From Cultural Power to Political Power
July 10, 2006
An Interview with TJ Crawford of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, Part 2.
We continue with our interview with hip-hop activist and 2nd National Hip-Hop Political Convention chair T. J. Crawford. The Convention, the largest national gathering of hip-hop activists, is set to take place in Chicago on July 21st through the 23rd. Here Crawford speaks on generational difference, the hip-hop generation's most pressing issues, and the future of hip-hop politics.
Jeff Chang: The first Convention began with a heated, raucous day-long panel on intergenerational relations in which elders and hip-hop generationers tried to come to a middle ground about issues that divided them. Do you still see the generation gap as a pressing issue in 2006?
T.J. Crawford: I think the gap is closing, really. And I don't think it was as large as we sometimes want to say it is. Community leaders of the past don't want to give you any props until you do something, and young cats find it hard to make it happen unless some of the older folks get out the way. Well, as the Creator would have it, our communities are getting bombarded from all sides and the traditional leadership is slowly yet steadily passing away. People of conscience are recognizing this shift and are scrambling to prepare and support this current generation of leadership with the means, know how and opportunity to take over the mantle of leadership. And a lot of us are grasping the reins. I mean, don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of egotism and in fighting that takes place, especially amongst those that get checks from corporations for being THE community advocate, but I see more and more examples of the elders reaching out to work with young people, especially in my situation, and some of the people I know. So I'm encouraged by that.
Jeff Chang: What will be the two or three main issues you expect organizers and activists will be discussing at this Convention?
T.J. Crawford: It's hard to wittle that down to just three things, because there are so many issues that are relevant and intertwined. How can you talk about the effects of Hurricane Katrina without talking about our present economic situation or the lack of committed public officials and corporate leaders that not only care, but have the power, to make sure that all of this country's citizens have the basic necessities to live a healthy and sustainable life? How can you talk about basic necessities without talking about education, especially early education, as a necessary premise for mental and physical development? How can you talk about improving education without moving to the criminal justice system and the whole sale warehousing of Black and Brown youth, who seem increasingly SET UP for failure.
I don't know man, cutting it to three, that's hard. But if I had to choose, I'd probably say that it's going to be the media, institutional development, and crimes against humanity, including the aftermath of Katrina, the war, and the inept education and rehabilitative systems. You liked the way I got past the number three, huh?!
Jeff Chang: The hip-hop generation now seems to span 14 year-old youths to 40+ year-old adults. What do you see as the long-term effects of the Convention on this generation?
T.J. Crawford: I see the 2006 convention as a training ground where organizers, both younger and older, will pick up and enhance their skill set so that they can return home with an even greater ability to create the change that the want to see. I see the updating of the National Hip-Hop Political Agenda, and the promotion of it even after the convention, as a way to guide the generation from both a political and community standpoint, helping to shed light on the issues and keep us focused as we work to address them. And finally, I see the true merging of hip-hop culture and civic engagement as something that will take root and spawn some sustainable institutions that will still be around 20 to 30 years from now.
I think the convention will continue to challenge conventional wisdom (pun not intended!) and dare people to put up or shut up. Stop talking or start walking. It's your choice. We are all responsible and will be held accountable for the world that we live in, starting first with ourselves, our families and then onto the communities in which we live. I see it continuing to blur the line between grassroots activism and electoral participation. And I see it definitely helping to define hip-hop Culture for ourselves instead of regurgitating what others would have us believe it is. Our political and economic might, held together by cultural commonality and strength, will continue to provide us with the means to tell our own stories and to write our own checks. Some of that stuff we're doing already. It's about expanding it so there's enough benefit and opportunity for all of us.