Spalding is an accomplished jazz musician who plays with a lot of heart. She started playing violin at age 5 but she truly found her groove, and subsequently her sound, upon discovering the bass at age 15. A ton of hard work, a Grammy and a few records later, she was doing no big deal things like jamming with Prince and playing with Stevie Wonder at the White House.
Now she’s channeled her musical prowess into an empowering anthem that strives to be for something.
That something being the American values, principles and laws that make the concept of indefinite detention without trial – and thereby the very existence of Guantanamo Bay – completely indefensible on our watch.
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged by her band members, and supported by various human rights organizations Spalding captured her feelings not only through a song but a fact-laced video that spells out what’s going on, why it’s important, and how you can help. The video encourages viewers to contact their representatives and the song is a rousing cry as to why they should.
As Spalding sings
I am America
And my America
It don’t stand for this.
We are America
In our America
We take a stand for this.
Speaking to MSNBC, Spalding clarified that she hadn’t written a protest song– rather she’d created an invitation to participation:
It’s such a gift and a joy to be engaged in the process- in our democratic process, and I think maybe we forget that we each really can do something. You know, it seems like an overwhelming issue and any overwhelming issue gets solved by slow continual person-by-person action so that’s the invitation.
She went on to specifically address personal power and it’s role in this project and others like it:
We’re powerful individuals. Each of us have a lot of power in us to contribute to positive transformation of the world we live in and it’s a celebration of that- a celebration of we don’t have to sit her and let unpleasant things happen under our nose. We can celebrate this freedom and power that we have to make a difference.
Writing in the LA Times Spalding went even further to explain her inspiration as well as her hope for the project getting into the nitty gritty legislative details of how and why that power matters”
If the Senate and the House of Representatives agree to the Guantanamo provisions in the defense act, the few prisoners in the detention center who face charges could be prosecuted where it makes the most sense, in federal courts.
Radio Music Society (and friends) made “We Are America” because we believe that, while not all of us are called to the front lines like Martin Luther King Jr., we can all support our elected officials in doing the right thing.
The entire project is amazing and it accomplishes its job, as described by Spalding, in that it helps to raise consciousness around what’s happening and why it matters. In a little over a decade 779 men have been illegally detained and 164 remain imprisoned despite the fact that well over half of them are cleared to leave. What’s happening is wrong but what happens next has yet to be determined.
The video’s call to action spells out what you can do:
Call the US Capitol Switchboard 1-202-224-3121 to connect you to your two Senators & your Congressional Representative
I am your constituent and I want you to support closing Guantanamo
Indefinite detention and unfair trails are illegal, un-American and unnecessary.
The video, done in collaboration with ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, includes cameos from Harry Belafonte, Janelle Monáe and Stevie Wonder, while also highlighting statements from President Obama, Senator John McCain, Colin Powell and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen to spell out why closing Guantanamo is the right thing to do.
All that’s lacking is the courage and political will to do it.
Verzilov has information that leads him to believe that Nadya has been moved to a Siberian prison as a sort of punishment stating:
“They do not have the ability to put on the usual psychological or physical pressure they can use with inmates because of the high profile of the case. So they have chosen this as the punishment instead.
As the New York Times reports, the initial hunger strike was called off after Nadya’s hospitalization ten days later, at which point she was under the belief that she would be transferred to a new prison. When the transfer didn’t take place she attempted another hunger strike and then disappeared. Her family has been told that she’s being transferred to a new prison and while it’s not unusual for inmates to go without contact during a prison transfer – Nadya’s family should be informed of her new whereabouts within ten days of her arriving – the nature of her case and fact that Russian authorities don’t take kindly to dissidents makes the past 19 days of silence particularly deafening.
The BBC reports that yesterday Amnesty International intervened to urge Russian authorities to allow Nadya contact with a lawyer and to give her family information on her whereabouts. Her lawyer Irinia Khrunova has filed an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court but also confirms that she has not been able to speak to Nadya because “they are hiding her.”
Speaking toThe Guardian, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladmir Lukin says that he’s been told by Russian officials that Nadya is in “satisfactory health” and was transferred to a new prison.
Still, those reports have not been confirmed by her actual family who is still frantically trying to contact her. Verzilov is continuing to post updates from Twitter through the handle @gruppa_voina.
Julian Assange made an appearance as the opening act for MIA at her New York City Terminal 5 show this past weekend.
Appearing via Skype and citing that he was there in support of “the most courageous woman working in western music,” Asange delivered a ten minute speech on topics ranging from privacy to freedom of the press, shouting out the reporters who were in exile as a result of their press coverage.
