As always, this is kind of a journaling space for me. I’m not here to break down everything that was important in 2014, just sharing some of the stuff that I got a chance to be a part of this past year. It’s a way to both celebrate some victories and be accountable to myself and others.

(photo by Monica Rivera)

1. STANDING UP IN FRONT OF STRANGERS AND TALKING

Most of my time and energy this year was spent performing at colleges, conferences and other spaces in every corner of the country. I feel honored to have been able to connect with so many people in so many different places this year. And that’s all on top of local shows like the “Shut it Down” night of speaking out against street harassment, the “Let the Bars Breathe” poetry-of-rap show, the “Page, Stage, Engage” show which sold out the Whole at the U of MN, and other shows I organized or helped organize. Booking for 2015 now.

2. SIFU HOTMAN (Guante, deM atlaS & Rube): EMBRACE THE SUN
My last year-in-review also kicks off with Sifu Hotman. But where last year’s three-song suite was a fun little side project, this extended version is one of the best full albums I’ve ever helped create. With support from BBC Radio, Ego Trip, Amazing Radio, Bandcamp’s “New and Notable” feature, and more blog write-ups than I usually get, it also became one of my more successful projects. And with Josh’s new success as part of the Rhymesayers family, I’m hoping even more people discover it; get it here.

3. DUNGEONS
I released this way back in February with no media campaign, no physical copies, no release party– just a mixtape for me to get some stuff off my chest. Over 9 Dungeon Family instrumentals, it’s a concept album about bullying, identity, activism and more. The second verse on “Chain Lightning” is one of the best things I’ve written, as is the song “Greater Shout,” though I think the whole project has its moments. Oh and all of the song titles are level 1-9 D&D spells. And it’s all one 30-min track. And it’s free.

4. MORE SEMI-VIRALITY
I was on Upworthy twice this year, back in January for The Family Business, and again in October for Action (which was also featured on Everyday Feminism and the NoMore Project). Between my own YouTube account and my videos on Button Poetry, I reached well over a million views this year. Obviously, the numbers aren’t everything, but when you write sometimes-challenging poems about social justice issues and people actually pay attention to them, you have to celebrate those little victories.

5. NEW SPOKEN-WORD VIDEOS

Via Button Poetry, a poem about the iconography of the Twin Cities, and the importance of digging deeper:

Via Button Poetry, a poem about the “continuum of action” involved whenever we witness injustice; this was written after Ferguson, but relates to a lot of different issues:

A poem about the weight of history, and how that weight can be a burden, but it can also be a source of tremendous strength:

This poem was actually an assignment for class; it documents my experiences with education and systems of education:

6. OTHER NEW MUSIC AND MUSIC VIDEOS

Here’s the video for “First Ave. Funeral” from the Sifu Hotman album. This is one of four videos I’ve been involved with shot by Adam J. Dunn:

We shot a video for everyone’s favorite song from “You Better Weaponize,” the one that talks about whiteness in hip hop. Directed by Patrick “PCP” Pegg:

Here’s a random song about nihilism, aliens and Burger King, produced by the great Katrah-Quey. It’s a free download:

Producer Blamsiss remixed one of the standout songs from the Dungeons mixtape; it’s also a free download:

I’ve worked with Ganzo on a handful of songs now; here’s his remix of “Limb from Limb” from the Sifu Hotman album:

7. Writing (Online and In Real Paper Books)
I wrote a ton of essays and op-eds in 2013; some of them got a lot of attention. But I made a point this year to write less and signal boost more, whenever possible. I tried to only go into “thinkpiece mode” when I felt like I had something unique to contribute. A few things I wrote this year:

8. TEACHING AND FACILITATING + TRUARTSPEAKS
As much as I was on the road this year, it’s also important to me to be building something here at home. 
  • It was incredible to work with TruArtSpeaks again this year on the Be Heard youth poetry slam series plus all of our ongoing programs, both in-school and out. Next year is going to be even bigger. Lots of news coming soon.
  • I’m also thankful to COMPAS for hooking up a number of in-school residencies this year. Working with them has taken me out of my urban comfort zone into the suburbs, into rural areas and beyond, and it’s always been a great experience.
  • I finally started my video series sharing tips, tools and tactics for aspiring spoken-word artists. We are three videos in, and more are on the way!
  • Also facilitated classes or workshops at what feels like a million different conferences, summits, activist events, etc.: Department of Justice conference on preventing gender violence, ACPA national conference, Overcoming Racism conference, the Safe Schools youth summit, TC Daily Planet media trainings, and much more.
9. GRAD SCHOOL

Yeah, I also finished my first semester of grad school at the U of MN. It was a busy year. I’m studying intersections of critical pedagogy, social justice education, and social media, all through the lens of hip hop and spoken-word.

