In the loosely packed auditorium at the University of South Carolina, the crowd murmured anxiously as they waited for a glimpse of the headliner: Dr. Cornel West, radical black activist, a demi-god to some. He, with other local prominent leaders hosted a town hall in support of Bernie Sanders’ higher education and labor reforms. Although Sen. Sanders himself was not present, the crowd littered with educators, young professionals, pastors, bartenders, and all else in between displayed a fervor usually reserved for the man himself. The town hall was co-organized by the South Carolina Labor for Bernie Committee and Higher Ed for Bernie, and was sponsored by the University of South Carolina Student Government.
Dr. West stressed the importance of dignity within Sanders’ campaign, mentioning at one point that, not party alliances, but honesty, dignity and integrity were the most important factors in measuring a candidate. He even went so far as to refer to Sanders as a “moral and spiritual laxative” for America. In these vivid descriptions, Dr. West exhibits his true belief in what Sen. Bernie Sanders has to offer, especially to communities of color and young people. Much of the rhetoric surrounding Bernie Sanders’ campaign for presidency dictates that he will not succeed, unless youth who support him and his commitment to higher education and labor reform, turn out to vote.
When the speech ended, the floor opened for questions from the audience when a man asked why it felt as though the fate of civilization rested on these elections. After taking a moment to let those words sink in for both the speakers and the audience, Dr. West answered in such a way that you or I would: he commiserated, then went on to point out that, for most people of color and those living under oppressive systems, it feels that way every election, rather, everyday.
As I write on the cusp of primaries in my home state of South Carolina, I urge you, whoever you may be, whomever you may vote for, make sure you are registered, turnout, and make sure your vote is not wasted. Engage others through action; find a local campaign office and volunteer. Although civilization may not rest on this year’s elections, smaller fates do, and if you’re anything like me, you’re aware that yours is one of those smaller fates. I hope to one day join and flourish in this shrinking middle class. If I want that to happen, I must galvanize young voters like you, and myself.
And for those who ask the question, “What’s the point of voting?” your frustration is beyond understood, but not tolerated- apathy never sparked a revolution. If you’re still not convinced, John Oliver recently did a segment on Voter ID laws that threaten our voting rights. Check it out below:
Swedish documentary filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson explores the visceral, long-standing history of violent treatment of the black community and black bodies through two snapshots, supplemented by the essential components of storytelling. His works feel like collages, in which his voice cannot be detected. Still, from that conscious distance, he presents perspective on the deep roots of racial violence have formed through the observations of the time.
Olsson delves into that process in 2014’s Concerning Violence, presenting through even more vivid, simple elements: Lauryn Hill’s clear, textured voice, archival footage for each chapter, and text from Frantz Fanon’s 1961 analysis of the psychological effects of colonization, The Wretched of the Earth, emblazoned across the screen.
His demeanor is disarming, for someone so keen to explore violence, but defiant when he describes his role behind the scenes. Olsson considers himself an illustrator rather than a thinker; if the subject matter were different, one may accuse him of hiding behind that distinction. In this sphere, however, where power, violence, and race collide, the contemporary understanding of how it most certainly went down, is too-often dominated by the pictures history’s victors imagine. As a result, it’s not atypical of us to flounder in articulating change in the face of these narratives. Olsson’s aim is to position the history to speak for itself – presented directly, without interpretation, to the audience. Let’s look into 2011’s, The Black Power Mixtape.
I suggest treating The Black Power Mixtape as you would any other mixtape; it is a period piece with a unique message, a revisiting of an impassioned time through sound and image. It allows you to place today’s issues aside momentarily to take in an account of where we’ve been.
The Black Power Mixtape is presented in 9 chapters, each powerful on its own and moving in sequence. Its greatest value, I found, is in the commentary in response to institutionalized violence, the palatability of the movement for civil and human rights – and the faces of it, as well as the real effects of oppression and violence on the human psyche. I always wonder, is there an answer? A set of instructions? A way of ordering the words? This documentary does not claim that there is, but tells us the role of power dynamics in what America made black people experience, and how black people responsed with resilience.
Olsson’s approach is ideal for providing more context on racial dynamics in the United States of America from 1967-1975: post-Vietnam, during the civil rights movement, in the years following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. A raw, global perspective, picking up where Dr. King left off, from the perspective of Swedish filmmakers. Swedish-American media relations were strained by Swedish criticisms of US actions in the Vietnam War. The filmmakers, indicative of Olsson himself, state from the beginning, “We wanted to understand and portray America – through sound and image – as it really is. However, there are about as many opinions on that as there are Americans.”
In fact, black Americans were among the most vocal of those critical about the Vietnam War (see Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon, “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”). The documentary primarily features footage from black communities throughout the years, balancing detachment with immersion, depicting firsthand accounts of the Black Power Movement. Each depiction is a track in the compilation featuring voice-overs and interviews, with contemporary commentary from Erykah Badu, Questlove, and Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, and Harry Belafonte.
From the start, you see the way that the violent deaths of the era’s iconic black leaders and their white allies – shake the youth. They claim “there is no future.” Then, along a spectrum of approaches, looked for something of substance in the wake of those losses, something to counter the violent racism enacted upon them to provide an example of the society they envisioned: one where there was security, accessible schooling and healthcare, community.
The Black Power Mixtape provides a view of where America truly started with a candid eye to the violence and power dynamics that once defined us, and may continue to define us. I found it distinguished the Black Lives Matter movement as altogether its own; it brings texture to contemporary discussions of US race relations, the criminal justice system, and poverty.
Individual chapters of The Black Power Mixtape can be found on Youtube, and the complete film can be found on Netflix.
Forty to fifty years ago, when the footage was taken, times were more overtly violent – that is, admittedly, more commentary on what I perceive of civil society then and now, than fact. The 1960s and 70s were closer in proximity to violent norms, slavery, lynching; that is to say, the practices and tensions that manifested in the years between the legal designation of black people as property, and the social and economic integration we are still in the midst of.
For the past three years, with technology and social media broadening the ability to reach out into communities, police brutality has been at the forefront of US discourse and the world is again watching as the violence wreaked by our financially incentivized, structurally racist criminal justice system plays out. That people are watching says we have come a good way; Democratic presidential candidates have spoken openly about criminal justice and drug policy reform. Senator Bernie Sanders explicitly called for community policing, mental health reform, and an end to the prison industrial complex. Grassroots movements around the U.S. nurture community-level reforms and responses to the remnants of the subjugation of black people, towards institutional police accountability for excessive use of force and discriminatory practices.
We have the opportunity to address the issues of 1967-1975 and well before, but can people handle what the times are telling us even now?
When the Egyptian revolution occurred in 2011 and the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests followed in Ukraine, unless you were on the ground experiencing the catastrophic political turmoil, it was difficult to begin to comprehend the true sequence of events or how the people were responding to them.
Luckily, there is film, and people use film to make documentaries, to tell these stories. Sometimes, they are brave and take their cameras into war zones because they actually care about showing other people what is happening in their country. The filmmakers of both“The Square” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” assumed that bravery to chronicle the events surrounding both revolutions.
The cultural differences between the two countries are stark, it’s true, but the common element within both of these films is that they show people of all ages taking refuge in a central gathering place, a square that already holds cultural and historic significance. They claim it as their own, camping there for months in spite of the barrage of militancy exercised against their calls for accountability and independence from the government.
