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(en) Alcatraz - Arise... A Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Hip-Hop Culture

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://passionbomb.com/alcatraz/)
Date Tue, 24 Dec 2002 10:25:29 -0500 (EST)


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by O.
Since June of 2001, on the third Friday of every month, 
an open-mic night called "Arise..." has provided a forum 
for hip hop culture and revolutionary anti-authoritarian 
politics to come together in the bay area. It is still a rare 
phenomenon in most places, at least on such a 
continual, long-term basis. It certainly isn't helped by 
the stereotype of hip hop as a mainstream, misogynist, 
homophobic, consumerist culture devoid of any political 
substance, or the stereotype of anti-authoritarian politics 
as a middle class ideology of disorganized whites who 
ghettoize themselves in undeniably "white" cultures 
such as punk, which some find to be racist and sexist.

While both stereotypes hold partial truths, many of those 
familiar with either camps will be quick to point out the 
long roots of revolutionary politics in hip hop or that not 
all anarchists are into punk rock (and thus making my 
point moot, some might argue, to which I would point 
out that with or without punk, the sphere of 
anti-authoritarian politics has been a white one because 
of its "white" culture). So sooner or later it just had to 
happen... eventually... when someone provided a space 
to share, communicate, and learn about the differences 
between the respective cultures and the various 
philosophies embodied within them. But no one did. So 
we had to do it ourselves.

Back in Los Angeles, I had grown tired of distributing 
anarchist literature at punk shows due to the high 
"preaching to the converted" factor. I began to notice 
that the underground hip hop scene in L.A., while being 
full of politically conscious people, didn't have a thriving 
network of disseminating information or a low-cost, 
do-it-yourself mentality to speak of, such as one would 
find in the punk scene. The root causes of such a 
disparity is probably quite complex. One of the reasons 
could be that many punks come from wealthier 
backgrounds with more resources (like money) and 
privileges at their disposal than the historically poorer, 
(although rapidly changing) urban demographic of the 
hip hop culture. Also, one cannot ignore the mass 
commercialization of hip hop, which propelled it to 
become the number one music of choice for the passive 
consumer lifestyle, appropriating much of its rebellious 
roots into a convenient product. Add to that the fact that 
many hip hop artists who come from poor, inner-city 
backgrounds have less stigma about financial gain 
whereas many punks who reject the privilege they grew 
up with, have the choice to reject it or not, which in 
itself is a privilege, and one can begin to see the reasons 
behind the huge gaps between the two cultures.

As you can tell, I have been very fascinated about the 
distinct differences of both punk and hip hop. The punk 
rock scene is unique in that it has produced more 
explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian substance 
than any other revolutionary subcultures in modern 
history. At the same time, it has also been mostly 
homogenous, of the affluent, white, middle class 
suburbs. Hip hop, while having come from many 
revolutionary ideas from the beginning, hasn't embodied 
an explicit anti-capitalist stance as a culture. It is also 
one of the most diverse cultures in existence in terms of 
ethnicity and originated from the poor, working class, 
inner-city neighborhoods. And the differences don't end 
there. For example, while it is usual for underground hip 
hop shows to charge $10 to $15 for admission, most 
underground punk shows have an unspoken policy of 
keeping it at $5 or less. This scenario also translates to 
the merchandise being sold at shows. Many hip hop 
shows will boast of the venues being 21 and over while 
many punks look at all-ages shows as a way to prevent 
age-based discrimination from the scene. You will most 
likely find men and women dancing together at a hip 
hop show whereas at punk shows, you'll most likely find 
macho "slam dancing" dominated by men while their 
girlfriends watch from the sidelines. You will find many 
hip hop shows with sexist promotions of "ladies get in 
for free" or "ladies with the shortest skirts win a CD" 
(which I actually saw on a flyer), while no such things 
will be tolerated at punk shows. Of course, there are 
exceptions to all these examples.

One thing I noticed when I began distributing anarchist 
oriented literature at various hip hop events was that I 
was usually the only one doing such a thing. Not that I 
was the only one with political literature but that I was 
the only one with anti-authoritarian literature. It is 
certainly easy nowdays to find a table at a political hip 
hop benefit show, with information from various 
sectarian, vanguardist franchises of Lenin, Trotsky, or 
Mao who have figured out that hip hop was a great tool 
to recruit unsuspecting, impressionable youth into their 
cults, or at least to sell more of their newspapers. Some 
of these groups have been quite successful at this, with 
the help of groups like The Coup, (whom I like, and 
whose member Boots is in the Communist Party, USA) 
and have started new careers in youth organizing. In 
fact, this new tool and their attempt to monopolize 
freeing Mumia, stopping police brutality, or fighting the 
latest evil propositions have guaranteed their dominance 
over the new market of "youth hip hop activism." And 
perhaps because, for whatever reason, most anarchists 
have stayed within the comfortable confines of white 
cultures such as punk, techno, hippie, or intellectual 
snobbery, anarchism hasn't attracted as many folks of 
color as it could. And this has always bugged me. That 
many people choose their politics based on social and 
cultural lines, instead of philosophical, intellectual or 
rational ones.

After moving to Oakland, I was suprised to find this city, 
well known for its rich traditions in underground hip 
hop, with a shortage of the venues for conscious hip hop 
that I had become so used to back in L.A.. I had heard 
that one such place called the Black Dot Cafe had lost its 
space just prior to my move, due to the rampant 
dot-com invasion that was spilling over from San 
Francisco. There was a monthly Collective Soul in 
Berkeley which is great but it was more of a show and 
not an open mic event, which I preferred. For me, there 
was something about open mic, hip hop/spoken word 
oriented events that reminded me of the aspects of punk 
shows that I liked: blurring the lines between the 
spectacle and the spectator, so that everyone can 
participate in the process. There is also the excitement 
from the unpredictability of the mic being open to all. I 
began to think I had to start one if I wanted to see one in 
this town.

Then, an opportunity came in the spring of 2001 after a 
"Hip hop and activism" workshop at a local D.I.Y. 
skillshare conference (ironically, an anarcho-punk event 
at Gilman St., a completely punk venue). I began to talk 
to Shamako, the host of that workshop whom I met 
there, about the possibility of starting a monthly open 
mic event for conscious hip hop, combining my 
experience in putting on punk shows and his 
connections in the local hip hop scene. The rest, as they 
say, is history.

Our experiences with Arise... so far have been very 
inspiring. From the very first event, the entire proceeds 
have gone to benefit RACE (Revolutionary 
Anti-Authoritarians of Color), a revolutionary group that 
had formed in the Bay Area around the same time. 
We've also made sure there were AK Press book tables 
during the event. It's exciting to know that we've been 
able to provide a seriously needed venue as well as one 
that attracts people from disparate cultural categories. 
But the most exciting moments are when someone 
you've never seen before gets behind the mic and shares 
a beautiful, funny, profound, and subversive poem or 
busts a sick rhyme, or sometimes both at the same time 
and puts a smile on everyone's face or makes everyone 
nod in collective awe. And perhaps most important of 
all, we have created something loaded with lasting 
potential. A place where an urban, oral subculture can 
co-exist with revolutionary politics free from dogmatic 
vanguardism. A place where a new revolutionary culture 
is born.


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