10. NEW BOOK AND NEW ALBUM
Both of these projects will see a 2015 official release, but they’re both done. The album is a sampler mix of all of my best songs (plus some brand new tracks and remixes), and the book contains the lyrics booklet to that album, plus all of my poems, plus a bunch of my essays and other writings. They’re both called “A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry,” and will be available soon. I’ll end this with the video to one of the new songs on the album; thanks for listening. Let’s keep building.

I made a collage of some of responses to the “but shouldn’t it be ALL LIVES MATTER?” crowd.

Because pointing out and organizing around the fact that black people are disproportionately targeted, harassed and killed by police does not take away from the fact that other people are also affected, that the recent murders of police are also tragic, or that other lives are not also valued.

If you’re more offended by the phrase #blacklivesmatter than the reality that prompted it, I would challenge you to reflect on that.

MORE:

Collier Meyerson at Fusion: A guide to debunking the need for “All Lives Matter” and its rhetorical cousins

Kevin Roose at Fusion: The next time someone says ‘all lives matter,’ show them these 5 paragraphs

And then there’s always this:

Related:

That’s a good question. Let’s plan. Whether the end-goal is overthrowing capitalism and abolishing the police, or just getting more progressive people elected to office, the medium-term goal is the same: building a mass movement.

Like I say in one of those tweets, building a mass movement is everyone’s job, and everyone has to figure out how best to leverage their strengths, passions, resources, access, etc. to contribute to the larger struggle. I think of teachers calling audibles in their lesson plans in order to talk about current events. I think of religious leaders doing the same thing during their sermons. I think of workers organizing anti-oppression committees or even just book clubs in their workplaces. I think of athletes wearing #blacklivesmatter shirts. I think of online communities. I think of students. I think of young people. Everyone has some kind of power or access to space that can help this movement grow.

And for artists, I see a lot of potential. I’m not really interested in the “you have a platform so you HAVE to speak out” argument. For me, it’s more a matter of “you have a platform, so why not speak out?” Whether or not it is our responsibility, it is definitely an opportunity. Especially for touring artists– poets, MCs, bands, etc.– that have the privilege of regularly being up in front of thousands of people all over the country; that’s a platform with enormous potential.

We tour through blue and red states. We tour through cities of all sizes. We tour through colleges, big and small, public and private. We tour through communities that may not have the same kind of access to the programs, conversations, and movement plug-in points that other communities have.

Even beyond the geography, artists have the power to reach individuals who may have zero interest in activism or social justice. When I see five hundred (mostly young, mostly white) kids at a rap show, chanting along to anti-authoritarian lyrics, I see potential. The simple act of standing on a stage and challenging an audience to think critically is a good thing. It is the planting of a seed.

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between planting wildflowers and planting crops.

As artists, it’s easy to plant seeds. If I play a hundred shows, and I know that my material is social justice-oriented,  or even just critical thinking-oriented, I know that I’m doing something good. I know that listeners will take these ideas and engage with them in whatever way makes sense to them.

But I think the question isn’t “is what I’m doing good?” The question is “is what I’m doing as good/powerful/transformative as it could be?” I obviously don’t have all the answers, but I am challenging myself to do better. Here are a few practical ideas for transforming artistic space into activist space; this is just where my head has been at lately– please add other ideas or thoughts in the comments:

1. Connecting the Audience to Concrete Actions and Organizations
One of the first steps, for me, is demystifying the idea of activism. You don’t have to a brilliant anarchist mastermind with a black bandana over your face to get involved. You do have to show up, though, and I think one obstacle to building a mass movement is that a lot of people just don’t know where or how to show up. Rage is valuable. Critique is valuable. Raising awareness is valuable. But we can do more. A few ideas:

  • Invite a local activist to have thirty seconds of stage time to talk about an upcoming event, or even just have a table by the merch table where they can hand out flyers and collect emails. It’s about specificity too; I don’t think we always invite every activist group to every show. I think it’s about making connections to what’s happening in the world right now.
  • If that can’t happen, one strategy I’ve been using lately is just taking a few minutes out of the performance to ask the audience for resources: what are links, organizations, events, etc. that everyone else needs to know about? Use the knowledge in the room.
  • Key word: specificity. Again, it’s cool to encourage people to “go out and do something,” but if there are opportunities to connect individuals to specific, existing movements, even better. And even if we don’t love a particular organization, knowing that they exist helps people envision what could be and build something better.
2. Breaking Out of the “Shut Up and Play” Mentality
You can do a lot with an hour of stage time. Most of us (including myself, for 90% of my career) just perform for an hour, maybe with some awkward banter between songs/poems. But what else can we do?
This may be easier for spoken-word poets, who more often perform in spaces that lend themselves to facilitated discussions or interactive stuff, but I think this is a good thing for all artists to at least think about. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had on stage have been when I’ve decided to not just do my ten best songs or whatever and really try to connect to the audience, to have a conversation, to do something together beyond “look at me for an hour because I’m great.”

At one show, we took a big chalkboard and I asked audience members to write down actions they could take regarding police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. This was during those twenty minutes at every show between the listed start-time and the actual start-time. By the time we did start the show, the board was full of ideas:

I’m not saying that that’s the most transformative thing you can do on stage, but I think it is an example of how breaking the fourth wall and being more interactive can really add to the power of an event. Have a discussion. Play a short video. Stage theatrical disruptions. Be creative. We frown upon teachers who just lecture for an hour straight; I think we can hold performing artists to a similar standard.

3. Taking Signal-Boosting to the Next Level
Retweeting people who know what they’re talking about is good. Posting links to articles we think people should read is good. But I think a lot of this is done haphazardly– we happen to see something, and then happen to RT it.

I think there’s room for more intentionality here. And it doesn’t have to be any revolutionary reframing of how we do social media, just a little extra thought. A few tactics:

  • Make more of an effort to signal-boost on-the-ground activists and not just media talking-heads. The latter group can have some great analysis, but getting the voices of the people really in the trenches out there is important. This also relates to making sure that we’re signal-boosting the people who are directly affected by the issue.
  • Whenever an artist with a lot of followers speaks out about an issue, that’s good. But I also think that there is a continuum of value at play. Posting a statement or a rant is good. Posting a rant with a link to an article with more information is maybe better. Posting a rant with a link to an article and info on an upcoming action is better still. It’s all about making connections.
There are weeks when I don’t post anything self-promotional. Just links and resources. And yeah, I lose some followers who aren’t trying to hear that stuff, but I gain more. This isn’t just altruism. Especially with how Facebook’s algorithm works today (explicitly self-promotional posts are more likely to stay invisible to fans); posting about current events and struggles just makes sense.

A Million Other Ideas
Admittedly, these are pretty surface-level actions. There is even more room for arts spaces to be fully integrated into activist movements, and for artists to plug in in ways that are even more intentional and focused. But I think it starts here, thinking about space. Reclaiming space. Transforming space. Leveraging access to space.

I also think it’s hard to have a general conversation, since there are so many different approaches to practicing art. What works for some people won’t work for others. What is effective for an artist who holds one identity may not make sense for an artist who doesn’t hold that same identity, or live in that same community, or have access to that same fanbase. But there is always something that works. Beginning to think more strategically is a first step.

Finally, note that there’s nothing here about the art itself. I love explicitly political art, and I encourage artists to talk about stuff that matters in their work, but I also know that you do not have to make explicitly political art to engage with these practices. You do not have to have all the answers or know everything about every issue to engage with these practices. You do not have to make less money. You also do not have to radically change how you do business– a lot of the stuff here is really practical and easy to do.

We all plant seeds, and that’s good work. But while wildflowers are beautiful, crops are revolutionary. Art, by itself, cannot change the world. But art, as one element of a mass movement, absolutely can. Feel free to add more thoughts or ideas in the comments.

A few links:

This Saturday: Million March MN: Million Artist Movement: “Artists and Allies with Black Leadership who are committed to channeling and connecting people and organizations who are doing the work of social justice.”

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis: great central hub of local activity around police brutality actions.

This Is Not a Think Piece: Turning Outrage into Action from Ferguson to the Twin Cities: my piece collecting links, resources, and organizational info for people who want to plug in to the work being done here. Updated!

