A 2016 wrap-up post, featuring some of the stuff I created or released that you may have missed:

1. I Wrote a Book
I’ve been working on this for a long time, so thanks so much to everyone who has already picked up a copy, and to Button Poetry for the signal boost. Here’s the official blurb:

One part mixtape, one part disorientation guide, and one part career retrospective, this book brings together spoken word poems, song lyrics, and essays from the past decade of Guante’s work. From the exploration of toxic masculinity in “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’,” to the throwback humanist hip hop of “Matches,” to a one-act play on the racial and cultural politics of Eminem, “A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry” is a practitioners eye-view of the intersections of hip hop, poetry, and social justice. Get it in-person or online here.

2. New Album: Guante & Katrah-Quey: “Post-Post-Race”
Katrah-Quey and I released an album all about race, racism, and solidarity, featuring a bunch of my favorite local voices. You can get the whole thing here, but here are a few highlights:

3. Sifu Hotman’s “Matches” on Vinyl (Plus a B-Side with Tall Paul)
I’m very glad that we got to do a vinyl release for this song, which is both my most successful song (thanks to its being featured on Welcome to Night Vale) and one of my most personal, meaningful songs. Get it here. I’m also proud of the b-side, a remix of “Embrace the Sun” featuring Tall Paul:

4. 8 Million Views for “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up'” on Facebook
This was a great surprise to close out the year with: Button Poetry posted my poem (which is a few years old now) as Facebook video, and it took off. It’s nice to see that the message of that particular piece is still resonating with so many people, especially this year. See the video, and read more about the poem, here.

5. A Handful of New Videos
Between my own page and Button Poetry’s, we released a few new poems and a few updated versions of older ones, plus a couple of songs:

6. Some Writing and a New Zine Project
While most of my writing focus this year was on my book (and finishing grad school), I did post a couple of pieces:

7. I Finished Grad School
A few thoughts on what I did there and how it impacts my work moving forward, plus a link to one real-world resource that came out of my research: a list of 100+ spoken word poem videos for use by social justice educators.

8. TruArtSpeaks Contines to Grow
Under the leadership of Executive Director Tish Jones, it was another great year for TruArtSpeaks; I’m both honored to have been able to be part of that and excited about this coming year. The Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series starts up again in January!

9. Shows, Connections, and Reasons to Be Excited About 2017
This year was bad in a lot of ways, for a lot of people. I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel, to perform, and to work with people from so many different communities on issues that matter– from the ArtChangeUS Design for Equity Conference, to the MN Campus Sexual Violence Prevention Summit, to opening for Marc Lamont Hill at the UMN, to Brave New Voices, to a bunch of college/university visits all over the country– it’s clear to me that as dire as the situation in this country might be, there are still a whole lot of bold, brilliant people doing the work. As I think about 2017, I’m trying to figure out how best to use whatever resources I have to support those people.

I’m excited about local politics– 2017 is going to be a huge year in Minneapolis with regards to city council races. I’m excited about Jillia, Jeremiah, Andrea, Erica, Phillipe, and all of the sharp, community-minded people running for seats; I’ll be posting more about this as the caucuses approach. But even if you’re not in Minneapolis– this is going to be a BIG year for local politics in general– that’s the level at which so many battles are going to be fought, and we can win them. Get involved.

Related to that, I’m excited about the potential for artists to meaningfully plug into movement-building work, now more than ever. Will be sharing thoughts and resources (beyond what I’ve already written) very soon.

My excitement is not to say that things aren’t scary, or that people aren’t going to be hurt by what’s going on in this country. Our fear is valid. But so is our courage. I’m excited to see more and more people start to realize that there is no “neutral,” that change starts with us, that plugging into activist organizations and getting involved is a key first step in creating the world in which we want to live, no matter who is in office. It’s going to be a tough year, but I believe in the power of this movement.

Finally, as for me, I’ve got a new music video coming out right away this January. I’m also booking for both Spring and Fall 2017. Also working on some new projects. Just want to say thank you for reading and connecting. Let’s keep building.

(updated June 2018; if you’re interested, my TEDx Talk also draws from the ideas in this post)

Design by Liv Novotny; words by Guante

I shared my post-election thoughts a while back, and here’s something a little more substantial. As an artist who routinely gets up in front of hundreds of people and talks about activism and power, and as someone who also has lots of friends who do that same thing, in some way or another, I’ve been trying to think more critically about how we USE that platform.