The audio to emerge from the event is a bit hard to hear but in it Asange regrets not being able to attend the event in person explaining that he’s been deterred “because your government sucks.”
Despite some chatter during his remarks– the crowd seemed attentive throughout, cheering him on as cameras and smart phones flashed throughout the arena from fans eager to broadcast his appearance through social media.
The artist is certainly no stranger to taking on the man. She’s currently being sued by the NFL for flipping the bird during her 2012 Super Bowl performance and this past August when her record label told her to “darken” up her album, warning that it was too positive- she took to Twitter and threatened to leak it saying;
“If interscope takes longer i can always leak this next week and make a new one by the time they are ready.”
In an epic 10 minute interview on BBC’s Newsnight – Russell Brand calmly and meticulously addresses everything from income inequality to corruption to corporate interests to revolution while explaining how his opinions render it impossible for him to cast a ballot in good conscious.
The clip begins with reporter Jeremy Paxman condescendingly questioning Brand’s ability to [guest] edit a political magazine (Russell Brand on revolution: “We no longer have the luxury of tradition”) given that Brand has never voted. Brand’s subsequent takedown sets the tone for an interview where one party continues to ask fluff questions to another party who’s providing his thoughtful, respectful and passionately articulated thoughts on the world.
Nothing that Brand says is that original. What’s noteworthy – and in fact buzz worthy- is that his words are being spoken by someone with his level of influence on the BBC.
The revolution that he ultimately predicts is not his anymore than it’s Madonna’s or anyone else’s for that matter. He’s just able to talk about it and have millions hear what he’s saying.
Say what you will about celebrities getting political but I think those who are inclined to agree with Brand– to agree with the notion that the status quo is unsustainable and that there must be alternative means of getting things done that don’t result in an underclass, would be wise not to dismiss the performer outright. That said, it’s just as wise not to elevate him into something he’s not.
Natasha Lennard makes a similar point over at Salonwhen she says:
But the point of rethinking new political and social spaces together — as was felt profoundly by many of us engaged in Occupy’s headiest, fiercest days — was that we don’t need to align with, elevate, celebrate (nor indeed wholly reject or detest) any one person. Yes, we will continue struggle against vanguardism and sexism and so many co-constitutive problems within ourselves and each other. We will fail and fail better and fail. We will struggle to know and reconstitute what “we” even really means. And I take Russell Brand at his word that he wants to fight too. This is no referendum on the comedian or his intentions. But this is no time to forgo feminism in the celebration of that which we truly don’t need — another god, or another master.
I completely agree with her.
That said: Don’t shoot the messenger.
It’s a trap and it happens all the time.
Every time an artist or someone of influence embarks on the lonely endeavor of speaking truth to power we eviscerate them. There must be something wrong with them! Even when there isn’t, our society creates a reason to take them less seriously. Russell Brand has a funny accent. He’s a comedian. He’s said some problematic things in the past. I’m not electing him President, or marrying him, or even befriending him. I’m just saying that for ten straight minutes he said shit about shit- on the BBC no less!- and it was real and our collective first instinct- and if it wasn’t the first it would have been the second- is to talk about Russell Brand as opposed to what he said.
We do this all the time.
Bob Marley was a stoner. Tupac was a thug. Lauryn Hill was a racist. George Carlin was Anti-American. The Beatles were Anti-Religion. Bob Dylan sold his soul to the devil.
The list goes on and on and I could find more dismissive throwaways about contemporary artists/ celebrities who try to use some of their influence to say and do real shit, but there’s more important shit to do.
We focus on the “celebrity” – we focus on the controversies and the personal lives. The media perpetuates it, and you know what? – if we’re focusing on the superficial bullshit that the media perpetuates then we’re not listening to any of what’s actually being said.
Lauryn Hill once posited “music is supposed to inspire… how come we aint getting no higher.”
I think it’s because we’re so anchored to the illusion that in order to speak your mind you must be pure, you must embrace a pre-assigned label and be an activist or a revolutionary or something besides being an artist and a human being to justify your ability to say things that are real. Bob Dylan ran from the notion of being an activist or the voice of a generation because he’d already decided he was a songwriter. That’s what he was doing. The rush to turn him into something else, to make him explain himself, took the emphasis off the things he’d made which speak for themselves. What you gather from them is up to you- but I don’t think he owed anybody anything besides making those things.
Art is a means of speaking your mind– and yet now we’re so focused on the implications of what’s spoken and whether or not the person speaking is with us or against us or a sell out or all these other things that aren’t real that we keep running in circles. Music is supposed to inspire… but in mainstream culture it’s not about the music. It’s about the album artwork.
