s gonna remember
Because on that day a righteous man, thought about taking a brand new stand
The name of the man is Jesse Jackson and his call is for peace without an action
‘Cause now is the time to change the nation without just another negotiation
He went to the East for human rights to free a lieutenant shot down in flight
Just another statistic and the government knew it, they didn’t even want the man to go do it
Before he left, he called the president’s home and Reagan didn’t even answer the phone
But I tell you one thing and that’s a natural fact, you can bet he calls Jesse when Jesse got back

Click HERE to peep song..

As we conclude.. lets celebrate Ronald Reagan Day with enthusiasm.. He was a piece of work that has been handsomely made over. If they can do it for him, they can do it for you. That means there’s hope for the most vile among us..

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