In 2011, around the time that the Arab Spring was taking place, I was in Berlin conducting interviews with different people there and in Egypt for an anthropological research paper about Egypt opening its border with Gaza. One of them, Mohamed Shoukry, a real estate agent living in Alexandria at that time, offered incredible insight into the situation depicted in “The Square.”
“A lot of people are in the political sphere who never appeared before the revolution. Their intention is to root out the corruption in Egypt, but this will take some time,” Shoukry said. “Even though now we may have been able to cut off its head, it has strong roots.”
“The Square” starts off with a bang, a gripping sense of immediacy that spares nothing on the imagination of the violence waged against the protesters who called for President Hosni Mubarak and the military to be deposed. We are introduced one by one to the activists playing a central part in speaking out against the oppressive Mubarak regime, a spectrum including reserved British-Egyptian actor and activist Khalid Abdalla and a bright, young idealist named Ahmed Hassan.
The footage of Egyptian-American director Jehane Noujaim being chased by the military for documenting the event will render the audience shaken, and as the announcement of Mubarak’s concession is proclaimed, the fear and anxiety felt for the activists melts into joy. But wait…it’s not that far into the film now, right? Exactly. This is what makes “The Square” unpredictable and the emotional energy of its characters captivating.
The motif throughout the film is a vibrant mural depicting the success of the revolution in colors representative of the people’s joy toward Mubarak’s ousting. However, this is when the Shoukry’s insight helped place the revolution in greater perspective. The protesters optimistically retreated from the square, in pursuit of something resembling a democracy and someone resembling a responsible leader. That optimism is challenged, however, when the military seizes control shortly after the resignation of Mubarak. He was going to stand trial for the murder of peaceful protestors in this time, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, his acquittal for this crime caused the protesters to return to “The Square”, and a new chapter in the film chronicles their growing despair.
Magdy, another activist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, brings an interesting dynamic to “The Square”, particularly when the Islamic group expands political leverage and influence after Mubarak abdicates office. The other activists, who are not particularly religious, are shown in the film as being on fair terms with Magdy. As The Brotherhood assumes growing power, however, and becomes increasingly brutal and militant toward the secular protesters, the relationship between Magdy and the other activists complicates.
The Armed Forces offer to supply The Brotherhood with weapons and political power within the government if they betrayed the revolutionaries. There are other sources, however, specifically one in the Washington Post, that claim The Brotherhood was portrayed inaccurately in the film and their image distorted falsely by the cosmopolitan activists in Tahrir Square.
“Politics is not the same as revolution. If you want to play politics, you have to compromise,” Abdalla says.
At the same time, he points out how The Brotherhood was the only strongly organized group amongst the crowd, and as the enthusiasm died down, it became evident who the players were: The Brotherhood or the old regime, now fronted by the military.
“It was a war in the square, not a revolution,” declares one of the other activists.
In 2012, when Morsi is “democratically” elected president, the growing agony is chronicled in the mural with a big, blood red line painted over his face. People take to Tahrir Square once again, and the protest exhibits an alarming new energy in communicating their rejection of another violent and oppressive leader.
At one point in the documentary, he states, “Enough of this. All the politicians are failures.” Walking in the middle of a (surprisingly) empty street in Cairo, he makes a metaphor of himself, declaring “I’ve decided to walk in the middle of the street. The cars can do what they want.” He asserts, “I will stand my ground, enough walking cautiously on the side.”
In contrast to the optimism at the start of the film, it is this point when the growing tide of pessimism returns, with Abdalla stating that the rebels’ mistake was “in leaving the square before the power was in their hands.” The Brotherhood had been working alongside the military regime and took power, which enhanced Magdy’s visible anxiety about which side to invest allegiance in.
When Morsi is ousted and sentenced to death, a sense of joy waves over the activists. Hassan, our charismatic guide, is revived from his dip into disillusionment at the news of the Muslim Brotherhood’s power play.
Hassan even calls up Magdy and speaks to him in a kind, jocular tone, showing that he did not want their relationship to be punctuated with the tension that had imploded between them when The Brotherhood had seized power.
The tone of the documentary, however, portends the uncertainty and volatile spirit of the events that have continuously been influencing the energy of the people. At the end, the film returns to Abdalla, whose serious, pensive demeanor stands out against Hassan’s fierce optimism.
“When you don’t have your rights, when you’re taken to the front, when you’ve been lied to, when you’re killed, things become pretty clear,” Abdalla conveys in a direct, sober manner.
Although, in the light of the context of Morsi’s ousting, this statement can be viewed as a victory, there is something about Abdalla that indicates he is not certain that Egypt will not continue to be politically volatile.
Red paint is shown dripping on the Converse of an artist working on the mural, a metaphor for how the young revolutionaries are influenced by secular culture and want to change the social and political mores of the country to align with ideals rejected as Western.
However, as returning to the mural throughout the film reminds us, there will be constant changes in the story of one of the greatest revolutions in the history of the world. With the Egyptian military in power, the story of whether or not the people remain as optimistic as they are portrayed at the end of the film remains fairly obscured at the moment.
“Winter on Fire” chronicled the November 2013-March 2014 protest that occurred in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev after then-President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement deal with the European Union, ultimately moving the country further into Russia’s circle of influence.
The documentary, directed by Russian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, also places one in the middle of the action right away, showing how thousands of people who believed in Ukraine as a European nation took to Maidan (Independence) Square, a beautiful nexus in a capital symbolic of the ancient world (aligned by a medieval gate and an opulent cathedral) clashing with the modern, as fast food restaurants and hotels have popped up nearby.
It is once again the perfect place, as Tahrir was to Cairo, to symbolize the change that the people were waiting and looking for. After centuries of being tied to Russia under the Kievan Rus empire and beyond, they were hoping to become a modern, politically stable country.
The documentary is ultimately, I think, a bit more detached from the participants than “The Square” is. It feels more restrained and not so involved in their lives from the start, as you are not invited to know an integral set of activists. Here, the stories are magnified in-depth little-by-little as the film goes on.
That being said, the film, recorded by Ukrainian protesters, is a powerful testament to the joy and movement that was summoned forth when these events occurred and the people came together. Having travelled in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, one of the most distinct characteristics of the people was their melancholy demeanour. Years of starvation, suppression, economic peril and corrupt governments leave the region besieged by continually grey skies and an underlying lack of hope. That suffering is and will continue to be prevalent radiates and looms outward amongst the thin, cobbled corridors of their broken cities.
The wonderful part of this film is that as the momentum gains, the people realize that this could be the opportunity they have waited and secretly hoped so long for and the hope begins to appear in their eyes. People of all ages gathered at Independence Square, a majority of them dressed mostly in black parkas but with a few colourful grandmas, speaking different languages. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the non-religious: they were all there.
There was another group the film did not cover: those people who internalized nationalism the most. After speaking to a friend of mine who had insider knowledge of the Maidan protests, I learned that nearly all the fighters on the “front line” were members of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi and right-wing parties. The movie, he said, left this fact out: that while the crowd was mainly a composition of people fighting for universal equality, there were also seedier elements that existed. These groups are, in a way, to the Maidan what the Brotherhood was to Tahrir.
