Archive for the ‘Protest’ Category

Missiles on the Blocks

This week we’ve heard that not only have the Olympics disrupted our transport system more than snow blizzards on top of autumn leaves, but that they also meant that our city is to be militarised, quite literally, out of the money this whole country, not just London, pays in tax. The Royal Navy have deployed their largest assault vessel, HMS Ocean, in Greenwich, Marines encircle our coast, in the city centre itself there will be 12,500 “Olympic Police, 13,500 armed services (2,000 of which fully armed), 5,000 specialist police, 1,000 in logistical support, not to mention the 7,500 private security forces roaming the street. A combined force of 23,700 security forces will restrict liberty for the “safety” of us all. Security on such a vast scale will be overseen by that beacon of democracy G4S, the private security company that has recently made inroads into schools, prisons and roads– big societing it up.

As if that wasn’t enough, Typhoon fighter jets and military helicopters will be in our skies, just to deter those terrorists that have no aerial power in their own countries, but of course have full capabilities to breach British aerospace. Add the cherry on top of the cake is of course the surface to air missiles that will be placed on top of residential blocks. While this may make that xenophobic, patriotic, Falkland war loving Brit feel safer at night, those with a little more sense and self-consciousness will move beyond inherited jingoism to feelings of caution, worry and dismay at the need to deploy such capacities for destruction to fight an enemy that at his worst operates using over the counter chemicals cooked in basements with crude equipment. The notion that such enemies can be fought with full military might is not only erroneous, as the Afghani resistance proves daily, it also evokes the great satire of Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stones scathing critique of over-militarised responses to terrorist threats.

The film starts with the destruction of Paris by American forces seeking to neutralise a jihadi with a suitcase. In response, missiles are fired and destruction is wrecked at comically disturbing levels. When I hear of the measures taken to keep London safe, all I can think of is that opening scene. Imagine a terrorist does make it through the net of GCHQ, Mi6, Mi5, Special Branch and the SO15’s intelligence. Does the aforementioned security infrastructure fortify London even slightly? I fail to see how. If I work on mainstream perceptions of this world, there’s some math that just doesn’t work.

Since 9/11, attacks upon Western power have come in numerous forms, but mainly suicide bombings. With the exception of car bombs, the only difference I can think of is the gunmen in Mumbai. Now, tell me how the jihadi at the gates can be taken out with a missile? I don’t think he can and I do not believe the measures of security that we will be subject to have been conceived with the quintessential “Islamist extremist” in mind. While some on the right will engage in fantasy and provide a long-list of conjecture over potential security threats that warrant such disturbing force, I think we must consider these measures as a message more than a response to need.

What we are witnessing is the normalisation of militarisation of our cities. We accept the surveillance infrastructure to keep us safe, we accept our actions being logged, so why not accept armaments on top of buildings? It’s not too far of a jump and has hardly been met with critical commentary. When such actions were taken in China, it was used as a stick to beat the central committee who were going mad with paranoia and continuing to “abuse human rights”. But instead of seeing this through the prism of state repression, we are made to feel that “our boys” provide us with comfort, their presence on our streets in the thousands embraced. And that’s the most troubling part – as we’ve seen countless times across this world, military deployments come quickly and are dismantled slowly. Imagine London is attacked – imagine the attackers breached security in a way that is sensationalised, imagine that the enemy at the gates was said to be upon us and knows more about the inner workings of our system than we thought. Imagine a world of suspicion. Imagine that as well as having your movements logged and your texts and emails read – you are also in the crosshairs of weaponry countless times a day. It is not the world we are living in, but it could be round the corner.

I do not believe this is the final stage in the building of the dystopia – it is merely a lunge towards it. The greatest threat London faces is embarrassment. With movement restricted around this city, an increased cost of living and a depletion of resources, the disenfranchised youth who were so combustible last summer will have powder kegs beneath them. The Olympics have long been a tool of dispossession and neo-liberalism and London’s 2012 is no exception. Public money has been pilfered into private hands and for generations the urban poor will be paying for their own displacement. Military deployments are about scaring the radical elements to make the elites feel safe. The Olympics is accelerating the processes by which London becomes a sanitised investors paradise, civil disruption would hurt the magnetising effect the Olympics would have on business with the Big Smoke. With the coalition’s austerity measures failing, they are reliant upon a lucrative Olympics to pull in the private businesses that their economic plan hinges upon. With recession being the consequence of their foray so far, there is very little room for complacency. London 2012 must generate money.

