BOSTON (FinalCall.com) – Symbolized by the face of certain-to-be-elected Illinois U.S. Senator Barack Obama, a new cadre of young Black leadership with ties to the hip hop movement has emerged around the nation, both inside and outside the Democratic Party.
At the Democratic Convention, a record number of Black faces were seen as keynote speakers, including several primetime appearances. While this Black youth movement in national politics is mostly un-measured up until now, it could have unlimited future potential for change.
In Detroit, for example, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is the youngest mayor in Detroit’s history and is the youngest mayor of any major city. “Mayor Kilpatrick is a good example of what hip hop can do,” Hip-Hop Summit Action Network founder and Chairman Russell Simmons told reporters at a voter education rally held in Roxbury on the first day of the Democratic Convention. It was the 24th Hip Hop Summit he has organized around the country.
“There are a lot of young people who are running for office. There is new leadership that’s coming into power. We just have to keep watching them and supporting those who support our interests,” Mr. Simmons said.
Even the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has had a turnover since 2000, with a half dozen new members.
Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) is not only young, but he is well respected by his colleagues. Mr. Ford spoke on the convention’s third night, the same night Vice Presidential Candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) spoke. Completing his fourth term in the House of Representatives this year, Mr. Ford, however, is still too young to meet the constitutional age limit to be on the presidential ticket.
It is a special generation, insists Mr. Simmons. “I see the next generation as the best generation ever. I really believe Eminem and Fifty Cent think they’re the same people” he pointed out as an example of how the struggle to overcome poverty transcends racial and neighborhood boundaries. Hip hop artists are therefore able to spread the message of struggle felt in Black and poor communities among White and affluent communities who also listen to that music.
“While all the DNC delegates are downtown, what you saw here was energy from a generation of young people that have been ignored by the established political parties; that have been ignored by established politicians,” Dr. Benjamin, president of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, told The Final Call.
Young people want to impact the political outcome in 2004, he said. “I think that young people are declaring their independence from the hegemony of the established political process. They want to make America better, but they know (they must) organize themselves, hold their vote until those who want their vote really speak to the issues that impact their quality of life. They also are very clear, they’re just not going to throw their vote away,” he further explained.
Young Black voters had better be careful, argues entertainer Chuck D. “November 2004 is important, but then there’s December 2004, 2005. You don’t want this to be an evaporating-agenda-program after election week is over and everything goes back to unusual–business as unusual. That’s what’s got to strike Black people, or Hispanic people: ‘What’s going to take care of me in December 2004?’” he continued.
“The voting aspect (has) got to really, really have a lot of weight to it. And really, it does. Puffy (has) got a campaign, like ‘Vote or Die.’ Because, if the present administration gets another four years, we’re the first to go. There’s no kind of international connection with us as a people. And there ain’t no domestic saving grace with us here,” he stressed.
There is a heightened political awareness among young Blacks, according to a poll taken at the summit. Young people feel that voting is a step toward empowerment. “It’s not the full journey, but a step,” Dr. Ben said. “I think that indicates that young people are more intelligent. This generation today is more intelligent, more conscious than some elders give them credit.”
Young Blacks have begun to re-define why they should vote, said Chuck D.
“It means, how much can you control your locale, your surrounding areas? Your surrounding area is going to be the number one answer to feed you, employ you, take care of your health, you know? These situations have got to be dealt with immediately. They’ve got to be answered to immediately, as opposed to everybody understanding that it’s just about the Big Picture.”
The “Big Picture” refers to the singular obsession among most Democrats, Black and White, to defeat President George Bush’s re-election effort at all costs, even the Black agenda.
But this is no time to voluntarily hand over the reins of power to an unproven younger group, suggests one veteran member of the CBC.
“I don’t know if it’s right to describe them as the potential for saving the country,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a frequent participant in the hip hop summits, told The Final Call. “I think what we need to do is try and help them to understand why politics is important and how they can have a voice.
“They first have to save themselves. And they’ve got to understand their power. Once we’re able to make that connection, then I think that they will step into their rightful roles, they will develop careers that will help to develop public policy and, at that point, maybe they can save the country. But right now, it’s about: why are these young people turned off from politics? Why haven’t they been interested in politics? Why don’t they know the difference that it makes? That’s the challenge that we have at this point.”