It was, at its core, a peaceful protest, a loud call of disagreement with the government for giving up their chance to break away from the fringe status they maintained between Europe and Russia. There is a saying in Europe that I heard frequently: Poland is 10 years (development-wise) behind Germany, and Ukraine is 10 years behind Poland. This agreement would finally have kick-started Ukraine’s course into the European trajectory.
With snow falling on Independence Square, the atmosphere grows explosive as some protesters begin behaving violently. One of the peaceful activists opines that the Ukrainian riot police force (known as the Berkut) has planted people within the crowd in order to bring forth a reason for them to attack.
The cellos and violins that frame the events appropriately capture the restless melancholy throughout the film. The snow falls harder on the ancient square. The sparrows linger on the bare tree branches. An impending sense of doom lurks throughout the crowd, and an ancient church bell that had not been rung since the Mongol Tartar invasion in the 1240s grips everyone in its timbre.
Sure enough, the Berkut storms onto the square, descending like a swarm of locusts. Armed with iron rods, they attack, beating people viciously on the ground. A woman is shown leaning back against the tree. The blood stains on her face against the white wool hat she is wearing stand out as a pronounced metaphor, a taint against the purity of her idealistic behavior.
“Who gave birth to you, a mother or a wolf?,” one of the protesters asks, referring to the relentless brutality displayed by the Berkut.
There is, however, a discrepancy between how much blame the film levies on Yanukovych as the sole perpetrator and other factions of persecution taking place that were not mentioned.
“They paint Yanukovych as this blood-sucking demon of pure evil, but they miss the people who actually orchestrated a lot of the violence, like the people directly in charge of the Berkut police,” says Anton Guz, a graduate student pursuing a degree in peacebuilding and conflict transformation at SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont.
As the film goes on and the winter moves further along, the steam continues rising up from the make-shift kitchens and fires that the protesters have started in order to keep what has now become somewhat of an island alive. The supplies that became the fuel for the Maidan island were not revealed in the film. Specifically, volunteer drivers were bringing in medical supplies to the fighters and taking people to the hospital, as the roads to Kiev were blocked. There was a mass outcry of support for the protesters in Maidan, one of which, called AutoMaidan, was based in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, a hub for nationalistic Ukrainian support.
The support and supplies brought in from various parts of the country fueled the ongoing struggle against the winter and the cold history that Ukraine did not want to continue to freeze itself into.
My favourite moments in the film, showing the peoples’ sense of humour and heart in the midst of a dim situation, were their responses to various bans placed on them by Yanukovych, one of which was ‘no helmets.’ They answered by putting on pots, pans, flippers, masks of all shapes and colours. It was quite unusual to see little babushkas roaming around this dystopian war zone with pots on their head, and the film juxtaposes this all-too-real-its-surreal element quite strongly throughout.
Guz was born in Ukraine and is quick to point out some aspects of the film that he found problematic, specifically Ukraine’s all-too-relevant relationship with Russia.
“I think that’s a nuance that’s dangerous to forget, since the master manipulators in this situation live in Moscow, not Kiev. But also, surely it’s important to actually name the culprits behind the violence, right?,” Guz said. “Where are they in the movie?”
The film shows the people walking over snow-covered pictures of Yanukovych as they enter a cathedral, where bodies of the dead are being carried. A slow, solemn heavy chant rises from the crowd paying final respects to friends and family members who have died.
In order to understand this scene and the context of the movie, it is important to keep in mind that Yanukovych was a tyrannical, greedy ruler, and one that was under orders from Russian president Vladimir Putin to not allow Ukraine to strengthen relations with Europe. However, he used his relationship with Putin as leverage, deceiving Putin into thinking that he had control of Ukraine and its affairs while subsequently working behind the scenes to strengthen relations with the EU.
The Yanukovych-Putin relationship is 150% a crucial element of the politics framing the backstory behind the revolts, as is the massive history of oppression and tyranny that Ukraine has endured at the feet of Russia. It is no question that anyone who is interested in global affairs and who wants to learn about the Maidan events in 2014 will walk away from the film with a greater understanding of what it means to be a country caught between two significant powers, but nevertheless, they would have benefited even further had more context been provided.
“The movie could have empowered people who saw it to go out and convince everyone that Ukrainians beat incredible odds, showed amazing bravery and resilience, and transformed their own society in the space of a few months,” Guz said. “The movie could have showed that while people are arguing whether the EU is worthwhile because of minor economic quibbles, people in Ukraine laid down their lives for the mere chance to join it. It could have enlightened people in western and central Europe to the crazy shit that threatens them and people like them only a few hours away from where they live.”
As a girl in the middle of the square plays a piano painted the colours of Ukrainian flag and snow continues to fall on the ashes of the Euromaidan, the documentary resides to ending the story on a tidy note. The ending summary does mention Yanukovych’s flight to Russia, the subsequent annexation of the Crimea by Putin and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine, but it doesn’t touch over the chaos and bickering that is continues to take place within the new Ukrainian government.
Both documentaries are raw and incredibly well-filmed. While “Winter on Fire” ultimately opts for a slightly cinematic feel with the way it is tidied up at the end, “The Square” leaves things just as raw and un-ended as at the beginning of the film. Both, however, serve as hallmarks of courage and bravery to share with the world how hard people around the world are fighting for their freedom.
My coworker turned to me today and said, “Oh, no. The New York Times. Tamir Rice.”
I wish I could say I was surprised at the results: no indictment in the case of a police officer who shot and killed unarmed/toy gun-armed/two-armed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio about two seconds – no exaggeration, watch the video – after arriving to the playground.
Still, processing that this case would end so abruptly after a year had me at a loss for words, awkwardly chuckling, smiling, making ambiguous and disjointed comments about the future and the irrelevant fact that a new year is beginning…
I knew it was coming, yet the most disappointing about living in the United States since Trayvon Martin’s murder is the numbness. I vividly remember tearing up on my brother’s 12th birthday this year – he’s just gotten taller than us, too, and as the baby of the family, won’t let us forget it – when Tamir crossed my mind. So I know that there is emotion in here somewhere; begrudgingly, maybe, but it is there.
This resonating numbness makes me wonder if I’m growing less and less human, or into a stronger version of myself. Have I become like the disinterested public or the resilient few? Is my mind institutionalized or free? Thankfully, it’s impossible to know for sure, so I usually cope through thought experiments, bringing my bachelors-level political and social psychology theories to the forefront instead of my own experience.
Speaking in hypotheticals momentarily makes all of this just as surreal as it feels to refer to someone’s beloved with simultaneous distance and familiarity through something as intangible as a hashtag. Again and again.
Our conversation led me to say, “the revolution will not be televised” inspired by Gil Scott Heron. I first heard the song in The Black Power Mixtape, a documentary by a Swedish filmmaker (available on Netflix) covering the civil rights movement years 1967-1975. It remains relevant today as calls for justice grow, so I revisited the song for another thought experiment, in the age of twitter and television, will the revolution be “live”?
“You will not be able to plug in, turn on, and cop out.”
The good will not be televised and while the vigilant watch of social media is supportive, sometimes this constant stream of black deaths and their subsequent disregard through official statements of disinterest seem like a mechanism in itself, rather than a consequence of an unjust system. Author and activist Angela Davis describes the foundational role of violence in revolution and the inescapable presence of state-sanctioned race-based violence in a 1972 interview.