Beyond that it’s worth noting that every social hero that we idolize is a human being with their own set of vices and a million reasons to not elevate them as examples to be followed. In many painful cases, the messengers were actual shot.
If history teaches us anything- it’s that while you can kill a human, you can’t kill a vision.
That shared vision is very much at the heart of the defiance we feel when we hear someone say that things are wrong and we know that they’re right.
Things are wrong and they’ve been wrong and the way things work is fucked and in our hearts we know that not only can we make it better, but also it’s our responsibility to do so.
Historically, saying as much was enough to get you killed. Those messengers knew that their plight wasn’t about them and so they said things out loud anyways with the hope that some day their contributions would help lead us all to the promise land.
In today’s world we lament the lack of cultural icons and substantive artists in one breath and then in the next breath we chastise those who do try to do real shit for not being professional policy makers or theorists or philosophers or radicals or geniuses.
All the while we direct heat at them and if it’s not them it’s at each other. One group of people’s failings- historical or otherwise- results in reasons not to work with “those kind” of people. We’re defensive in all the ways that don’t matter and we’re the ones who suffer for it. Those who are profiting from the system’s failings don’t care if we scapegoat each other. It’s better for them if we do because then we’re not going after them. As Brand himself said during this interview;
The burden of proof is on the people with the power.
It’s not but it should be.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Russell Brand is not a political leader or a movement leader and he acknowledges as much. He’s an artist and comedy is his art form- words and wit are his weapons and they were on full display in this interview.
At one point during the exchange, he confronts Paxman saying “You’re having a go at me because I’m not poor anymore.” Paxman replies by insisting “I’m not having a go at you about that. I’m just asking why we should take you seriously when you’re so unspecific.” To which Brand replies:
You don’t have to take- firstly, I don’t mind if you take me seriously. I’m here just to draw attention to a few ideas. I just want to have a little bit of a laugh. I’m saying there are people with alternative ideas that are far better then I am and far better qualified more importantly then the people that are currently doing that job because they’re not attempting to solve these problems. They’re not. They’re attempting to placate the population.
Doesn’t sound like he’s trying to lead the troops to me…
In truth, Russell Brand is as human as you and I. He’s operating from his experiences and leveraging his art, and his platform, to shed light on what he knows. If he says something problematic- there’s a chance he’s an asshole… but there’s also a chance that he just doesn’t know better; that he hasn’t come across better and that he doesn’t understand how something he says can be interpreted as hurtful and problematic. If that’s the case, then it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt. That goes for everybody. We all tiptoe around conversations of privilege and race and class and gender – we shouldn’t be terrified of saying the wrong things because our perspectives are shaped by a world that is wrong. I don’t think we’re at fault for our influences– nobody’s born bad but if you’ve grown up around bad then your perspectives will be shaped accordingly. There should be room for growth and redemption. In the meantime– the absolute focus on the messenger has to stop.
Russell Brand doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk about the messenger. I want to talk about the message.
Below are some excerpts from the interview that stuck out to me. It’s worth listening to and thinking about and debating. What he says is right– things aren’t working, the planet is fucked and there’s an underclass that’s not being served by the systems that are currently in place. What we do about that is not Russell Brand’s decision. I was annoyed by how much the interviewer focused on having him offer up some 30 second plan to change the world. (more…)
His latest video features an acoustic version of the song “Wake Me”. His vocals are at the heart of Avicii’s electronic version which has been wildly and internationally successful this year.
While the original video features a pair of outcast sisters living in a rural town who ultimately relocate to New York City where they find like-minded companions at a concert– Blacc’s version has a more political bent.
Sure enough- the video depicts an immigrant family’s failed attempt to cross the border complete with a police officer confiscating a baby only to find himself face to face with the Dream Activist she grew up to be years later. The song is hauntingly beautiful. The video’s focused on revealing the humanity behind the “immigration debate” as well as the crass terms that often get tossed around as a substitute for political discourse. There are no “illegals” or stereotypes in this video. Just people.
As they go through their struggles the 34 year old artists croons “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know that I was lost” and it just make sense. I’m not sure what I even mean by that but it does. We’re all just people getting lost and found and lost again in a search for some sense of belonging. If you can relate to the words of this wildly successful song that’s on the radio all the time- then it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine relating to that family trying to cross the border.
The video, directed by Alex Rivera, ends by noting that several of the actors in the video are themselves actually causalities of our broken immigration policy.
Head over to Wendy Carillo’s- the host of KPRW Los Angeles, Power 106 – blog for more background on their stories.