Jeff Chang & Bryan Komar: Culture Before Politics

Demetria Irwin at The Grio: Questlove is right, hip-hop is too silent on Ferguson and Garner

My poem “Quicksand” and some further thoughts on the “continuum of action”

First of all, thanks once again to Button Poetry for the massive signal boost. The work that they’ve done over the past two years has been really important, in ways that I don’t think a lot of us are recognizing in the present.

As for this poem, I wrote it after #Ferguson, but it’s more broadly about how we respond to injustice, especially when we’re not directly affected by that injustice. How do white people respond to racial violence? How do men respond to sexual assault statistics? How to wealthy people respond to hunger and homelessness,? Etc.

To be clear, I think there is a continuum of responses– some of the stuff highlighted in this poem is negative, some of it is fine, some of it is positive, a lot of it is connected– but it’s all about highlighting what I think of as “the urgency gap,” how we’re so quick to treat other people’s life-and-death struggles as an intellectual or emotional exercise.

I’m guilty of this too. Part of the reason I wrote this poem is that it’s a reminder to myself that signal-boosting is good and necessary, talking about privilege is good and necessary, writing poems is good and necessary– but we can’t lose sight of the central importance of organizing, working collaboratively to act on these problems. All of those other responses and actions are necessary to support that organizing work, but the issue, as I see it, is that they’re not enough by themselves.

And far too often, they’re all we give.

Related: my post from last week “This is Not a Think  Piece: Turning Outrage into Action from Ferguson to the Twin Cities,” a collection of resources, interviews, links to organizations and more for anyone who wants to get involved in organizing against police brutality.

Related: my post from right after the Zimmerman verdict, about a lot of the same issues.

FULL TEXT:
QUICKSAND

Upon stumbling, by chance, upon a man, waist-deep in quicksand, I need a second to process. After all, this is fiction made flesh; it’s like going to the zoo and seeing a mermaid. So my first response, naturally, is to tell him:

Hey, um, I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that quicksand isn’t actually dangerous, that this idea of a patch of sandy water sucking a person down into oblivion is just a tall tale, a trope to build tension in early 1960s westerns. In real life, yeah, I mean, you can get caught in quicksand, but it’s not really that hard to get out. So are you sure you’re sinking in quicksand?

He sinks.

My words don’t seem to have any effect. So being an open-minded, progressive individual, I reevaluate. Maybe quicksand is real. So what now? My second response upon stumbling, by chance, upon a man, chest deep in quicksand is, before I actually do anything, to make sure that I have the whole picture. I mean, what was this guy doing out here in the jungle all alone? Did he step into that quicksand on purpose? Was he asking for it? Does he have a criminal record? Maybe I should wait until all the facts come in.

He sinks.

And again, being an open-minded, progressive individual, I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. I want to help

So my third response upon stumbling, by chance, upon a man, neck deep in quicksand is to, obviously, recite a poem. To throw some spirit energy his way. To describe, out loud, just how heavy my heart is. I take a piece of paper out of my backpack, and with a pen, I write “quicksand is bad and I am an ally to people who fall in it.” I pin that piece of paper to my chest. I take out my phone and I tweet “when are we going to wake up? #quicksand.”

He sinks.

And being an open-minded, progressive individual, I decide that this isn’t enough, that we, as a society, need to address the root causes of people sinking in quicksand. So my fourth response upon stumbling, by chance, upon a man, forehead-deep in quicksand, is to take a moment and really acknowledge and think about my privilege as someone who is not sinking in quicksand. I vow to take a class, to challenge my friends when they make quicksand-related jokes, to be more mindful of how I navigate the world.

He sinks.

And being an open-minded, progressive individual, I decide that the time for words has passed; now is the time for action. So my fifth response upon stumbling, by chance, upon a man, disappeared into quicksand, is… is…

We can’t allow ourselves to forget what happened here. I know we need to do something, to put up a sign, to educate people, to build a bridge over this patch of quicksand. I just don’t have any wood. I just have this backpack full of paper and pens and rope; what can one person do?


I imagine my lungs filling with mud. Black earth. Brown water. The hike back to my hotel will be full of reflection. I say a prayer under my breath. It’s the least I can do.

12/6/14 UPDATE: This was originally posted on 8/27/14, but I want to continue to be able to use it as a resource to share with anyone who wants to get involved with activism around police brutality here in the Twin Cities. Scroll down for a list of links, resources, and organizations (like Black Lives Matter Minneapolis) and feel free to add more!

After officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO on August 9, my twitter feed exploded with links, articles, calls to action, commentary and analysis. Right here in the Twin Cities, organizations that had been working on issues of police brutality sprang into action alongside new organizations and concerned individuals; events were planned and executed, and activists of all experience levels got to work answering the question “what now?”

While rallies, marches, social media campaigns and protests can be powerful, their power can only be fully realized when tied to long term organizing campaigns. How can we focus the heightened awareness around police brutality into concrete policy change (like, for example, police body cameras)? How can we plug people who have been radicalized (or at least further politicized) by #Ferguson in to the work that is being done? How can we turn this moment into a movement?

What follows is a collection of interviews, links and resources for anyone in our community who believes that change is needed. Racially-motivated police brutality is a national issue, but from Fong Lee to Terrance Franklin to Al Flowers and beyond, it is also very much a local one. The good news is that we can do something about it.

Upcoming Events:
As mentioned, events alone don’t magically create change. But rallies, marches, protests, benefits, vigils, etc. are rallying points, places for like-minded people to come together. On a more abstract level, they’re about drawing inspiration from collective strength, as well as spreading awareness and getting media attention; on a more concrete level, they’re about getting people connected—they’re entry points into organizing. Regardless of how you feel about the power of protests, these events are where you’re going to meet the people doing the work.

Thursday, August 28, 2014: Solidarity Rally for Mike Brown and All Victims of Police Brutality; organized by the Young People’s Freedom and Justice Party. 6pm at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis (300 6th St. S.). There’s also a solidarity event in Duluth at the same time.

Thursday, August 28, 2014: “The Future’s Back” open mic and solidarity gathering; organized by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), MPIRG and the Common Table, and featuring artists Keno Evol, Sol Rebel, Laurine Chang, The Lioness and Malick Ceesay. 8pm at the Common Table (2001 Riverside Ave.) in Minneapolis.

Thursday, September 4, 2014: Follow-up meeting to the National Moment of Silence #NMOS14 Twin Cities; this event will be a space to discuss “next steps for action, both locally and nationally,” while also making the connections between police brutality and the larger reality of the prison industrial complex, mass imprisonment, the school-to-prison pipeline and more. 5:30pm at the Minneapolis Urban League (2100 Plymouth Ave. N.).

Thursday, September 4, 2014: Unchain Our Children; a Community Affair; a workshop and community dialogue on the school-to-prison pipeline and St. Paul public schools organized by the NAACP St. Paul youth and collegiate branch. 6:30pm at the NAACP St. Paul youth headquarters (781 Selby Ave., St. Paul). Facebook event page link.

Saturday, September 6, 2014: Global Call to Action called by Feminista Jones, who organized the National Moment of Silence. Follow the hashtag on Twitter at #Sept6CTA. (UPDATE: at the rally tonight, they mentioned that the Young People’s Freedom and Justice party would be having a planning meeting to keep things moving on this date at the MPLS Urban League; “Community Forum: Reporting Back from Ferguson”).

While I always encourage people to attend events, I also want to encourage organizations to make sure they have concrete pathways to getting more people involved. The energy at a protest can be incredibly powerful; it’s the organizers’ responsibility to find a way to bottle it, to turn that outrage into action.

Some Context: An Interview with Michelle Gross, President, Communities United Against Police Brutality
One of the most effective ways an individual can create change is by joining an existing organization and bringing their strengths, passions and resources to the table. CUAPB is a local organization explicitly devoted to confronting and dismantling police brutality.

For those who may not know, what is CUAPB’s mission, and what kind of work are you doing right now?
Communities United Against Police Brutality was created in December 2000 to deal with police brutality on an ongoing basis. We work on the day-to-day abuses as well as taking on the more extreme cases. Our overriding goal is to create a climate of resistance to abuse of authority by police organizations and to empower local people with a structure that can take on police brutality and actually bring it to an end. We provide support and advocacy for survivors of police brutality and families of victims so they can reclaim their dignity and join the struggle to end police brutality. We engage in political actions and litigation to change the underlying conditions that lead to police brutality, misconduct and abuse of authority. We educate the community on their rights and on policing issues.