The effects of that theoretical onslaught are real in the black American experience, and manifests in as many ways as there are black Americans. For me, it’s been foggy, depressive periods, aggressive social media, and most recently channeling the anxiety into productivity – creative expression and a commitment to social justice through engaging others.
“The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.”
Here’s a thought experiment:
If a citizen dies in police custody and everyone is there to tweet it, does it make a difference?
We need to go beyond mainstream media narratives and phone screens, especially if we are ready to do better – and people of all races know that we must. This is a statistically reinforced race issue, which makes it a human rights issue.
The revolutionary good that this country needs – and I believe wants – will not be televised. It is a blessing and a curse, as people are able to seek tangible improvements away from speculation that corrupts this message. However, they are largely unseen – community activists, attorneys, nonprofit organizations.
Conversations, then, are essential. People need to hear other people, see other people taking action, talk through this stuff; they need the opportunity to be wrong and be informed again from a face, not an avatar. They need to see that there is good being done, constantly. So, if you care, you’re gonna have to reach out to somebody. You’re going to have to stumble through awkward, meaningful conversations; it’s the only way to then stumble forward to action.
We have to become comfortable speaking for ourselves in an age of retweets, likes, and the multitudes of murmurs of the blogosphere. It starts among friends, then communities, then demanding to be heard at local levels. We have to call people out, call ourselves out, and call out the principles that matter to us.
“There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay.”
On the contrary, there is constantly new footage of unnecessary lethal force. If video evidence is no match for the legendary “infallible, superhuman-yet-chronically-fearful, good guy” police officer, as we saw in the cases of Sandra Bland and Eric Garner, amongst others, then calls for dashboard and body cameras are meaningless. Surveillance has been vehemently opposed by officers, who claim they cannot do their jobs correctly if observed. Public officials are intended to be accountable to the public. To protect and serve citizens.
Yet, in this day and age, legal provisions still allow for the seizure of civilian property on arbitrary grounds, as John Oliver explores on Last Week Tonight: Civil Forfeiture.
We have to demand better. Accountability is not too much to ask, and in a time where deadly force has replaced first response protocol, we would do well to demand de-escalation training. The case law term for Tamir Rice’s murder is “officer-created jeopardy”. That it’s justifiable in hindsight and through loopholes isn’t good enough, and police need to be held to a higher standard in their profession, to enter situations strategically to minimize, rather than create confrontations. Read more on the question of policing standards coming out of this grand jury decision from Jamelle Bouie at Slate.
The reality is that we don’t need thought experiments to get to revolutionary action, with scientists at Harvard categorizing police brutality in the US as an epidemic. We do have to take a revolutionary approach by demanding reform on the issue of police accountability. It’s an issue of human rights, an issue of public health – and in that sense, the bystander effect is our biggest challenge to overcome.
At this point, seeking out real policy reforms to support, speaking out through protests and/or conversations, and simply demanding better are revolutionary. Do it because it’s about what is right. Do it for the sake of a better place. Do it in a way that feels right to you, because it is up to you to do something.
The revolution will not be televised, will not be tweeted. The revolution will be live.
Global leaders collected in Paris for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC) Conference of Parties (COP21) in early December to resolve collective action on the issue. The Earth’s changing landscapes and the telling experiences of climate refugees are the tangible evidence of three decades of research. The Earth’s conditions are inching closer to a tipping point, and with building momentum. The Paris Agreement has so much potential, but it’s been met with a mix of optimism and cynicism given the history of these sorts of talks. Paris is talked about as our last hope, but has enough changed since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 or Copenhagen in 2009?
187 countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs) have been laid on the table, as they collaborate to avoid the 2 degrees Celsius limit. That goal can guide collective action in theory, but every country is inherently different – there are developed nations and developing nations, capitalist states and socialist states, indigenous leaders and Western bureaucrats. Greenhouse gas emissions are tied directly to industry and in essence, the ways that individuals, communities, companies, and global markets use energy. Have those changed enough in the past twenty years?
Brazil and the United States are influential in energy and industry, with a complex relationship.
(75%) of the Amazon rainforest is located within their borders and in the industrial boom that has positioned the country as a lead developing nation, (50%) of this vital ecosystem has been culled. The rainforest acts as the air conditioning unit for our planet, generating an atmospheric river of water vapor that helps to regulate the Earth’s temperature and purify the atmosphere of greenhouse gases. Deforestation weakens this regulatory cycle and the carbon sink that it functions as, therefore facilitating the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and Earth’s resultant warming. Thus far, Brazil has been forthcoming with their verbal commitment, and has actually reduced the rate of deforestation in recent years.
Consumption of the Amazon rainforest is very much culturally ingrained, so the components of this issue are many-fold and interconnected: industrial agriculture and logging, illegal deforestation, job security, political expedience, lack of economic support for the existent environmental police. More than that, the United States has a stake in deforestation as well, as the primary importer of Amazonian wood, in addition to importing meat and soy. Local and global economies then merge, as coverage of deforestation in Brazil by NPR explored.
I reached out to my friend Jean, from Rondonia, to learn about things from his perspective.
Rondonia is a young state, formed when people migrated West in the 1980s to support their families through cattle ranching, logging, or agriculture. Ultimately, it has supported the development of the entire country into global trade’s current agricultural powerhouse.
Now, Brazil proposes to convert from deforestation to land preservation, reforestation, and a commitment to renewable energy. Garcia-Navarro’s coverage closes with a beckoning: “Brazil’s congress matters to us, all around the world.”, and it is true we need their commitment and follow through.
A rural area like Rondonia prospers, though unequally, thanks to the logging and cattle ranching industries on a global scale. Their ties are traditional and universal at the same time, affecting the livelihoods of vigilante rubber tappers and the international housing industry. It follows that the rest of the world’s actions matter to Brazil, given that their meat, soy, and timber exports go primarily to the United States. Intrigued by the dynamics at play, I asked a good friend from Rondonia to share his perspective.
Jean grew up on a cattle farm in Rondonia and has witnessed the depletion of the Amazon alongside the growing prosperity of his state. Jean says that the COP21 climate talks are too bureaucratic – too far removed from the economic, political, and cultural realities of the rainforest – to have any real meaning for the fate of the Amazon.
Citing the 1988 decree that incentivized the migration and cattle ranching that led his father to Rondonia, Jean states, “It’s not to blame the farmers and people making money from it — it isn’t their fault. The government allows it to be this way.”. Deforestation, largely by fire, was the foundation for Rondonia’s economic growth. The reality is as Jean explains, “The Amazon is impregnable, so that’s why any cities and communities can be there now: deforestation.” Actually, the narrative should be familiar: Western migration, subsistence cattle farming turned booming industrial growth at the expense of the environment. See the effects of industry on deforestation in the United States:
Industry money in politics
Ivo Cassol is a senator from Rondonia, wealthy cattle rancher, and member of the Brazilian Senate environmental committee. His position on the committee affords him a say in the climate talks and partial responsibility to implement Brazil’s commitment per the terms of the agreement. He questions, “Is it fair to ask Brazil to do all the conservation when the United States made the mess to begin with? That’s very hypocritical of the Americans. … Are we to be the slave of other countries? The lungs of the United States?” He goes on indignantly, “Even though they send us only a pittance to pay for it? I won’t accept it. No.”