So, like the abusive father inviting friends over for dinner, certain punitive measures are put in place to ensure that once guests are in the house, everyone will act civilised – or will have hell to pay. That’s the message I take from the militarisation of my city – and like the petulant kid grown use to abuse from power – my response is this: go fuck yourselves.

Troy Davis: strange fruit in 2011

This song, first recorded in 1939, still resonates today, the morning after the legal lynching of Troy Davis by the white power structure in the US.

Many didn’t think it could happen – many thought the (black) President would intervene, or that that the Supreme Court would listen to the numerous human rights organisations that were calling for clemency. But the truth is that systemic racism and white supremacy are still very much alive, and the racist far-right is in the mood for re-asserting its authority.

Forward against the racist system, by any means necessary.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
And the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For a tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Troy Davis

Youth for Smiley Culture event – this Saturday

On Saturday 7 May, from 6.30pm, Sons of Malcolm and friends will be holding a panel debate and gig in tribute to the legendary MC Smiley Culture. I’ll definitely be heading down there, and would encourage you to do the same if you’re in or around London!

There will be a panel debate including Merlin Emmanuel (nephew of Smiley Culture), Lee Jasper, Dr Lez Henry and Isis Amlak; and a gig with Durrty Goodz, Akala, RoXXXan and more.

Check the Facebook event page for more info
Follow Sons of Malcolm on Twitter
Follow Justice for Smiley Culture on Twitter
Follow Durrty Goodz on Twitter
Follow Akala on Twitter
Follow RoXXXan on Twitter

Chuck D interview (2005)

Via The Progressive. Chuck explores some very interesting ideas in this interview, particularly around corporate and state influence within hip-hop.

Chuck D

Chuck D

Q:You have been an outspoken opponent of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq.

Chuck D: Where do we start with these guys? The first thing I would like to say is that to be truly American and represent American ideals you need to consider yourself a citizen of the world. American policy has gone contrary to that ideal. The Bush Administration is bent on making the world submit to “Americanism” instead of becoming a member of the world community. This orchestration comes from the very top of the Administration and has pushed America into a corner.

So, rather than trying to humbly mix with the rest of the world, we are forcing ourselves upon it. We seem to create conflicts with everyone.

Q: How is the Bush Administration trying to coopt hip-hop for war?

Chuck D: The powers that be are trying to meld, shape, and corral the culture of hip-hop into another speaking voice for the government.

They have exploited hip-hop and some of the culture around it—magazines, videos, etc.—to recruit people into the military. The Army says it will give out Hummers, platinum teeth, or whatever to those that actually join. Early on in the recent war, Vibe magazine was working with the Army to recruit black youth. They are willing to do this because they will take money from the highest bidder. It’s one corporation dealing with another corporation.

Q: How are corporations commodifying hip-hop?

Chuck D: If you checked out the news lately, McDonald’s offers a king’s ransom to any hip-hop artist who is able to put Big Mac into a song. MTV—and more to the point, Viacom—is succeeding in extending a teenage life to twenty-nine or even thirty-one years old. It is about extending this market and removing any intelligent substance in the music. Why would twenty-six-year-old “teenagers” care about political ramifications if their backs are not up against the wall? But if their backs are against the wall they may be plucked to fight in Iraq, and all of sudden they become politicized real quick.

Q: Do you think that hip-hop can escape the corporate grip?

Chuck D: I always remain optimistic. There are three levels of music production: the majors, indies, and what I call “inties,” music distributed via the Internet. The Internet is one area that I have used pretty effectively to break free of corporate control.

Alternative spaces, independent media, satellite, these all provide some tools by which we can work more independently and deal more directly with communities we hope to reach. Distribution is key, and finding alternative ways to do that with new media is critical.

Q: Why did you get involved with the Internet?

Chuck D: I became tired of submitting my art to a panel of corporate strategists who decide if it meets their standard of what gets into stores or not. It was quite simple for me: they act like judge and jury of my art, and that is unacceptable. I wanted to give it right to the public.

Q: How would you describe Public Enemy?

Chuck D: Public Enemy started out as a benchmark in rap music in the mid-1980s. We felt there was a need to actually progress the music and say something because we were slightly older than the demographic of rap artists at the time. It was a time of heightened rightwing politics, so the climate dictated the direction of the group. The Berlin Wall was up. Nelson Mandela was in prison. Margaret Thatcher was running the U.K. Reagan was out of control in the White House. And Bush Senior was Vice President soon to be President. You can say we were up against it.

