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Turning Outrage Into Power
By Malik Cooper, WireTap

Alternet — August 16, 2006
www.alternet.org/story/40441/

Saying hip-hop is global now isn’t telling you
something you don’t already know, unless you have been
living under a rock since Planet Rock first dropped.
But using the art form for political gains is something
new, and spearheading this movement is the National Hip
Hop Political Convention
(NHHPC).

The 2006 NHHPC in Chicago — the second biennial
convention — opened on July 20 and over the course of
three days engaged over 1,000 participants in the
debates over issues like misogyny in hip-hop, media
justice, the aftermath of Katrina, grassroots activism,
organizational leadership and electoral politics. The
convention closed with a concert on Saturday featuring
Dead Prez, Chicago Poets and Boots Riley among many
other artists.

NHHPC was founded in late 2002 when some elders pulled
organizers from all over the country for the first
national convention in New Jersey that aimed at
creating a political agenda for the hip-hop community.
I first got involved at this time, as we worked at
finding the issues of our community. Born and raised in
California’s Bay Area, I had been speaking publicly
since a young age, but became really active when I
finished filming MTV’s Real World series. After the
show I traveled as a motivational speaker to colleges
and got involved with youth organizations committed to
the fight against Big Tobacco. Through a good friend I
got invited to the Bay Area’s Local Organizing
Committee (Bay-LOC) meeting, and began to get involved
in hip-hop politics.

Like other local organizers around the country, we went
around our community with issue sheets for people to
fill out, which we used to create a state agenda.
During the state convention individuals from over 30
states and Puerto Rico came together and created a
national agenda. By February 2005, a group of different
LOC members had a retreat in Atlanta and formed a
national body with a steering committee whose goals
were to help bring local groups together and facilitate
any national work that needed to be done.

After Bay-LOC returned to California, we began to
organize a local Hip Hop Summit at Laney College in
Oakland in September 2005. One day of workshops and a
concert, which included performances from Dead Prez and
E40, attracted thousands. We had support and speeches
from Rep. Barbara Lee and Bay-LOC’s own Dereca
Blackman, and handed out voter guides, which we rewrote
in new language that identified with the hip-hop
generation.

Around the same time, the Chicago-LOC began working as
a host committee for the next convention. It was up to
them to handle the event program, and the event’s
success can only be attributed to their hard work.

The convention itself started with a dialogue between
organizers of past movements like Civil Rights and
Black Power, including Fred Hampton Jr. (Prisoners Of
Conscience Committee), Cliff Kelley (WVON Radio Host),
Angela Woodson (Federation of Democratic Women), and
writer and activist Amina Norman-Hawkins. Organizers
both young and old felt this was needed, since many
believed the torch was never passed on to the new
generation.

Hip-hop politics today — as I see it — identifies
strongly with the Black Power movement; the lyrics in
conscious rap resonate with ideals of Malcolm X and
self-determination. The Bay Area especially identifies
with the Black Panthers since its roots are found here.
But all over the globe — and even in early days of
hip- hop, when most music came from New York — lyrics
focus on the social ills and mistreatment of people of
color in this country. The same “@#%$ the system”
attitude gave birth to gangsta rap. And although the
majority of it now focuses on the material and the
misogynistic, early pioneers of the art form told the
world what was going on or was absent in their
neighborhoods. In other countries like Brazil,
Venezuela, Cuba — today more than ever — hip-hop
serves this same purpose.

Not everyone at the convention represented a LOC, and
with the alliance building that had been taking place
since the NHHPC’s inception, I saw other hip-hop groups
like the Hip Hop Congress represented there in full
force, leading workshops and hosting the concert piece.
The League of Young Voters had a huge presence, and not
only helped raise money for the convention but also
taught workshops on branding the hip-hop political
movement, lobbying, base building and electoral
politics.

The first day’s workshops seemed geared at creating
better methods of organizing the organizers. Panels and
workshops focused on alliance building, using art for
activism, political prisoners, organizing against war
and occupation, hip-hop and gender politics,
nonviolence strategies, and the use of electoral
politics.

On that Friday afternoon, a jam-packed room of folks
from all over the country listened to Kali Acunu
(Jericho Amnesty Movement), Troy Nkrumah, (chair of the
NHHPC steering committee), and chairman Fred Hampton
Jr
. (Prisoners Of Conscience Committee) talk about the
many political prisoners that are currently
incarcerated. Harman Bell, Kamau Sadiki, Zolo Azania
Ojora Lutalo, Rodney Coronado, and Veronza Bowers were
a few of the names mentioned. Rapper Immortal Technique
event came in and voiced his support on the issue, and
it definitely was one of the most informative panels.

Saturday, July 21, seemed to begin with many issue-
based workshops and panels on education, criminal
justice, health and wellness, Katrina, immigration,
gender rights, white privilege in hip-hop, and media
justice. The media justice panel included Lisa Fager
(Industry Ears) and Davey D (Hardknock Radio/Breakdown
FM), who talked about a variety of subjects like the
media’s control over hip-hop and net neutrality. The
immigration and gender rights were two new issues added
to the 2006 agenda. I led the panel on gender rights,
whose purpose was to expose some of the misogynistic
rap lyrics in a social context, allowing participants
to better understand why the popular rap pushed by
record executives and radio stations seem so focused on
portraying negative images.

After the panels were over, a concert was thrown with a
battle between local folks. Using all the elements of
hip-hop, from rapping, break dancing, DJ-ing and
graffiti, crews took to the stage to compete for a
$1,000 prize. Afterward, local conscious artists like
Akbar, and national artists like Dead Prez and Immortal
Technique
gave amazing performances. Even Chicago’s
rain and thunder could not clear the crowd formed at
Mandrake Park.

Sunday was a day for the national steering committee to
hear the voices of participants. Delegates representing
different LOCs, artists and organizers for different
groups were allowed to change the agenda and recommend
action steps that the LOCs can take home and start
implementing. The location for the next convention will
be announced soon. Will it be back East in New York,
down South in Atlanta, out West in the Bay Area, or
will newly formed but highly active Las Vegas LOC take
the 2008 to its Red State? We shall have to wait and
see.

The organization as a whole has a talent at balancing
the varied political views of its members, some of
which seek to fight for social justice through
electoral politics, while others seemed more determined
to fight through grassroots activism. The way these
varied ideologies have still found a way to work
together for a common goal is why the NHHPC is still
going and growing strong. The structure with no leader
but still led strong through the local organizing
committee gives this organization a type of strength
that I have not seen in many other organizations that
function more top-down. I believe this unique model
will help keep their work relevant, and the
organization intact.

===
For more information about the NHHPC, or to learn how
to start a LOC (Local Organizing Committee) in your
area, go to HipHopConvention.org.

[Malik Cooper is the national spokesperson for the
NHHPC, as well as a Bay-LOC member. He also owns a
silk- screening and embroidery shop called People’s
Choice Printing.]

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner 

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