He may have a point, but his criticisms have personal and shallow political notes that seem to limit their applicability to the realm of the elite. He was found guilty of fraud by Brazil’s Supreme Court and Prosecutor General, so he is currently appealing his criminal charges on technical grounds. Previously mayor of Rondonia and governor, Cassol assumed his Senate office in 2011; the accusations: giving government contracts to associates, friends, and family members when he was mayor.
Herminio Coelho, one of the few opposition candidates and a member of the leftist party, calls their Senate assembly a “whorehouse” and “criminal enterprise” of leaders who would sooner see Rondonia without trees than help the environment, as landowners and profiteers of deforestation themselves. It resonates, then, when Jean states, “The bureaucracy is the problem,” and continues on about Brazil’s politics, clouded with corruption, bribery, and blackmail at local, state, and national levels.
In Jean’s personal experience and in his political participation (voting is mandatory in Brazil), citizens tend to favor the familiar. “People will see a name they know and choose it because they recognize it. It doesn’t matter what they would do or their politics; it’s a family name so they think they can trust it.” At the same time, those families have vested interests and long-standing relationships that lead to circles of corruption that rise louder than the voices of the people.
We saw it in the United States earlier in 2015, when money in politics as speech led to the funneling of $136 million into Republican candidates Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and (at the time) Rick Perry from Southern oil corporations with a mix of financial and social ties. So when Cruz hosted a forum in the US Congress during the Paris climate talks to state that he doesn’t believe climate change exists, we have to ask: is there truth in what he’s saying and who is he saying it for?
Money’s influence in politics is at the root of COP21 criticisms as well. Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace, addressed the coinciding People’s Climate Summit in Montreuil, stating “isn’t it strange that the people that are sponsoring the COP are including oil, coal, gas, and nuclear companies?”. The metaphor he uses is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting sponsored by alcohol companies. On the other hand, Greenpeace is the foremost environmental global NGO, with 30 million supporters worldwide – and they accept zero donations from corporations. Naidoo goes on to explain that the people most affected by climate change currently are underrepresented being from smaller nations, tend to be low-income, and are predominantly brown and black people.
Pew Research Center recently published a study of global concern about climate change. Latin America – specifically Brazil – reports the highest percentage of concern towards climate change and understanding that climate change is taking effect now.
Trends show that high CO2 emitters are less intensely concerned about climate change. Ivo Cassol’s accusations towards the United States may come to mind again when we consider that in US politics, we debate its legitimacy rather than legislation and policy to move towards sustainable processes. Meanwhile, this year Brazil has seen Sao Paolo, its largest city, deep in drought and 150 homes destroyed after two dams holding toxic waste from an iron ore mine burst in Minas Gerais.
Agriculture is largely rooted in tradition, so Jean helped me to understand by relaying his own experience in the geophysics field. When farmers are hesitant to accept soil analyses and chemical supplements he uses metaphors, most often likening it to medicine. He explains the combination of physics, math, and impressive technological equipment to eradicate contaminated liquid as identifying, locating, and treating cancer.
Jean points out, “People fear what they don’t know about”. Who will tell people on the ground to translate the global impact of their actions or to liken the principles of sustainability to everyday decision-making? Who will translate the climate agreement created by bureaucrats into practical terms for the people whose economic livelihoods and cultural traditions will be affected?
Is tradition the enemy of innovation, then? Are metaphors the only way to discuss these issues? Not necessarily.
It’s unreasonable and unfeasible to turn away from our traditions immediately – they have valid social and economic significance. We’re looking at changes in infrastructure, lifestyles, and legislation. We have to be selective about what we bring into this new era and comprehensive of human experience.
A human rights issue
“It’s easy to write a bill, but to enforce it outside of industrialized cities is different,” Jean finds. He recalls that when Lula, Brazil’s first working class president (2002-2010) set out to address poverty in Brazil, it was through cost-effective, well-targeted programs. Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva was the child of migrants and later a metalworker and trade-union leader. His two-term presidency cannot be confirmed corruption-free, but he left office with 90% approval ratings. His legacy is lifting 29 million Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class through economic supports for the impoverished.
Jean adds, “I am a big fan of taxing people; it’s necessary to maintain the republic. It makes us closer to each other when the richer are closer to the poorer.” Poverty and climate change are both quality of life issues, with direct influence on immediate and sustained access to resources. Undoubtedly, either the costs or the responsibility to action fall on all of us. With the amount of money exchanging hands between the contributing industries and decision-makers in environmental policy, climate change and reforms like the Clean Power Plan could be the equalizer we need to bring local, community voices to the table.
If followed through, Paris is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions era, a change that will fundamentally alter the way we live – if it is to have any effect. The treaty does take the aforementioned lifestyle changes into account, providing supports for communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry, in anticipation of the impact of altering their economies.
We have reached the point (it could be argued that we reached it long ago) where life as we know it must change, due either to climate change or our response to it. 414 US cities and towns are guaranteed to be underwater as sea levels continue to rise. To respond proactively is no small undertaking; in reality nothing significant is.
During our Skype date, Jean expressed his cynicism through another metaphor, “When I see rich countries talking about deforestation, it’s like a mask for them, I know it.” There is hope in the spirit of this agreement, however: consensus was gathered through indabas: a South African method of mask-less, transparent group deliberation. Instead of repeating stated positions, each party is encouraged to speak personally and state their “red lines,” which are thresholds that they don’t want to cross. But while telling others what they cannot compromise, they must contribute to the collective goal.
A distinction must be made between the terms of the Paris climate deal as they are agreed upon and the terms as each country can actualize them. Being from the United States, I share in Jean’s cynicism towards results; we rarely agree to a course of action within the government, let alone in the global sphere. US Republicans have already threatened the work of the climate deal. So when it comes time to ratify and implement the terms of the Paris agreement in the United States, what can we expect? I am still hopeful in spite of that cynicism, largely because it is too soon to tell. If we do come up against more of the same corruption instead of capitalizing on this call for collaboration, the implications are huge.
As Elon Musk stated at Sorbonne during the Paris climate talks, what we incentivize is what happens. As we look to next steps in ratification and implementation, the people will need to have a seat at the table and hold decision-makers accountable for results, nuanced policies to provide everyone with the means to contribute solutions that combine industry, innovation, and tradition.
The talks in Paris are over; these leaders will return from the hill to the people, the other politicians, farmers and pundits, conversations and media narratives. What then? We’ll have to see – and act. The 192 world leaders who convened in Paris this year will revisit this project again in 2018, and in 5-year increments starting in 2020.
I’ve found the hope surrounding these climate talks, the textured history that led us here, even the crippling effects of greed on reaching agreement to be unabashedly human. We’re capable of great things through sustainable and innovative technologies, but without communication and collective action at various levels to back it up – I’m not sure what to expect.
Climate change and money in politics are both local and universal, social and industrial. Use whatever metaphor you will; in the end, we’re all in this together.
As we marched down to K Street and blockaded the traffic, car horns filled the air as members of our group spread out and started to paint the mural, which bore the words “reconstruct, reinvest and resist.”
It was an overcast day as we seated ourselves in the middle of a park near one of the most notorious streets in America. We gathered to eat lunch and say goodbye to our new friends, César and River, who had guided us, all but one from UNC Asheville, to Washington, D.C., to join over a thousand individuals in a mass protest against the most hot-button issues in the country, racial injustice, environmental destruction and anti-immigration legislation.
