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Thousands of Hip Hop Activists Gather in New Jersey For National Hip Hop Convention

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Over 2,000 delegates from around the country are converging in Newark for a landmark convention seen by many as a modern-day version of the 1972 National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana. We talk to hip hop organizers Rosa Clemente and Davey D.[includes transcript]

The National Hip-Hop Convention kicked off yesterday in Newark, New Jersey. A record 2,000 people are expected to attend the four-day conference, which is the brainchild of activists, organizations, elected officials, political pundits and hip-hop artists from all over the country.

Delegates earn their convention seats by registering at least 50 people to vote. They’ll attend dozens of workshops, film screenings, panel discussions and also vote on a platform, which organizers hope will be incorporated into the platforms of political parties across the spectrum.

The convention runs through Saturday and speakers will include Princeton professor Cornel West, rap artists Doug E Fresh, Boots Riley of the Coup and M-1 of Dead Prez, Democratic presidential candidate Congressman Dennis Kuchinich and many more.

  • Davey D, hip hop historian, journalist, deejay and community activist. He is the webmaster for what is considered one of the oldest and largest Hip Hop sites on the web: Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner. He hosts the show Hard Knocks Radio on Pacifica station KPFA.
  • * Rosa Clemente*, co-founder of the National Hip Hop Convention. She is a New York based grassroots organizer, hip-hop activist, journalist. She co-hosts a weekly show on Pacifica station WBAI called “Where We Live.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Davey D, historian and community activist. He is the web master, considered one of the oldest and largest hip-hop sets on the web, David D’s www.hiphop.com. We are also joined by Rosa Clement, who is co-founder of The National Hip-Hop Convention, New York-based grassroots organizer, hip-hop journalist and columnist. She co-hosts a show called “Where We Live” on WBAI. What does that tell us about the convention?

ROSA CLEMENTE: For me, the idea of the convention came about with my relationship with brother Richie Perez. He was my mentor, it continues even in passing since 1990. And after I completed my thesis at Cornell University on it, I talked to Richie about how we as grassroots organizers could use our electoral politics as it happens and encouragement to study Malcolm X and the “Ballad of the Bullet” and what that speech actually meant . That, I think we were all at a point, especially post September 11, coming from the U.N. Conference on World Racism, if hip-hop — if we as a generation can’t move it — not only electoral politics forward, but really come up with an agenda, what does the movement actually mean? Are we a movement? Are we a generation that can really radically push things forward? So I think we’re all thinking at the same time with a little bit of more wisdom and mentorship from folks from the ’60’s and ’70’s. So, all of us came together in Chicago in March of 2002 with the help of Hakim just started planning it. And really took on the local organizing committee aspect that’s come about from Minister Lewis Farrakhan’s “Million Man March”

JUAN GONZALES: And the idea of acquiring every delegate to register 50 people to vote. How did that develop?

ROSA CLEMENTE: Yeah. I think because the convention is about electoral politics. But we also — we understand that some people are just never going to vote. So, we decided that there’s people who are not going to vote, but also how do we become a voting block? And working — having worked at The New York State Assembly, I understand how politicians really work. They’re not going to listen to you unless you can guarantee 100,000-person block, especially in the youth generation. So, what we said is, look, if you believe in voting, then you register 50 people. But if your friend doesn’t, then you help register his 50 people and he or she can organize in a different way.

DAVEY D: I think one of other things that you have to add to that, not only do I think collectively around the country people are coming to similar type of conclusions, but those conclusions were really based upon the realization that people that you try to reach, usually respond to certain thresholds being met. We’re a celebrity culture. If it is not something that you see on MTV, a lot of people you reach don’t think it’s official. If you try to win the support or — or listenership of people in politics, they are going to respond to certain thresholds as Rosa described. I think the combination of all that is something that all of us as activists have to do. We have to reach these thresholds. So, when we say we’re having a convention, that is one threshold. We’re going to vote on a platform. That makes it official in a lot of people’s minds, even people that we want to reach. It is not just a thing of really coming together for the first time doing something, but it is really just taking all these collective efforts, putting them in a bucket and then saying here’s the package. Now you can see this is official, so to speak. And that is important for a lot of people that we need to target.

JUAN GONZALES: Now the rap often is, by the politicians and by older folks, is that your people don’t vote and that how are you able and how will this convention be able to make a dent in that — a substantial dent in that in terms of getting more young people to participate in the electoral process.

DAVEY D: There’s two aspects. When you say “young people don’t vote,” that is a cop out and it’s a generalization. When I was 20 years old, people were saying young people don’t vote. Now being in my mid 30’s, those people are now in their mid 30’s as well and guess what? They still don’t vote. We have large blocks in our communities that just don’t vote, periods. And we have to recognize that and anybody who is younger than us, who follows — they’re following by example. They’re looking around and seeing their parents who may say, oh, being members of organizations, go to church, but don’t vote. We have to set an example. Part of setting that example is not to lead people to conclusion that voting is the only thing, that there is this process and the process is pretty much, as Rosa described, bringing all these things together in a systematic, strategic forum and really providing the institution that people can look at later down the road. We never, in our generation, had had a historic event in our — a really planned historic event that we can look at and say this is a landmark situation for our generation where everything with language and positioned with us in mind. Usually we have to attach ourselves to somebody else’s scenario. For the first time, we get to do it here.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Rosa, how that is going to happen. Give us the lay of the land of the next few days in Newark, New Jersey.