Because talking about issues is good and important, but so many of those performances or conversations end with “talk is not enough; go do something.” And for those of us who have had a political education, we know what that means. We may still struggle with the specifics, or experience anxiety about not doing enough, etc., but it’s a statement that makes sense.

For a lot of people, however, I’m wondering if “go do something” is a little too abstract. Especially for young people, or people with no prior activist experience, or people who are isolated due to identity or geography– how can we make “go do something” really mean something concrete and specific? How can we use the platforms that we have access to to cultivate a culture of organizing, to promote activism not just as some weird hobby that a few hippies do, but as something that everyone can and should and must do?

That’s the impulse behind this zine project (text by me, design by Liv Novotny). It’s nothing revolutionary; just sharing what I’ve learned about action, power, and change, while highlighting concrete action points and plugging people in to existing networks. The image at the top of this post links to a PDF of the entire document (which needs to be cut and folded a particular way to become a book, which I’m sure you can figure out). The basic text is included below as well.

JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE THE POWER TO RUN OUT THE FRONT DOOR AND MAGICALLY “FIX” EVERYTHING, IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU DON’T HAVE POWER.

The key is focusing less on the power that we don’t have, and more on the power that we do:

AS INDIVIDUALS: LEVEL UP
Listen. Read books. Take classes. Follow activists and organizations on social media. Challenge yourself to think more critically and more tactically, to ask more questions, and to never stop learning. Engage in critical self-reflection; be humble and willing to grow. Take care of your physical and mental health too. This all builds our capacity to do the work, and while nothing here is enough to change the world by itself, it is an important step. ACTION EXAMPLES:

  • Do some research about activist organizations in your area, and then make a point to get looped in: sign up for email lists, follow them on social media, and pay attention to the work already happening.
  • If you’re a student, set up a meeting with your advisor to explore pathways into change-making career fields, or even just classes that can help you learn more about the issues you care about.
  • Take the time to reflect on your passions, your talents, your identities, and your capacity. You don’t have to do everything; figure out what the specific “something” is that you can do.
  • Use existing resources: educators and activists often put together online “syllabi” like the Ferguson Syllabus, Standing Rock Syllabus, Syllabus for White Self Education, etc. (more at the bottom of this post).
  • Commit, while also taking the time to breathe, to find joy, and to organize your life in whatever way works for you, in order to ensure that that commitment is sustainable.

AS COMMUNITY MEMBERS: SHOW UP
Power is a platform: no politician or millionaire has access to your friends, family, co-workers, and networks like you do. So start conversations. Post compelling articles on social media. Write blog posts or letters-to-the-editor. Show up (if you are able) to rallies, vigils, teach-ins, meetings, or other events in order to plug in and build community. Also, be mindful of your own identities; for example, don’t expect someone who is oppressed in a way that you are not to “teach” you everything. Proactively bring this work into spaces where it isn’t already happening. ACTION EXAMPLES:

  • Start a book club or study group addressing the issues that you are passionate about.
  • Media matters; not everyone can “show up” in the same ways. Cultivate a more intentional social media practice, signal-boosting activists whose voices need to be heard, as opposed to just memes or opinions. A few more specific thoughts on this here.
  • Communicate with your elected leaders to keep the pressure on; in-person meetings, phone calls, and personalized letters are best. Emails, tweets, and petitions are less effective but can still be useful tools. Show up to town halls and community/neighborhood meetings!
  • Create, and/or use your platform creatively. Poems, for example, don’t change the world on their own; but enough poets (and other artists) directing their energy toward a particular topic, issue, or idea, really does have the power to shift culture.
  • Remember that “ally” isn’t something you are; it’s something you do. Think about your own identities, and how they might impact your ability to disrupt the status quo. Don’t let harmful talk/actions slide. Challenge people.

AS ORGANIZERS: STAND UP
Change doesn’t happen because “things just inevitably get better,” or because we vote for the right people and they “save” us. Real, sustainable, progressive change is always the product of organized movements: everyday people joining up in community groups, student organizations, unions, cyphers, living rooms, and beyond, working together to figure out what we have, what we need, and how we can make it happen. ACTION EXAMPLES:

  • Find (through one-to-one meetings, internet searches, conversations, databases, etc.) an organization working on the issues you care about and get involved—that might mean sending an email inquiry, attending a meeting, working with friends to start a local chapter of a national organization, or even starting something brand new (although my advice is always to seek to join first, since everyone constantly reinventing the wheel can be a drain on energy).
  • If you are able, set up a monthly donation to an activist group, organize a fundraiser, or find other ways to support existing work.
  • Vote, and get all of your friends/family to vote too—while also understanding voting as one small part of a much larger movement-building process; organizing can also be about tactical voting campaigns and holding politicians accountable after they’re elected.
  • Some people go into careers that are explicitly about social justice. Other people have to figure out how to infuse social justice principles into the work that they’re already doing. Cultivate a sense of the structure of your school, workplace, or community. What could be different? What rules, policies, or elements of the culture could be changed? With whom can you work to make it happen?
  • March, protest, and resist in whatever ways might be effective, while also working together to create plans for next steps, to provide alternatives to the status quo. Find local ways to apply pressure to national/international issues. Tearing down oppressive systems is necessary; so is building something better.

TAKEAWAY: We need all three levels (personal, interpersonal, institutional). One or two, without the other, are not enough. Luckily, they’re all connected: we can strive to be better individuals, while building relationships with each other, while we work on challenging systems and shifting culture. The point here is that we already have the power that we need to win; what remains is the work.

ON “GETTING INVOLVED”
A big part of this post is attempting to demystify how change happens. Power is not magic. It is not some commodity that only other people have. We all have power, and organizing together is one of the best ways to bring that power to bear. That being said, all of this comes with a few caveats:

  • Some people have more time, energy, or resources than others. After all, just surviving is a kind of activism too. So it’s important to think critically about our own identities, levels of access, privileges, etc., as we begin to figure out how we can plug into this process and make our work sustainable.
  • Take some time to think about why you want to get involved. Trying to “save” other people or act out some altruistic hero fantasy will never be as effective or sustainable as figuring out where your own self-interest intersects with activist work.
  • No organization is perfect, and no organization alone can do everything. But they are important starting points.

A FEW TWIN CITIES-ORIENTED LINKS & EXAMPLES
This list is not about pointing to any particular organization as “the one” or endorsing some over others. The purpose of this list is to make it easier for people to get a “snapshot” of some of the work that is being done in our community right now—with some of these orgs, you may be able to run out and join them, get a job with them, or volunteer with them; with others, it may be about supporting their work through donating money or services, or even just getting them on your radar. This is a starting point, and one very simple action you can take right now, if you’re on social media, is to “follow” everyone on this list (if you’re in MN).

Additionally, only Twitter handles are included here, and not everyone is on Twitter; find a more detailed list with full website links and blurbs about each org (and ones not included here) at www.mnactivist.com.

ORGANIZATIONS/TWITTER HANDLES:

• MPD150: @mpd_150
• TakeAction Minnesota: @TakeActionMN
• Voices for Racial Justice: @MNvoices
• Black Visions Collective: @BlackLivesMPLS
• OutFront MN: @OutFrontMN
• The Sexual Violence Center: @svcmpls
• ISAIAH: @ISAIAHMN
• MN Immigrant Rights Action Committee: @MIRAcMN
• Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America: @TwinCitiesDSA
• Planned Parenthood MN: @ppmn
• Parks & Power: @ParksAndPower
• Showing Up for Racial Justice: @surj_mn
• MN Council on American-Islamic Relations: @CAIRMN
• MN Public Interest Research Group: @mpirg
• Navigate MN: @navigatemn
• Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha: @CTUL_TC
• Wellstone Action: @wellstoneaction
• Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia: @IX_Unidxs
• 15 Now Minnesota: @15NowMN
• Indigenous Environmental Network: @IENearth
• Shades of Yellow: @SOY_LGBTQ
• Socialist Alternative: @SocialistMN
• Black Liberation Project: @blklibmn
• Communities United Against Police Brutality: @CUAPBMpls
• Hope Community, Inc: @Hope_MN
• UMN Women’s Center: @mnwomenscenter
• Minnesotans for a Fair Economy: @FairMN
• RE-Imagine Education: @RiEdK12
• Consent Ed MN: @ConsentEdMN

ART AND MEDIA SPOTLIGHT:
• TruArtSpeaks: @TruArtSpeaks
• Juxtaposition Arts: @JXTA_ARTS
• Black Table Arts: @BlackTableArts
• Kulture Klub: @kultureklubMN
• KRSM Radio: @KRSMradio
• The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent: @HmongCHAT
• Unicorn Riot: @UR_Ninja
• Line Break Media: @LnBrkMedia
• TC Daily Planet: @tcdailyplanet
• KFAI Radio: @kfaiFMradio
• Insight News: @insightnews
• Ancestry Books: @ancestrybooks
• Pangea World Theater: @PangeaWT
• FLOW Arts Crawl: @FLOWNorthside
• Tru Ruts: @TruRuts

MORE: this is just a starting point. In addition to these community organizations, there are dozens of campus organizations, high school organizations, neighborhood groups, etc. all over. It may just take a bit of research to find them.