A few weeks earlier, I was seated on the Quad, enjoying the quaint and cute maple-shaped cookies and cider that UNCA so generously hands out every fall, when a friend from the UNCA Divestment Coalition came and placed a flier in my hand, telling me about the “Our Generation, Our Choice” event taking place Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C.
My first thought was, “There is no way I can leave school, not with all the assignments I have to do.” My second thought was, “Hell, yeah.” I had never really been to D.C., unless you count gliding through on a Greyhound bus, and these are all issues that I am passionate about.
It was settled.
We first left for D.C. on Saturday morning, and aside from some mild panic in regards to obtaining rental cars, the trip there was fairly smooth. We discussed everything we loved about the world, hated about the world, talking ‘bout our generation all the while. The energy was good, and it was evident that we were all thoroughly excited and ready to jump into the action.
Rolling into the American capital at night, we first went to an art collective in a warehouse nestled in an industrial, sleepy side of the city. We met César and River, who, alongside the other artists there, were helping to make the signs and the mural that would ultimately be our group’s creation.
We worked for hours in the chilly, neon evening and the warm, comforting art studio, with some of us cutting out cardboard circle stencils, others painting the main banner that would be supported by over 20 hands on the day of the rally, others making the wood posts to hold the signs up, and still others spray-painting the stencils onto small canvases outside.
We were there from 6 to 9 p.m., weary but excited, envisioning how everything we were helping to create would be utilized in the rally.
After this, we departed into the twilight and found the church in which we were staying. Sleeping on the floor alongside other activists from across the country, it wasn’t exactly the most comfortable situation, but I love my sleeping bag, so it was all good.
Some of the group went directly to sleep, while the other, perhaps less sensible portion of the group, myself included, retreated back into the night to roam the streets of D.C.
It was a fantastic night to say the least. We walked up and down various sections of the city, sipping beers and talking about life, engaging in various kinds of debauchery that won’t be mentioned here for various reasons.
However, the inevitable hangover that ensued the following day was nothing short of awful, and as I took off to our day-long civil disobedience training, running to throw up in trash cans at subway stops, I sort of regretted my decision to not be responsible.
The training was a lot of things, to say the least. There were intense moments, in particular when one person confronted the speaker about immigration issues and treatment toward minorities who were protesting, and by the end of the day, we were tired as heck and ready to crash.
The morning of the event, however, we were just ready. Even running off an unstable amount of sleep, we were possessed by a fervent energy to get into action and bring everything we had to the rally. We had been warned numerous times that we could be arrested that day, and while it was frightening, it was a risk that I wanted to take. The issues we were speaking out against, the impending crises that the United States is facing as the 21st century pushes forward, and the well-being of our generation and the generations still living on this earth were something to speak out about, and I wanted to contribute my voice.
As we marched down to K Street and blockaded the traffic, car horns filled the air as members of our group spread out and started to paint the mural, which bore the words “reconstruct, reinvest and resist.” I held the art supply cart, mainly because I had managed to skin my already-skinned knee further by falling that morning, and would have been in too much pain to kneel on the ground and paint.
The snipers inevitably came out on top of the White House and pointed their automatic weapons at us, a bunch of “crazy hippies” promoting a world where people are kind and thoughtful, not ruthlessly given over to the behest and pursuit of the almighty dollar.
After two hours, we retreated back to the park from where we had originally marched . Al Jazeera and Reuters reporters were there, interviewing students about our protest that apparently was national news.
I have at times been skeptical of whether or not myself and a few others in our generation, a few planktons dominated by a sea of piranhas, actually have the chance to make a change in the world.
But as I sat there with my crew, smiling and taking in the soothing autumn air, I knew I wouldn’t have chosen to have spent the morning of November 9, 2015, in any other way. In the words of Regina Spektor, “All this hippie shit’s for the ’60s.” But it’s for the ’10s, too.
Eight-year-old Maram had just come home from school when the rocket hit her house. A piece of the roof landed right on top of her. Her mother took her to a field hospital, and from there she was airlifted across the border to Jordan. Head trauma caused a brain hemorrhage. For the first 11 days, Maram was in a coma. She is now conscious, but has a broken jaw and can’t speak.
In 1979 and 1980 alone, the United States allowed entry to over 300,000 Vietnamese refugees. Many saw this as the United States paying reparations for a bloody civil war we made far worse by arming and fighting with the faction whose ideology we agreed with while ignoring the geopolitical complexities of the situation. Sound familiar? Many of these refugees were not Christian, could not speak English, and have since successfully assimilated into the tapestry of the U. S. Obama’s current plan calls for the allowance of 65,000 Syrian immigrants over 2015 and 2016 – just over 20% the amount of Vietnamese offered refuge then. The population of the US in 1980 was 226.5 million. The most recent estimate of our population? 318.9 million. The differences here are staggering – yet we’re afraid these Syrians won’t assimilate? You can learn more about where refugees come from in this Pew Research Center study.
So let’s turn to how Muslim nations view the acts of Daesh (ISIS) and other extremists. Well, roughly 60% of all people polled strongly condemn ANY violence in the name of Islam. That number seems low, right? Especially since that takes into account that the phrasing of the question includes violence done in defense of the religion. Pretty shocking, don’t you think? Would 60% of Christians be willing to say “Even if I am under attack, I will not use violence to protect myself”? Heck, would 60% of anybody say that? Furthermore, when asked if they support suicide bombing or other acts of extremism, the percentage of condemnation jumps to over 85% in most cases. Finally, most Muslims view extremist groups like Hamas, Al Queda, etc. extremely unfavorably – the number is also around 60%. When interpreting these statistics, it is important to note that these groups, while having a militant wing, are also political parties in many countries that end up providing a lot of public services for the Muslim populace. But what about their view of ONLY militant groups, like Boko Haram? Only 2% of Muslims polled (hyperlink) have a favorable view of this organization. You can read more about the overwhelming condemnation of extremism preached by foreign Muslims here.
People would like to see these numbers closer to 100%. I get that. However, it is important to remember the complex socio-political pressures in these countries, just as in any country. We cannot overlook the ways these groups are entwined in some Muslim societies.
Abdullah, 5, in Blegrade, Serbia
Abdullah has a blood disease. For the last two days he has been sleeping outside of the central station in Belgrade. He saw the killing of his sister in their home in Daraa. He is still in shock and has nightmares every night, says his mother. Abdullah is tired and is not healthy, but his mother does not have any money to buy medicine for him.
To further tease this apart, how often do Muslims commit acts of terrorism? Very, very rarely. In fact, less than 2% of all terrorist acts committed in the EU in the past five years have been committed by Muslims. Do you remember when two French police stations were attacked in a coordinated effort by men armed with assault weapons and ROCKET LAUNCHERS? That did happen, and in 2013 no less. at the hands of domestic terrorists, who carry out an overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks. Still, we disproportionately attribute terrorism to Muslim extremists.
If actions taken by Muslim extremists are so rare, how can we be constantly inundated with violence? Well, there’s presentation: the ever-breaking news cycle and sensational reporting has a lot to do with it. Violence in various forms is common in the United States and while we spend trillions of dollars on the “War on Terror”, we do surprisingly little against more statistically serious threats. In the 14 years since 9/11, roughly 7,000 American soldiers have died in the “War on Terror” and around 40 have been killed in acts of domestic terrorism committed by Muslim extremists. In that same timespan, well over 300,000 Americans have died due to gun violence. Various studies indicate that common-sense gun control legislation could potentially halve these trends. We have here a threat that takes over 4200% the amount of lives of the soldiers lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and over 7,500 times the amount of lives lost by victims of domestic terrorism perpetrated by Muslim extremists. And we’re doing nothing.