Our hotline continues to receive far more calls than Internal Affairs and the police complaint agency combined. We organize copwatch to document police conduct in the street and courtwatch to document judicial conduct and ensure people receive fair trials. Most recently, we’ve been working on a ballot measure that would require Minneapolis police to carry their own professional liability insurance. The city would pay the base rate for the coverage but officers would pay any additional premiums based on their complaint and claims history. Just as bad drivers pay higher premiums for their insurance, bad cops would pay more and some would eventually become uninsurable. Besides providing individual consequences for misconduct, this measure would save the taxpayers millions in judgments and settlements we now pay for bad policing.

There has been a lot of anger, a lot of grief, and a lot of pain over police brutality recently. What are some ways people might focus their outrage into action? Are there ways someone reading this could plug in to the work CUAPB is doing?
Anger, sadness and frustration are appropriate reactions to the horrific injustices that are happening—not just in Ferguson, but in every community. It’s important, though, that we harness those righteous feelings into effective actions that can actually bring change.

There are many things to be done and many ways to plug into the work. We hold “train the trainer” classes so people can learn how to teach their neighbors and friends about their rights and how to interact safely with police. People can organize copwatch groups in their neighborhoods. They can help provide advocacy for people dealing with the effects of police brutality. They can plan protests and other political actions to put pressure on the politicians. They can help us get our measure on the ballot to increase police accountability.

There are many things people can do, but the most important thing is to pick something and do it. Police brutality is about the most disempowering experience a person can have because when an agent of the state deprives you of your rights and injures your body, you can feel there is no way to fight back. Working collectively with others helps us to regain our dignity and strength.

A lot of people are talking about police brutality in other communities right now; but are there any specific issues we are facing here in the Twin Cities?
Perhaps the most significant issue is the ending of civilian oversight of police. Three years ago, the city abolished the Civilian Review Authority. While that agency never really had the power to properly address complaints, it was at least somewhat independent and board members were quite vocal about the chief’s lack of discipline on their sustained complaints. Now, the only option you have is to go to the police to complain about the police. This has resulted in hundreds of complaints being virtually ignored and Minneapolis cops having free reign to brutalize people with impunity. At the same time, the legislature passed a law criminalizing so-called false reporting of police brutality, making it extremely dangerous to complain about police. We will never be able to stop police brutality unless the community is able to hold cops accountable for their actions.

Is there anything else people should know about your work, or about how we can plug in to that work?
Communities United Against Police Brutality is an all-volunteer group. Despite having no staff and little funding, we are highly effective and have achieved many successes for the community—a class action lawsuit that forced Minneapolis to put cameras in their squad cars, a lawsuit that went to the US appeals court and codified the right to videotape police all over this country, multiple lawsuits forcing police to release complaints against officers and other public data, the founding of several neighborhood copwatch groups, and many other successful actions. We can do even more if more people join the effort. We meet every Saturday at 1:30pm at 4200 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis. Get involved!

Next Steps: An Interview with Saida Mahamud, Organizer with the Young People’s Freedom and Justice Party
Though many organizations are helping to spread the word about Thursday’s solidarity rally, the primary organizer is the Young People’s Freedom and Justice Party, “an alternative party of young people of color in the Twin Cities whose aim is to create a just and democratic society by mobilizing young people and providing them with a platform from which to articulate these ideals.”

Can you talk at all about the Young People’s Freedom & Justice Party?

The Young People’s Freedom and Justice Party first began as a group that would meet once a week to discuss current issues going on at home and abroad, and look at them with a historical perspective. About a month ago, we proposed the idea of becoming a party—but not like all the other parties that have come before us. Our main goal is eliminating this structural system that is forcing people to stay in the current situations that they are in. We believe that capitalism does more damage than good, that it enforces rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. There are cases where people have made it out of the personal strife that they were in, but the general population is still affected by this. So our party demands equity.
Is there anything people should know about Thursday’s action?
We want people to bring signs that say “No Justice, No Peace, Prosecute the Police.” We don’t want any posters that say “Don’t Shoot,” because we don’t want people to think that we’re victims; we may be victimized, but we’re not victims. We also want people to stop expecting teargas and rubber bullets; if they went to the Trayvon Martin rally or Terrence Franklin rally, they’d know that they were quite peaceful, a lot of people came, and I thought they were well done.

After Thursday, how can people plug in to your work, or at least stay informed?
For now, just be sure to keep checking the event page for Thursday’s event.