Blacc’s seen previous success with songs like “I Need a Dollar” which was featured in the opening credits of the HBO show How to Make it in America. Prior to that he was a member of hip hop group Emanon in the late 90s.
At this point it’s not a secret, the 113th United States Congress has a remarkable aptitude for perpetually sucking at life and people are noticing and talking back.
Fuck you Congress.
Seriously and literally.
In a website that actually lives at www.fuckyoucongress.com- thereby saying what everyone is thinking- the folks of Cultivated Wit tapped into a national sentiment that provides the wronged and angered with a means of getting informed, while also prompting them to channel their sentiments into productive measures.
As described to Huffpost Live, the three-step process goes like this:
“You get angry. You get informed. You get involved.”
That’s right www.fuckyoucongress.com isn’t just a cathartic temper tantrum- though that would also be justified- the site is populated with actual grievances that provide users with a means to get informed about all of the fucked up things caused by the shutdown. Additionally, the site provides a pathway to “do more than fuck around,” inviting users to tweet their representatives or get involved with organizations such as Common Cause, The Sunlight Foundation and Rootstrikers.
Not pissed off at Congress yet? Check out some of their reasons to say Fuck You below:
Cultivated Wit defines itself as “A collision of comedy and technology bringing good ideas to ‘earth’” and this project does exactly that at a time when the temptation might be to resort to ambivalence in the face of this fuckery.
In a segment on Huffpost Live, Baratunde Thurston and Brian Janosch of Cultivated Wit explain the rationale behind the site, noting that it was inspired by “the worst Congress ever” and stressing that as far as they’re concerned, in a representative democracy a site like this shouldn’t have to exist in the first place.
Janosch notes that “a big part of what we’re trying to do is use comedy as an entry point” with the hopes of sparking a more knowledgeable public armed with the tools people need to do some good.
Thurston adds that “this is not a cynical play” – acknowledging that while the instinct might be to throw out some expletives and to blame everyone- in fact not everyone is equally at a fault and there are constructive measures to be taken.
Indeed- and in fact there’s something to taking a moment before we get productive and mature to deliver a heartfelt Fuck You to the fuckers who are ruining America.
There might be a temptation to suggest that this tactic is confrontational or over the top because “people” find the word “fuck” to be “offensive” or distracting.
But also I’d argue that the refusal of this Congress to even try to do their jobs is even more offensive and distracting and it’s totally intolerable. Drastic times warrant more than a slap on the wrist, a harshly worded letter, or a “shame on Congress”.
Absolutely fuck those guys.
May they pull their shit together to act like grown ups and do what they were elected to do, what they should feel privileged to be in the position to do, before they outright ruin America.
Fifty years ago, at 19 years old, John Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the March on Washington. In the days leading up to its commemoration, we’ve been reminded that Lewis’ words almost went unheard. After the initial hand wringing from the Kennedy administration had subsided, and fearing embarrassment or violence, intense work was done to ensure that the content of the march didn’t veer into “radical” territory. At the time, critics like Malcolm X denounced the March as something that was in fact orchestrated by the White House.
The truth is that it could have been worst. A proposal to have President Kennedy address the march was only thwarted after a quick thinking Bayard Rustin suggested that if he did so, “the Negroes were going to stone him.”
In truth, Rustin was afraid that the March on Washington would get co-opted by one man. If President Kennedy spoke it would become the President’s march. After his little white lie was shared, the proposal to have the President speak was never mentioned again.
At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a different choice was made.
The President spoke and the young leaders of today were left with the possibility of having their voices left unheard. Three speakers; Phillip Agnew from The Dream Defenders, Sofia Campos from United We Dream, and Alayna Eagle Shield from The Standing Rock Indian Reservation were told by March organizers that there wasn’t sufficient time for them to share their prepared remarks.
Yet unlike the march in ’63; today’s young people don’t need to be standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in order to be heard.
So true to form, and in keeping with the sort of badass creativity we’ve come to expect from these groups – last week they launched a campaign and they’re not shy about what sparked their call to action, stating;
Yesterday at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, The time of Phillip Agnew (Dream Defenders) and Sofia Campos (United We Dream), two leaders representing our generation at the March, were cut. But we still have much to say.”
The campaign then invited other young people to submit their own videos. Yet while “time” has been cited as the official reason why these two minute speeches were scrapped from the program – the truth is that in the case of Phillip and Sofia in particular, the real rationale probably lies in the first fifteen seconds of their prepared remarks.
