It was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five who spoke it plainly in 1982’s The Message
It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
Forty years later, America is very much in a similar space against the backdrop of so much chaos.
Lately there has been a coördinated assault on racial progress with voting rights being stripped, a lack of federal police reform after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, black history being suppressed in American education, the legitimacy of an eventual black female Supreme Court nominee being questioned, affirmative action hanging in the balance, and bomb threats being levied against Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Not to mention the ongoing student loan debt crisis and the long term threat of climate change.
With so much going on and a growing sense of disillusionment among voters that progress is not being made, the upcoming 2022 midterm elections in the US is expected to not produce the same level of enthusiasm or record turnout as the last Presidential election.
But the Hip Hop Caucus, a non-partisan civic organization that is dedicated to using hip hop culture as a vehicle for social and political change has hit the ground running trying to get people out to the polls come November.
The organizations focus is on young voters of all races, which many would consider to be the hip hop nation, on the crucial areas of social justice, health care, education, housing, the environment, and criminal justice to name a few.
Since its founding in 2004, the Hip Hop Caucus has partnered with some of the biggest names in the game such as Jay Z, P Diddy, Eve, MC Lyte, Q‑Tip, and Common.
I had the chance to talk to Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., the president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus to get his thoughts on the upcoming election, the issues he is focused on, and how to get people to vote.
With a critical election coming up, how is everybody in the Hip Hop Caucus feeling?
We feel excited about what we need to do. We have always had the position of being post-partisan meaning that we never got into this work from a standpoint of a political party and I think that is the nature of hip hop in general. We got into it based upon the issues that affect our community. So I think that helps a lot because then you don’t really go on that roller coaster dealing with political or partisan type ways. So I think we are exciting because our issues still are real. Issues around racial justice, criminal justice, climate justice, economic justice, and the student loan crisis. I think for us it is about how we make humanity better and so I think we feel good about that. Now I’ll be real there are folks that are working to hinder particularly poor, black, brown, and indigenous communities. We know that we have work to do because they want to hinder those voices from speaking up. We understand that you either shape policy or policy shapes you and they want to use policy to shape our communities. We know that we have to be strong and communicate to the hip hop community as much as we can to do what we need to do for justice.
What would your message be to those in the hip hop community that may be reluctant or apprehensive to go to the polls in November?
Hip hop was started because of politics. What happened in the Bronx that caused redlining and being cut off from society was how hip hop got started. Hip hop was our CNN and our mechanism to change our conditions. If we never had hip hop, we never would have used our voices. Who we are as a culture, which makes us even more powerful, is not just black it is black, white, brown, red, male, female, straight, gay and we have always spoken truth to power. We have always had folks who say one thing and do another but we have to continue speaking truth to power and keep using our voices to let them know when something is wrong. Let them know about redlining, poverty, schools that have more police than librarians, and when we have to use our voices. I think that is the essence of our culture that has made us powerful over the past 40 years and we should never get away from being political.
Obviously the Hip Hop Caucus is involved in a variety of issues that are critical, with this being an election year what is the caucus going to be doing and where are you going to be setting up shop?
The first thing we are doing is we are ramping up our website as a hub and the Respect My Vote Campaign is the most longstanding voting campaign in hip hop ever. That campaign started in 2008 with TI, Keyshia Cole, and other artists. So we will continue to use that to educate and inform communities. The second thing is we will continue to protect the votes of those who are disenfranchised that are returning citizens/ex-felons and will do all that we can to protect their right to vote. We know that when there are those from our community engage with the community it is better for the community. When they are not isolated and they feel they are part of the decision making process, we know that cuts out a lot of violence. It makes them better fathers, mothers, and citizens. The next thing we are going to be doing is to make sure that people understand what is happening on the federal, state, and local level. So clearly there is a lot happening on the federal and we need to be up to speed on that and what is happening and not happening. So with regards to voting rights, we want them to know how that impacts them. Then on the state level there those same issues and other issues. So we want them to be as informed as possible. We also know that there can be misinformation even if it is unintentional. So when people are saying that they can’t vote in Alabama and folks here that in Georgia they are thinking they can’t vote in Georgia. They can go to https://respectmyvote.com/ to know all their laws. Then finally policy. We know that policy is critical and that issues regarding economics, climate, criminal justice, and racial justice are very important to them.
You mentioned the artists that you have worked with before, are you working with new artists or different OGs within the world of hip hop?
I think we are going to continue to do that. As you know there is different age groups within hip hop. We have artists who are in their sixties and artists in their teens. That is a lot to cover even for me being in this work. I started off doing this working with Jay Z and Diddy and it has been interesting to see. When artists are interested and they want to see change happen, I am excited. I am excited where hip hop is going and I think this is a critical time. The reality is our parents who fought for equality in the 20th century and while are still fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence in the 21st century. I think that our culture has to be there to fight that battle. We are going to exist as humans in the 21st century and our culture is going to be needed to create that space for change.
Check out the Hip Hop Caucus at their website https://hiphopcaucus.org/
The Respect My Vote Campaign can be found at https://respectmyvote.com/
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