Hip-Hop Politics on Campus
"You have no idea how much love I got for this," says David Jamil Muhammad, referring to his role as a student organizer of "Hip-Hop Generation--Hip-Hop as a Movement." The conference was held April 14-16 at the University of Wisconsin and brought together activists, scholars and entertainers to examine hip-hop as a force for social change. Muhammad's interest in music has drawn him into the campus antisweatshop movement: "When I found out that some hip-hop gear was being made in prisons, I was furious." Muhammad later teamed up with a broad range of students, including some of the key organizers of the successful antisweatshop campaign at the university, to put together the event, which featured hip-hop trailblazers Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Forging multiracial, multi-issue coalitions continues to be a daunting task for student organizers, including Muhammad, who feels that "white paternalism" has been a major disincentive for students of color to become involved in progressive causes on college campuses. But according to professor Craig Werner, a faculty liaison to the UW conference, today's student activists are "smarter" than those in the recent past: "During the eighties, all too often, the white left was willing to pursue ideological purity at the expense of ground-level realities of what things meant for black students. Interracial coalitions became very, very difficult. It is much better now.... For a change, we've got the feminists, the Nation of Islam and the lefties all working together. And lord knows, we need it."
While Rudy Giuliani's ongoing police assault on black men in New York City and the alarming victory of Proposition 21 at the California ballot box have provided obvious targets for hip-hop-related political protests [see Robin Templeton, "California Youth Take Initiative," March 13], much of the activism on college campuses is tied to a wider economic picture. Take, for example, the Prison Moratorium Project's "No More Prisons" hip-hop tour, which is designed to recruit and train prison activists. "We're linking the sweatshop issue, private-prison investments and the treatment of workers on campus," says PMP's Kevin Pranis. Sodexho-Marriott Services, a major investor in the private-prison industry and a focal point of the No More Prisons tour, managed to prevent a No More Prisons pretour event from taking place on February 15 at American University in Washington, DC, because the company operates the venue where the event was supposed to be held. But the forty-city "raptivist" tour will be hitting college campuses and other locations over the next few months, with political visions delineated on the recent No More Prisons CD, a benefit compilation featuring hip-hop luminaries Dead Prez, The Coup and others, many of whom will be performing on the tour.
Hip-hop music has a more diverse audience--racially and economically--than any other popular genre, and some campus organizers are finding that it can help to provide a common ground on which to unify disparate groups. Oberlin College senior Mie Anton, one of the coordinators of "Six Million Ways to Speak: Oberlin Community Hip-Hop Conference 2000" (April 20-23), says, "When you look at our committee, there are so many different types of people from everywhere in the world. You realize that hip-hop has taken itself to a different level. Especially with our generation, we really grew up with it." At the University of Wisconsin, student organizer David Muhammad reflects on the purpose of his school's hip-hop forum: "We need jobs in urban America.... The poor whites of this nation need jobs. Let's talk about the global economy."