Q: What were some of the influences on Public Enemy?

Chuck D: The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and also eight years of rappers that came before us. I grew up with Motown, Stax Records, and Atlantic. The Philadelphia International sound like the O’Jays had a profound influence on me. As a late teenager, the punk movement pushed me further. In particular, the Clash, which happened to leak through the time of disco, showed me that there was this cross-cultural sound that could cut across genres and audiences. Like punk was to disco, rap music was a rebellion against R&B, which had adopted disco and made it worse.

Q: What kind of political and cultural resistance did Public Enemy encounter?

Chuck D: We were coming out of the black community with this thing called rap music, which was basically black men yelling at the top of their lungs about what we liked and what we didn’t like. It was disturbing to the status quo. It really shook things up. And those in power didn’t know what to make of us, but they knew that we had to be silenced, stopped in any way from expressing our outrage.

Q: The media was quick to characterize Public Enemy as militant black nationalists.

Chuck D: That comes directly from how and when we grew up. We came up in the 1960s. Political and cultural groups like the Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam were reference points. Our parents brought the work of these groups to our attention, and it was educational and inspiring. My parents were radicals politically, but more than anything they were young parents who actually understood that there was a need and a time for change. They had a respect for the civil rights movement but also understood the need to further it. As black people we were out to further our equality. I don’t pay attention to the controversial connotations put on by media and the undermining labels they place on us. We pay attention to what our community situation is and what we need.

Q:Talk about It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Chuck D: It Takes a Nation was an album that happened to cross the roads at the right place at the right time. Rap music, as recorded work, was just eight years in. The music was ready to break nationally in album form as opposed to what it had been, which was a singles medium. The album was released by a small radical label called Def Jam. Def Jam was distributed by staunch old school institutions such as CBS and Columbia. We happened to find that loophole and use their distribution system to be able to get to the people in a brand new state of mind. We wanted to be a social critic, a community voice. We wanted everyone to know, truly understand, that our music was from the people, not above the people.

Q: What are some of the songs that remain vital from It Takes a Nation?

Chuck D: “Don’t Believe the Hype,” without question, still speaks volumes. To me it is Noam Chomsky-like in its theme and content. Like Chomsky does with his work, “Don’t Believe the Hype” addresses media disinformation and picks it apart.

Q:The album in many ways was Public Enemy’s Manufacturing Consent.

Chuck D: Definitely.

Q: Who are some current rappers that you like?

Chuck D:: Nas, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli for sure. Wu-Tang Clan delivered the goods musically and to a certain degree politically, in particular GZA/Genius. But I must point out that if you had to look in a book for the definition of a rapper you would probably see a picture of Jay-Z. He is the chosen one right now.

Q: Do you think current hip-hop artists like Jay-Z possess the same kind of timeless quality that Public Enemy has?

Chuck D: Someone like Jay-Z does have a timeless quality, but it’s much different than ours. You can look back at something like “At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors or the music that was on American Bandstand in the 1950s-’60s. It was the emergence of rock in the suburbs—without its teeth, let’s say. You will get the same thing out of Jay-Z with the street hustler mentality of the late 1990s. It won’t be able to resonate far beyond that, but it’s something that will go on with just a different person telling it. When it comes down to Public Enemy and the Clash or Bob Marley, who is a great example, you can play the music now and it’s like, “Damn, what the music is saying is just as important today as it was when they recorded it.” It also becomes a powerful historical document of a particular time of struggle and resistance. But this is maybe the purpose of artists like Public Enemy—speaking truth to power—while artists like Jay-Z represent the escapism of that time.

Q:What are your thoughts on Eminem’s foray into politics with the anti-Bush song “Mosh”?

Chuck D: These are inevitable destinations for artists like Eminem.

Where else can you go with respect to the work, lyrics, and message of the music? If you are past high school age, you can get by with saying very little the first or second time around. However, after a while you know you are going to have to say something beyond high school stuff. Eminem has talent, and his talent is the thing that influences many young people who would have never gone anywhere near rap. White kids in different parts of the world use him as a barometer and the standard to live up to. In some ways, Eminem is an artist who has ushered in a new movement.

Q: So, do you see someone like Eminem leading to more diversity in hip-hop—not just white rappers but across the ethnic and cultural spectrum?

Chuck D: If you want to speak about different ethnicities and diversity, rap and hip-hop are all over the planet. Every country, from Turkey to Australia, now has tons of hip-hop artists. The music and artistry have moved way faster than the corporatization of the music. You do need organization and opportunity for these artists to express themselves, and I don’t think it has to come from a corporate co-signing.