Continuing the Work: An Interview with Dua Saleh, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) Organizer
While NOC works on a variety of issues, they’ve been one of the most dependable, inspiring organizations in the Twin Cities over the last few years.

What is NOC doing around issues of police brutality, and how can people plug in to that work?
NOC has always been a member led organization, from its inception. Members reach out to us with issues that affect their community and we provide them with the platform and the resources needed to take action. The best way to get looped in to the work that NOC is doing is by becoming a member, so that you yourself can take on an initiative and give back to the community.

A dozen or so NOC members have been working on a multitude of different events and rallies in support of Ferguson, “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” solidarity gatherings, petitioning military proliferation in local police departments, petitioning under practiced disciplinary action for police officers, and more. There are various movements and campaigns led by NOC members coming to fruition inspired by Ferguson. To get involved with our organizing committee, contact us at info@mnnoc.org.

Resources for Organizers and Potential Organizers
Whether you’re part of an established group, or trying to start something yourself, here are links to some organizations and organizing resources:

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis: this has emerged as the go-to spot for information on local actions.

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC): (see interview with Dua Saleh above)

Coalition for Critical Change: an organization that grew out of the first round of #Ferguson protests and one place to get updated on what happens now.

Communities United Against Police Brutality: (see interview with Michelle Gross above)

The Committee for Professional Policing: Another local organization (also an arm of CUAPB), their website has contact information and some ideas for getting involved.

Twin Cities Save the Kids: Save the Kids (STK) is a grass-roots fully-volunteer organization that is grounded in the values of Hip Hop activism and transformative justice, which advocates for alternatives to, and the end of, incarceration of all youth.

Voices for Racial Justice: Since 1993, we have built a stronger movement for racial justice organizing in Minnesota and beyond. Our mission is to advance racial, cultural, social, and economic justice in Minnesota through organizer and leadership training, strategic convenings and campaigns, and research and policy tools.

Hope Community Center’s SPEAC Program: This is a community organizing training program that isn’t explicitly about police violence, but I’m including it here because a lot of the best organizers I know have been through this. Another resource to have on your radar.

Socialist Alternative: While SA works on a wide range of issues, they have been consistently vocal about police violence. Link goes to their national org site, but they have an active local branch; contact through the website.

Justice for Fong Lee: On July 22, 2006, Hmong teenager Fong Lee was shot and killed by Minneapolis police officer Jason Andersen. The community continues to demand justice for what many see as a police cover-up.

Justice for Terrance Franklin: A group dedicated to seeking “justice for the wrongful death of Terrance Franklin at the hands of the Minneapolis police.”

TakeAction MN: This organization works on a range of issues; this link goes to information on their work around criminal justice reform, including contact info for anyone who wants to get involved.

The Dream Defenders with some practical event organizing tips: The Dream Defenders aren’t local, but are “an organization directed by Black & Brown Youth, who confront systemic inequality by building our collective power.” This practical list of questions to ask and things to be intentional about is a must-read.

The Dream Defenders with “what do to after your vigil; tips for planning a non-violent civil disobedience:” The follow-up to the last point, this series of tweets is about direct action.

Black and Blue: History and Current Manifestations of Policing, Violence and Resistance: Project NIA’s collection of tools, curriculum and resources.

Showing Up for Racial Justice’s Police Brutality Action Kit: This toolkit is set up for white people who want to do more, but features ideas for actions, informational resources, videos and more that may be useful to any organizer.

A recent article on the limitations of “awareness-raising” and the importance of direct action: Written through the lens of Palestinian solidarity activism, this piece explores how and why some marches and protests don’t go far enough, and what can be done instead.

Finally, a note on staying informed: my Twitter feed is overflowing with Ferguson updates and people talking about all this stuff, but yours might not be. While it’s easy to joke about Twitter, it’s been an invaluable resource this month, and I’d definitely encourage checking out the ongoing commentary from people like Elon James White, Dream Defenders, Feminista Jones, PrisonCulture, Syreeta McFadden and Ta-Nehisi Coates, plus locals like Nekima Levy-Pounds, Justin Terrell, and all of the organizations mentioned above.

Over on my Facebook page, Jacqui Germain also had this to say, regarding on-the-ground commentary: “If people are looking for reliable St. Louis-based twitters: @OBS_STL is a local org, @tefpoe is a local organizer & and artist, @Awkward_Duck is a NY organizer in town right now providing pretty regular twitter updates, and @AntonioFrench is the alderman of the ward Ferguson is in & has been updating his twitter pretty regularly too.”