Chuck D. agrees. “I think it’s time for just people to understand, they’ve grown. And if you’re 25 years old, you got no more excuses, ’cause you’re no longer a child. Just like if you’re 19, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, they are not the hip hop youth. They are the young hip hop adults.”
Hip hop enthusiasm and emotion alone may not be enough to turn the tide for the better in the Black community, according to another CBC member.
“I think it’s most important that we work with our young people to give them some direction, let them know that if they really want some good schools, higher ed opportunities, there is something they have to do as well,” Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) and mother of Mayor Kilpatrick, told The Final Call.
“Stay in school. Be the best. Organize yourselves. Speak out. Be a part of something. Make the life you want to have. Don’t wait for someone to give you what you don’t want. Hip hop is here to stay. It’s a noble culture that is used all over the world. We must use it so that we have positive children doing positive things to save our youth,” she insisted.
Rep. Ford also agrees. “When I was growing up, we had two rules in my house: You do your homework every night and you had to go to church on Sunday. We’ve gotten away from that in this country. That’s the ethic that has to come back to your community and my community. And the ethic that has to return to America if we’re going to not only restore what was so great about us, but grow from this moment,” he told The Final Call on the convention floor shortly after his keynote address.
“I think it’s very simple, if you work hard and play by the rules, and government’s role is to make sure this thing remains level; and that every young person, regardless of what you look like, where you may live, or even what your name is–as we heard last night–can achieve greatness. This (Bush) administration, I think, has robbed us of that.”
Ironically, both Rep. Ford and Sen. Obama reflect a clean-cut, healthy image that was popularized in the 1960s by members of the Nation of Islam’s F.O.I., according to Chuck D. Sen. Obama’s speech even reflected “combinations of Reverend (Jesse) Jackson, Minister (Louis) Farrakhan, ’cause he’s right there on the South Side of Chicago, I mean, how could you not? And he even has the appearance like a Brother in the Nation out ‘kicking it.’
“This is a nation that says they ready for something like that. Well, okay, we’ll see.”
While young Blacks clamor to gain entry into the halls of power, the current generation of Black leaders who already have political clout vow to steadfastly represent Black interests.
Even though the Democratic Convention at times resembled a “coronation,” there was adequate “negotiation” on behalf of Blacks, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chair of the CBC. “I think that the Caucus has done quite a bit of effective negotiation,” he said in an interview on the convention floor the final night.
“But there is a difference between negotiation and making sure that the commitments are kept. And that’s why I’m going to work myself ‘to life’ to make sure that Kerry and Edwards fulfill every single promise they have made to the Caucus. And they have made numerous promises with regard to housing, small business, education, and health, that will affect many of our constituents.
“So, my concern is that–and I’ve said it 50 million times–I’ve told them and I’ll tell anybody who comes in contact with me: They simply cannot win, they cannot win without the African American vote, and a substantial African American vote. It is my duty and those of members of the Caucus, and those that are supporting this ticket, to constantly remind them.
“Now we’ve got to go the next three months, make sure that he continues to keep his commitments with regard to people in this campaign. Then, once he wins, we’ve got to make sure that we hold his feet to the fire,” said Mr. Cummings. “I know that there are people in the back room shadow-boxing, and not only shadow-boxing, I mean demanding and basically fighting to make sure we get what we deserve.
“If we are the ones who take them over the top, and we are the most loyal constituency to the Democratic Party, then we ought to receive the benefit of the proportion of our significance to the winning numbers for Kerry and for Edwards,” Mr. Cummings concluded.
Young people feel the same way. “If John Kerry or President Bush really address the war on poverty and ignorance, they could rally more people,” said Mr. Simmons. “Chasing those same two people who haven’t decided yet (for whom to vote) may be a waste of their money. They should be looking to inspire people by saying things that are meaningful. Giving people a reason to vote.
“And then maybe the numbers, the big increase that we’re going to deliver to the polls can be even bigger, if someone speaks in a meaningful way.”