Abdul Karim, 17, in Athens, Greece
Abdul Karim Addo has no money left. He bought a ferry ticket to Athens with his last euros. Now he spends the night in Omonoia Square, where hundreds of refugees are arriving every day. Here smugglers are making big money arranging false passports as well as bus and plane tickets to people in flight — but Abdul Karin is not going anywhere. He is able to borrow a telephone and call home to his mother in Syria, but he is not able to tell her how bad things are. “She cries and is scared for my sake and I don’t want to worry her more,” he says. He unfolds his blanket in the middle of the square and curls up in the fetal position. “I dream of two things: to sleep in a bed again and to hug my younger sister.”
Some of you might say, “still, 40 lives is too much.” You’re right. So let’s refocus and look at the acts of domestic terrorism committed by refugees… except there aren’t any. Since 9/11, the US has admitted over 750,000 Middle Eastern refugees. None have committed any acts of domestic terrorism in the name of Islam. In fact, only 2 were found to have any connection to any Muslim extremist groups. They were sending aid to Al Queda operatives in Iraq – not planning attacks here. In fact, applying for refugee status is just about the last thing a potential terrorist would do. Its a long process that places candidates under far more scrutiny than other methods of entering this country – both legally or illegally. If you want to stop the gaps in our immigration security, look to visas, asylum seekers, and the borders – but do not shut the door to the refugees who need our help the most.
We’ve established that terrorists disguising themselves as Syrian refugees and attempting to sneak into this country to commit acts of violence is statistically highly unlikely, historically inaccurate, and misrepresentative of the facts. There may still remain one big nagging question, however: the cost. This is the good news. Studies indicate that taking in refugees, while a short-term expense, actually provides a boon to economies. At the end of the day, host nations receive more population which means more demand and more workers. Syrians are actually the best-suited Middle Eastern refugees for assimilation into the US culture and economy. Prior to the civil war, a large majority of the populace was in a middle-class analogous to our own. These people went to college, got a job, worked 40 hours a week and came home to their families. Furthermore, the Syrian nation stood out as a secularly-governed country in a predominantly theocratic Middle East; all of these are notions that would point to smooth assimilation. Syrians are largely skilled, educated persons that would be valuable assets to our society and want nothing more than to have a chance to provide for their families, yet we turn them away?
Sham, 1, in Horgos, Serbia
In the very front, just alongside the border between Serbia and Hungary by the 4-meter-high iron gate, Sham is laying in his mother’s arms. Just a few decimeters behind them is the Europe they so desperately are trying to reach. Only one day before the last refugees were allowed through and taken by train to Austria. But Sham and his mother arrived too late, along with thousands of other refugees who now wait outside the closed Hungarian border.
A multitude of articles – see former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright‘s comments – videos, and posts going around lead to the same conclusion: We should not be closing our doors to refugees when we are beyond the capability to provide for even more than the 65,000 we have committed to taking in. In times like these, it’s natural to feel afraid; these numbers are not meant to dissolve that fear. I do hope what I have shown you helps you to be brave, do your research, and think rationally about this very, very complex topic.
We know, you really thought it was real. We did too.
The internet exploded earlier today once an anonymous tip landed in PasteBin, listing supposed ties between 9 government officials and the KKK, a white supremacist organization historically responsible for the murder, terrorism and systematic oppression of many American citizens based on race, religion, and sexual orientation. Tons of trigger fingers turned to twitter fingers earlier today, urging several known conservative leaders to take their #HoodsOff and face the music.
Hold your horses, it was fake.
Anonymous, a hacktivist group who have stood opposed and determined to fight against issues like Sandra Bland’s death ruling, police brutality, and even scientology, claims they were not the anonymous hands behind the list of 1000.
Turns out the dudes behind this anonymous claim just had (sorta impressive) educated guesses. US Senators on the list included Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX.), Dan Coats (R-IN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Many took the list quickly as fact and holy grail, posting all over Facebook timelines and Twitter dashboards. Anonymous (the actual folks) claims the real list will be in our hands on November 5th. Anonymous opposed the list in a series of tweets:
The pastebin links sent to us regarding #OpKKK were sent to us by Anonymous individuals. The actual release for Operation KKK will be 5 Nov.
From their early mixtapes to Joey’s latest release, this collective’s take on the world around them has been nuanced and aggressive, critical and aware. In essence, woke.
JOEY BADA$$ WAKES UP THE ORANGE PEEL
Review & Photos by Makeda Sandford
It’s a rare occasion when the hip-hop head of Western North Carolina shows their faces around these parts. They tend to stay in the comfort of their best friend’s basements in the largely white, largely hippy community of Asheville, NC, tucked in the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s rare to see teens with Biggie shirts, sagging skinny jeans, and portable speakers in tow, vibing to classic beats and sharing them with the likes of the streets around these parts. But Joey B’s arrival created a delightful spectacle. The Orange Peel, a famous venue in downtown Asheville, had its usual atmosphere turned on its side in anticipation for the Word Domination Tour. The crowd loomed among green-tinted smoke while old school rap and Michael Jackson classics awaited the arrival of a young star.
The headliners warmed up the vivacious crowd, impressively weaving in unique styles that promised a world of underground rap to be ever-thriving. But once 20-year-old Brooklyn native, Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, who goes by the stage name Joey Bada$$ took to the stage, the young fans immediately clicked into Joey-mode, anticipating every lyric and reaching out to him as if to share energy and a collaborative bond.
He starts out the night with “Big Dusty,” an electric party-starter off his debut album B4.DA.$$., produced by his right-hand Pro Era squad member Kirk Knight. He continued to bring the energy for the first quarter of his set, singing “Always got the weed, so WTF you mean?” to mellow out the crowd before his first pause. Then Bada$$ called out his day one fans, gifting them with a throwback to his 17-year old 1999 days with “Waves,” a song infused with coastal vibes and cheers to the good life.
“Following up with a somber rendition of his hit “Hardknock,” Bada$$ had the whole crowd lifting their lighters up to the ceiling to pay homage to everyone in the room who had gone through the struggle. This remix of the old Annie classic sheds light on the socio-political strife of the hood lifestyle he experiences and represents in New York City. That anthem was followed by a deep and reminiscent track “Hazeus View,” one of the strongest indicators of Bada$$’s maturity. The crowd vibed hard and he used the line “When we get high we say fuck the police” to transfer the mood to mosh pit-level intensity with the song “No. 99.”
Joey Bada$$’s performance was a clear depiction of the young star’s use of old school meter to produce a sound that’s beyond our time. He catered to the ladies by inviting them on stage in a song “Teach Me,” beckoning them to teach him how to dance, then turned right around to give timeless advice to share love before it’s too late – “Life is too short not to tell them you love them.”
He dedicate a moment of silence and a collective throwing of peace signs up for crowd members who have lost loved ones, and his own loss of a good friend and Pro Era teammate, Capital Steez. The moment was heartfelt and even made the bartenders shut up in respect.
He closed out the night by having the peace signing crowd turn those hands around and put the index fingers down to say “fuck you” to police, and to censorship.