By the time we finish our conversation this morning another black boy will lay bleeding in the streets of Chicago. And as we rest our heads tonight 300,000 of our Veterans will lay their heads homeless. And I would love to explain to you how the hate we spread abroad is the real reason why hatred washes upon our shores but I only have two minutes. And I can tell you that Philadelphia just closed 23 of it’s schools at the same time as it makes way for a 400 million dollar state of the art Prison and that North Carolina and Florida continue to silence their citizens at the ballot box but I only have two minutes. I could tell you how even as we celebrate Dr. King’s dream, over 400,000 of our immigrant brothers and sisters languish away in privately owned detection camps… and how we still find our queer brothers and sisters in prison of the shadows of their closets but I only have two minutes.
My name is Sofia Campos; born in Peru, raised in California, soon to start my first day of graduate school at MIT. My family and I are undocumented. We have limited if any legal rights in this country that we’ve known for over 17 years. My parents gave their all so that I could reach for my dreams in in turn I graduated from UCLA and committed myself to fighting for all of our dreams with a more just and humane world.
The campaign truly encapsulates a concerted note by Youngist in their write up of the march when they state:
Many young leaders are also rejecting the idea that we are trying to be the “MLK Jr.’s of our generation”, understanding instead that we are apart of a larger legacy of struggle but that are struggles are not the same as those waged by freedom riders, the Black Panthers, the Stonewall rioters and other freedom fighters who have come before us.
Watch Sofia and Alayna’s speeches below.
To participate, record your own two minute video and tweet @dreamdefenders using #ourmarch and #marchon
On Monday, Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the New York City Stop & Frisk policy was unconstitutional and in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In response, New York City Mayor Bloomberg warned that the Judge didn’t “understand how policing works” and vowed to appeal the “dangerous” ruling on behalf of the city of New York.
The ultimate takeaway being that racial profiling is a detrimental policy that impacts us all, a point that continues to evade Mayor Bloomberg who has explicitly stated that the end of the Stop and Frisk policy may result in “a lot of people dying,” as Jasiri notes:
The sad part is that Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly still don’t get it. They keep trying to make us believe that Stop and Frisk is for the benefit of Black and Brown communities. We don’t need another politician with a white savior complex, especially one who’s dangerous policies do more harm than good.
Indeed Jasiri’s rhymes, unlike Bloomberg’s bravado, are backed by statistics that indicate in the past two years out of all of the individuals stopped, nearly 90% were found guilty of no crime. Proponents of the policy champion it as being instrumental in saving “thousands of young Black and Hispanic men by removing guns from the streets” — when, indeed, findings suggest that almost one hundred percent of the time guns aren’t actually found on the individuals who are being stopped and frisked.
The ruling issued by the judge echos sentiments shared by Jasiri in the initial recording of the song when he raps;
Rule #10 a strong word call the Constitution
Or does it apply then to only white men
Is being Black and Brown probable cause Hell no
So why we getting stopped rain, sleet, hail, snow
Bloomberg – who has previously stated that “we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little” -despite statistics that show that over 80% of individuals stopped are Black or Hispanic- would have you believe that it’s for your own good. What underlies his vendetta is the notion that black and brown people need to be policed for their own security.
The cultural and systemic implications of a policy like Stop and Frisk cannot be understated. While they may be harder to measure, the fact is that this policy perpetuates the notion that men of a certain pigmentation are dangerous, suspect and that treating them accordingly is justified and conducive to their own preservation.
At the heart of The 10 Frisk Commandments is a God willing to degrade you to protect you from yourself.
Elon is not impressed:
I find the whole process and ruling a bit problematic. The ruling doesn’t bring me joy because we now know what many believe is “right”–young people of color are criminals until proven not to be. NYC had a law for dehumanizing us but this still happens in places without the law. I’m reminded of the old Chris Rock joke about folks wanting credit for doing the right thing. Ruling this unconstitutional was the least they could do and I will not praise them for realizing treating people who look like me like shit was bad.
In the age of Trayvon Martin and Anthony Stokes, the simple act of being a young man of color is in itself an act of deviance that warrants giving others pause. What qualifies as an acceptable response to that deviance is what’s currently being debated.
Whether we stop and frisk them, shoot them, or deny them a heart transplant– the victims of what’s at the heart of this policy are people who deserve the right to exist in America with their dignity intact.
Asking for as much makes me sad.
This is pathetic.
If you concur, then rapsync.
Share the video– or make your own.
We may not have billions of dollars or access to all the bells and whistles of the New York City Mayor’s office– but we have the Internet, and thanks to The 10 Frisk Remix we have a soundtrack that lights the way forward.