ROSA CLEMENTE: The next few days. Well, today spark what is we feel is really going to really bridge what we call this intergenerational gap. You know, like we’ll have speakers that will be there that is known for singling out hip-hop music because we have to challenge this. We have to challenge this notion of first what hip-hop is. It’s not just a musical aspect of it. The intergenerational dialogues are key and important and it also shows folks in the 60’s and 70’s, it’s time to let your people step up to the plate. If we fall, we fall. But, you know, we will all make our mistakes. There is something happening right now with the youth generation, especially amongst women that is not allowing us to say this is our movement also and how do we participate in it effectively? Then on Friday and Saturday, it’s not only workshops, we have over 50 trainings, whether it’s marketing, how you make your own independent media, how do you direct action, how do you go to the swing states? And then entertainment at night. We have so many hip-hop artists who have donated their time. And then on Sunday, actually on Father’s Day is the Father’s Day keynote address by Raz Baraka and Kevin Powell.

JUAN GONZALES: In terms of the response of the established political leaders, for many Independent Parties or Democratic Parties, have you gotten any interest or support from them, or not?

ROSA CLEMENTE: I would have to say that Davey D has for years worked with —- Cynthia McKinney -—

JUAN GONZALES: An election coming up for her.

ROSA CLEMETE: Yeah. For McKinney and Kucinich and Charles Barron and Barbara Lee have been the most responsive elected officials. Maxine Waters. The interest thing is the fear that comes out. How could you do this without asking us? Because we didn’t go and ask can we have this convention? Can we have your permission, Reverend Sharpton? No, we’re going to do it. And we’re not waiting around anymore. The conditions are not community in black and brown. Communities are dire. 51% African American male unemployment rate, aids has hit 52% of I hear — I read a report 52% of teenagers in Brooklyn possibly could have H.I.V. You know, there’s so many dire issues right now that don’t allow us, especially as Black and Latino people, to engage in International Movements because we’re just worried about walking down the street and making it home that night.

JUAN GONZALES: A lot of people are definitely aware of what’s going on and it’s the $64,000 question that a lot of people in electoral politics are dealing with. How do we reach this group? And there is a race to try and figure this out. And it is ranging from people in third-party situations all the way up to the Republicans who have been very aggressive about going after the hip-hop community. I think the lessons that we’ve learned — well, they have, for example, “The Bus”. The Ricky the Republican Bus goes out and they go to communities and they do free concerts.

ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, you know, when John Kerry. he came to Union Square, he had a “graff piece” behind him but doesn’t talk about the fact that graffiti or what the state considers graffiti is one of the main reasons that we get kids in the system. If you are going to say I’m going to use this piece, then let’s talk about when it becomes criminalized by the behavior also.

AMY GOODMAN: “Graff piece” meaning a sign or banner with graffiti…


DAVEY D: The lesson that I think we learned collectively is not to put all the eggs in one basket. That is the most important thing. When you do that, you get taken for granted. I think there is a lot of people looking and saying if we, you know, do a speech with a “graff piece” in the background or say as Wesley Clarke says that Outkast is your favorite group and suddenly going to fall in line. On of the most important underlying elements of this convention is to have people thinking critically for themselves.. and they just don’t automatically go well, ok, because you are a democrat we’re going to line up or because you are this particular party member that we should just follow lock step and not really question what you’re about.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Saturday you are going to be hammering out a platform?


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us how that happens.

ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, when we started, we started off with a 10-point platform, which includes the issue of Media Consolidation, Reparations, Affirmative Action, Immigrant Issues and we’ve encouraged them to work off this 10-point party platform. Like Ohio is coming as a delegation, really wanting to deal with the issue of Police Brutality. So, you know, they can call from the 10 points and learn from those. And if I could just say quick, yesterday was the birthday of Tupac Shakur and about nine, 12 months before he was murdered in Las Vegas, he had made a statement about possibly getting into electoral politics and made a profound statement saying, you know, I can get five million people to buy my record. I can get 25,000 people to vote me into office and we can make some significant changes.

JUAN GONZALES: And for those people who may want to — who heard about it and may want to participate, where can they call?

ROSA CLEMENTE: They can go to www.hiphopconvention.org right now. You know, we were hoping people would register. But you can come. Everything is free. Nothing costs, none of the concerts and it will probably be a long line. You will get in and be table participate in the whole event.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is it?

ROSA CLEMENTE: Newark, New Jersey. At Rutgers. But today’s Intergenerational Conversation is at a church and I forget the church. At Macedonia Baptist Church, everything is in Essex Community College in Newark and JPEC.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for joining us. We’ll continue to cover The Hip-Hop Convention. Rosa Clement and Davey D, thank you for joining us.

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