Conclusion: This Is Not the End
There are a lot of resources and ways to get involved illustrated here, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Other organizations and individuals are doing this work, and there are always new and creative ways to make an impact. If there are good links and resources that I missed, feel free to leave a comment here.

In some sense, our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity; with the rise of social media, it’s easier than ever to raise awareness and cultivate outrage around the issues that we care about. Both of these things are good. The challenge/opportunity is to go further, to focus all of that emotional and intellectual energy into concrete, sustainable change.

The way to do that is the same as it’s always been: dive in, get involved, and build with one another.

We’re honored to be part of Adam J. Dunn’s #LAAB (Lights and a Backdrop) video series. This is the series’ 8th (!) season. I also had a song way back in season 2, and I might have a surprise coming later.

This batch also features new music from Toki Wright & Big Cats, Chantz Erolin, Longshot and more. Check out all eight seasons HERE, and get a great look at what makes the Twin Cities music scene so special.

I love this song. Hope you enjoy it. Get the whole album here.

As always, these videos are not meant to be “guides” or teach anyone anything. I’m just sharing tools that have benefited me and the stuff that I think about and try to be intentional about. I’m no expert, but hopefully something in here can be useful for you.

This installment focuses on performance, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience. It’s an enormous subject, so I’ve really tried to zero in on some basic, foundational stuff.

This is part three in an ongoing series. Catch the the first two installments here. More to come!

The Sifu Hotman album is officially out tomorrow, but I realized that we’re not on a label and don’t have to conform to any Tuesday release dates so here it is now:

Embrace the Sun by SIFU HOTMAN (Guante x deM atlaS x Rube)

That’s the new project, including brand new songs, remastered versions of our old songs (which you can still get on vinyl here), and more. If you like it, it’s only $5 so please consider buying it.

Like with any new release, the status right about now is a mixture of intense pride, pre-emptive disappointment, fear, guilt from putting so much emotional weight on something so unimportant (in the grand scheme of what’s going on in the world right now), and flat-out relief.

We made something really special. I’m trying to be as objective as possible, and not let the whole delusional artist ego thing mess me up, but I think it’s okay for me to say: this album is good. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever helped create. It does something different, in a powerful way. It says something honest and meaningful even when it’s not an explicitly political or serious album. And it bangs. That’s where that aforementioned “intense pride” comes in.

And since we’ve all found a lot of success over the past year (I mean, Josh especially, but me and Rube too, haha), the logical assumption would be that this really good thing that three successful people have made will take off.

And it almost certainly won’t.

I don’t say that out of humility, or pessimism, or sour grapes. I say it because music like this, no matter how well-liked we are in other spheres, or how hard we work to get it heard, is hard to market. Hell, music in general is hard to market these days, if you’re talking about getting people to spend money on something. But some bass-heavy, throwback punchline rap made by people who are known for doing… not that… it’s off-message. It doesn’t push the brand. It’s bad marketing.

Just to reiterate: this isn’t sour grapes. I’m not saying that something is wrong with the universe because I’m not making lots of money off selling CDs. It’s actually the opposite—this is about gratitude.

I love that we can go off-brand and still knock it out of the park like this, and I’m incredibly grateful to the people who do “get” it. Anyone who came to our release show, or buys this online, or follows any of us on social media—it really does mean a lot. In some ways, it means more than it did ten years ago, or five years ago.

Like I said in this interview, this album was made for the love. We hope you’ll play it loud in your cars. We hope you’ll share it with your friends and post it on your Tumblrs. But mostly, we just hope you’ll like it, that you’ll find something in it the same way we found something while creating it.

Music video for “First Ave Funeral” coming soon.

I know new songs have a certain shininess to them, but this is still maybe my favorite song I’ve ever made. Shout to Rube for providing this beat and deM atlaS for providing his spirit and energy.

And there’s more where this came from. Be the first to hear everything at our release show, Friday, July 25 at Intermedia Arts in MPLS. 7pm. All ages. $5. House of Dance Twin Cities will also be performing.

If you’re not in the Twin Cities, you can get the whole project, “Embrace the Sun,” on July 29. We’re all really proud of it. Thanks for listening.