Bada$$’s performance was refreshing to the old school hip-hop head, hopeful for the pessimistic about the future of rap, and inspired to go out and make change, following the goal and vibe of his collective, Pro Era, according to their website “inspired by the “progressive era” time period in the 1900’s, the group based their focus on progressing and growing in everyday life through their music.”
JOEY BADA$$ AND PRO ERA: A LESSON IN CONSCIOUSNESS
By Stephanie Saunders, Founder
Joey Bada$$ is ascending. The vision Progressive Era has referenced since the beginning is becoming a reality before our eyes. From their early mixtapes to Joey’s latest release, this collective’s take on the world around them has been nuanced and aggressive, critical and aware. In essence, woke.
Joey Bada$$ is often mentioned alongside artists like Nas, Tupac, and Kendrick Lamar as a part of the subgenre of “conscious rap”. But what does it mean to be conscious? The word itself is an enigma, a vague vocabulary word describing a part of human nature that’s rarely discussed outside of classrooms or yoga studios. Joey and the Pro Era crew seek to explicitly and powerfully explore this concept.
It’s clear to see the mindfulness of their approach at the forefront of their music. The nature of hip-hop inclines the artists to elevate themselves, and these MCs do so with a vision and a means that’s completely unique. Even in the context of drug use- “I don’t drink too much, I know the bud wiser”- their primary message is one of balance. They proclaim the need to align chakras, specifically the third eye. It is a message of self-awareness and the continual process of balancing emotional, spiritual, and physical energy; that is where they found their power and purpose.
On arguably the grimiest song on B4.da.$$, Christ Conscious, he proclaims that he won’t stop ascending until he reaches that level of universality and omnipotence, describes himself as holding the world in his pocket, and threatens to unleash the “hurtful fucking truth”. He draws the last syllable of “nigga” out into a resonating, guttural sound, somewhere between a yell and an “ohm”. The ethereal imagery of the video implies that it could be homage to the liberating experience of reclaiming a derogatory term, a reference to his meditation practices, or another blatant rejection of censorship.
Intended or coincidental, it’s a sonic example of Progressive Era’s brand of contemporary double consciousness. The grit that comes from being aware of life’s difficulties, acknowledging the complex systems at play, and the convergence of those to inspire everything from frustration to resilience to self-esteem deficits.
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self
through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in
amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness–an American, a Negro; two souls,
two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose
dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is
the history of this strife— this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his
double self into a better and truer self…
He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being
cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his
W.E.B DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
B4.da.$$ is intimate, especially when he samples his own radio commentary to tell of his Caribbean family or incorporates conversations and feedback from friends to introduce Big Dusty. Joey’s roots play an integral role in the formation of his perspective, and his music is inseparable from his background.
He references his international and stateside influences both explicitly and implicitly, but the ideology of Rastafarianism is a consistent element to his music. It’s evident from his collaboration with Collie Buddz on My Yout, to his mentions of Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey in Piece of Mind. Reggae is more obscure in American culture than hip-hop, and as a result, is less often divorced from its origins when it circulates in the mainstream. There are few standout artists in the genre, and those tend to be crossover artists, like Sean Paul and Shaggy. The essence of Rastafarianism – and reggae music to varying degrees – is to transcend the “isms and schisms” of the world, the institutions, divisions, and possessions that society has deemed more important than spirituality, relationships, and integrity.
When Jo-Vaughn’s St. Lucian mother’s voice comes on O.C.B and Curry Chicken (<3), imparting her wisdom to all of us about the difference between people’s perceptions of you and who you truly are, we are invited to share in another source of his resilience. It’s a conversation children of color have always had with their parents, and in these United States, where unarmed black people are killed by police at a disturbingly high rate, perceptions can be deadly, so those words of wisdom are a necessity although they may very well be useless. It’s a survival tactic.
I first came across Joey Bada$$ in a video with Capital Steez for their single “Survival Tactics”, shortly after 1999 was released. My eyes widened, my heart raced, and it still does to this day when I watch it.
The biting social commentary they throw through the screen is raw in emotion and brilliant in substance. They are clearly fed up with the status quo like so many of us are. They dare society to think on the connections they make lyrically and symbolically.
They take that energy and just spit. Verse after verse, line after line of real relevant and poignant shit. They lived the effects of societal shortcomings in the political system, the education system, and the economy. Steez, Joey, and Pro Era refused to be silenced, in addition to being marginalized. Joey points and shoots one of their toy guns at the camera at the close of the 2012 video; it’s meaningful, foreshadowing commentary on the perceptions that frame instances like the murder of 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland over two years later.
Hip-hop has always been layered like that, with elements of sociopolitical commentary from a medley of cultural perspectives, with rhythmic complexity, and anecdotal musicality. The commentary, then, can be subtle or overt. In the video for “Like Me”, Joey addresses police violence directly and sincerely. Positioning himself simultaneously in common romantic and political narratives, he brings humanity and a dose of reality to this controversial phenomenon. He heightens the listener’s awareness in real time by telling a timeless story. At the same time, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has struggled to get their story across color lines.
Police violence is a systemically perpetuated violation of human rights, and it is one with proposed solutions – if we’re looking for them. Joey has walked with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in protest of Freddie Gray’s treatment and he’s still connected to his old high school, Edward R. Murrow in Brooklyn, NY. In interviews he’s had conversations about gentrification, related his favorite self-help book, and been open about the people he’s lost as much as his monetary gains. So he raps consciously, he is aware of and active in the politics of the world around him, his mentality is based on being conscious of self. So again, what does that mean?
You got to give to get and then you give back
In my experience, studying consciousness in a philosophy course entitled Mind and Nature, we explored levels of awareness, human capacity to take in information and perceive color (actually almost the same thing), and concepts of self (in many contexts including cloning). It was a humbling experience to be asked those cosmic, and strangely personal questions. These thought experiments yielded awkward silences for the class, but small insights grew into substantial conversations whenever we were able to move past that initial paralysis.
The reality is that race is as much of an enigma as consciousness, and the willingness to address both is the beauty of what Progressive Era inspires. Whether you buy into it or not, they openly accept their humanity by pursuing clarity within their own depths while basking in the cosmic unknown.
So we can all benefit from pursuing global and personal awareness like Joey Bada$$. Maybe the reason that perspective resonates with fans of Progressive Era, is what that approach represents. People are deeper and more dynamic than the systems we’re shuffled into. Institutions have a bad habit of perpetuating norms and if we limit ourselves to those definitions, we’ll never improve, grow, transcend.
Historically, movements have made things a bit better. The civil rights, LGBT, labor and women’s movements, are still in motion; the conversation is still going on. Social and political dynamics are complex and they’ll never be perfect. So keep in mind, you don’t have to have all the answers to consciously question the world around you.
I spend my days sharpening my skill wheels while its still legal
Reading through cathedrals applied to my cerebral,
They aint built they feeble, driven by the ego
The vision of a eagle, see the vision in my people
How many lives will they take today? We aint equal
Another world war sequel and doomsday prequel,
this aint the world we thought it was when we was in preschool.
Sometimes it’s hard to be cool, sometimes I feel like im see thru
Sometimes I really wish, yo I wish that I could be you
For more information on the campaign to end police violence in the US through local, state, and federal reforms, check out Campaign Zero.