Hip-Hop Shows Up for Brother Barack

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Image by B FRESH Photography / bfreshphotography.com

Not everyone thinks hip-hop failed to be a major mobilizing force in the 2008 election.

“Hip-hop activists have produced the conditions for literally millions of new young voters to come to the polls,” hip-hop writer Jeff Chang tells the San Antonio Current (Oct. 29, 2008). “They have begun setting the policy platform. The green-jobs part of Obama’s platform comes directly from hip-hop activists in Oakland led by Van Jones, who first launched a pilot program here in Oakland. And they’ve begun running for office at city, county, state, and national levels in notable numbers.

“But in the largest sense, Obama’s candidacy could not even have been imagined were it not for hip-hop. Hip-hop has desegregated the popular culture and produced many images of successful people of color.”

There was even a hip-hop candidate on top of the ticket in November: the Green Party’s Rosa Clemente, vice presidential running mate of presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. A community organizer, Clemente earned her bona fides at the first-ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention in 2004.

“If you look at Vote or Die, Respect My Vote!, Rock the Vote, Campus Progress, they’re targeting young people,” Clemente tells the Current. “Who are young people most likely to register to vote for? Most likely Democrats. There’s never any mention of third parties in a lot of these rallies. They’re supposed to be nonpartisan, so when they talk about [major party candidates], they need to be talking about the other four candidates who are running for president.”

The hip-hopification of Clemente and McKinney’s campaign–the first all-women-of-color ticket in U.S. politics–could serve as an example for President-elect Obama, who will need to build unlikely alliances among young, energetic activists to trigger lasting change.

“Rosa was an important choice because her ability to bring together urban issues and green causes represents a potential paradigm shift for both the Green Party and the progressive movement as a whole,” Chang says. “In the past, environmentalists and racial-justice activists have often found it difficult to speak to each other.”

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