STEAL THIS IDEA: If you’re not in Minnesota, feel free to make a list like this for YOUR community and share it.

ADDENDUM: LEVEL UP Reading List:

(edit: ten million now)



On Friday, Button Poetry posted their footage of my poem “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’ on Facebook video, and it reached a million views in just two days (the original version on YouTube is almost up to a million as well, but was posted three years ago; there’s also this version, with the full text as well, on my own page, which I think is the highest quality audio/video).

Obviously, numbers don’t mean everything. But it is cool to see a poem with a message like this resonate with so many people. I doubt that a million views means a million people watched, but one number that does matter to me is those 25k shares. I figured I’d use this opportunity to both say thank you for all of the shares and reposts, but also to share a couple of thoughts on the poem itself:

1. The poem is in my book. If you like it, you will very likely enjoy the whole book, which is full of poems, song lyrics, and essays about these issues and many others. The blurb is below, and here’s a link to how you can order one (through Button Poetry).

One part mixtape, one part disorientation guide, and one part career retrospective, this book brings together spoken word poems, song lyrics, and essays from the past decade of Guante’s work. From the exploration of toxic masculinity in “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’,” to the throwback humanist hip hop of “Matches,” to a one-act play on the racial and cultural politics of Eminem, “A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry” is a practitioners eye-view of the intersections of hip hop, poetry, and social justice.

2. Bring me to your school or conference.  My work actually involves traveling to colleges, universities, conferences, and other places to use spoken word as an entry point into deeper conversations about identity, power, and resistance. Check out my booking info here and get in touch.

3. On a craft/writing level, I’ve always thought of this one as an okay poem with a really strong “hook,” which is the term I use to refer to its conceptual framework, the thing that makes it different from all of the other poems about masculinity/gender stuff out there. If you’re an aspiring spoken word artist (or really any kind of writer), I think hooks are really important to understand, whether you choose to lean on them or not. I talk more about them through this video series.

4. Finally, a quick note on the content. I haven’t been able to sift through all of the comments, but I can pretty much imagine some of them. Just want to make a handful of things very clear:

  • The poem is about how so many of the assumptions associated with masculinity are based in fear, shame, and insecurity; it’s also about how so many assumptions about competence and power are based in masculinity. And yes, this is reflected in so-called “little things” like language and everyday pop culture that we don’t often think critically about (not sure if people even remember the specific Miller Lite commercials that this poem is directly responding to). The poem is very much about the relationship between those “little things” and the larger realities of sexism and gender-based violence.
  • The issue is not that telling people to “take responsibility and be strong” (which, yeah, I know is what “man up” means) is always a bad thing (though it can be, depending on what that person actually needs); the issue is that framing responsibility and strength as solely masculine qualities reinforces a whole lot of poisonous essentialist garbage about gender that ends up hurting people.
  • Because this always comes up in conversations about language: remember that “hey let’s maybe think more critically about the language we use” is not the same as “hey you should go to jail for saying the ‘wrong’ thing.” Empathy is not censorship. The poem is about language, but it’s also about something deeper than that.
  • The poem is not saying that men have it worse than women (or gender-nonconforming people), or that we have it just as bad. Sexism hurts everyone, but it hurts everyone in very different ways, and a critical understanding of how sexism/patriarchy works is a necessary first step in disrupting and dismantling it.
  • I know that sometimes MRA-type people kind of like the poem, which is weird. I mean, yeah, I can imagine how it might resonate with people who want to talk about the unfair and messed up expectations that society places on men. But this is still very much a feminist poem. Because it isn’t women, or feminism, that places those expectations on men– it’s patriarchy. So people bring up men’s high suicide rates, or how so many men “don’t feel like they fit in” in our society any more– I hear you. I just don’t share your analysis. Feminism isn’t the enemy– it’s an invaluable lens, a tool for actually fixing some of those problems (as opposed to just going on the internet and harassing women/complaining about feminism, which is the MRA approach). For more on this topic, check this out.

Finally, just a note that if you like this poem, check this one out too. Plus, you can find all of my work here. PLUS, I made a list of 100+ spoken word poems by other people, including a dozen or so on gender and masculinity. This is an ongoing conversation, featuring many voices, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of it.