Q: And what about the current wave of bad press for rappers like 50 Cent?

Chuck D: A lot of artists have been persuaded into doing whatever they can do to gain attention. The media, of course, will position and promote the worst of them to the front page. The sidewalk to crime becomes the marketing campaign. These artists have seen it work and sell millions and millions of records for other artists.

Rap comes from the humble beginnings of rebelling against the status quo. Now, rappers have become the status quo themselves. You can’t rebel against the Queen and then become the Queen yourself. I attribute much of the blame to testosterone—male dominance and patriarchy.

Q: Hip-hop is thirty years old and now a dominant global musical force. What has been the biggest change in hip-hop over this period?

Chuck D: The biggest thing that has happened to hip-hop in the last ten to twelve years is the clinging on to the corporation as the all-mighty hub of the music. When culture is created in boardrooms with a panel of six or seven strategists for the masses to follow, to me that is no different than an aristocracy. It’s not created from the people in the middle of the streets, so to speak. It is created from a petri dish for the sake of making money, and it is undermining the longevity of the culture.

Q:Then music for you is about building a community.

Chuck D: I don’t think that the music should be above the people.

Class doesn’t cost a dime, and you spread it around. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding don’t come out of the microwave. You got to keep moving forward because the evil doesn’t sleep.

Q: Why do you consider yourself a citizen of the world?

Chuck D: I first consider myself a man and then a grown adult at that. Next, I know I am judged unfairly by my physical characteristics and ostracized because of that so I say, “Yes, I’m a black man.” Then it goes to things I do—songwriter, musician, and activist. I adhere to the philosophy, “I don’t care who writes the laws, let me write the songs.” Our expressions in the arts are something that reflect life and propel us as human beings. Culture is this thing that we can exchange among ourselves as human beings to knock aside our differences and build upon our similarities. Cultural exchange is the ultimate exchange.

Q: You do a radio show on Air America, tons of public speaking and performing. Discuss your most recent activism.

Chuck D: My work throughout my life is always representative of the time we live in. It’s all about keeping it in order and keeping it in gear. I want to always move forward with everything I am doing. So, I do the radio show, speak at universities and other social institutions all around the world, appear on TV, and continue to create music all in the hope to keep the struggle alive. Most other artists are always fighting for their fame. They have that fear, like the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” They need to keep themselves out there. I have never had that fear. If I have any fear, it’s not doing enough to reach people.

Lowkey’s Speech at the Afghanistan Troops Out Protest (video and transcript)

I went with my son down to the demonstration and rally yesterday (Saturday 20 November 2010), and can attest to the fact that Lowkey’s speech was hugely inspiring!

Here’s the video. The transcription is below.

We are here – all of us are here – because we believe in the equality of all and the supremacy of none.

All of us are here because we do not believe in British imperialism. What has British imperialism given to the world? British imperialism has carved up the Middle East. British imperialism has left its scar on Palestine. British imperialism is the reason that Obama is sending drones today to bomb what we call Pakistan.

What people need to realise is that those drones are dropping bombs on the Pashtuns, who don’t recognise the red line which was drawn by the British. They do not consider themselves Pakistani and they do not consider themselves to be from Afghanistan; they are Pashtuns. What is the root of that problem? The root of that problem is British imperialism.

There is a reason that they call Afghanistan the graveyard of empires. There’s a reason. But what we have to ask ourselves is this: if we expect people around the world to resist British imperialism, who are we not to oppose British imperialism *here*?

They have an occupation in Kabul, but we have an occupation down there, in the Houses of Parliament. How can we combat those who are fighting humanity around the world?

Two words: *direct action*.

They want us to condemn the Millbank protestors, but they want us to commend those who drop bombs on people we do not know and people we do not see. They are quick to show soldiers with missing limbs (who of course I sympathise with), but they do not show babies born with deformities because of the depleted uranium that has been dropped; they do not show the soldiers that have babies with deformities because they were exposed to depleted uranium in Iraq and in Afghanistan.


Because the narrative that they are pushing forward wants us to commend imperialism. We say: no, we condemn imperialism, and no, we don’t condemn the protestors – I *commend* those protestors.

So we must take away the lesson from today, with all of us gathered together – all of us who have humanity in our hearts and equality in our aim. The lesson we must take from this is: we are not speaking their language. Their language is: direct action.

Thank you.

Return top