“Hip Hop has always been political” – activist
RT: Thank you so much for being with us today. Now, obviously, you have many opinions, you are very good at expressing your point of view. Can you do a little freestyle for us and tell our viewers about Lennox Yearwood Jr as a person?
LY: Oh, no! There is one phrase “Power to the People!” I am not a rapper or a rhymer but it’s “Power to the People!” I think that the goal of the Hip Hop Caucus is to organize, mobilize and energize our community to be really at the table, to be at the forefront of politics in America.
RT: So, hip-hop and political life. Talk about the link between the two. Because when people think about these two things, they can’t think that they clash a lot of times, right?
LY: Well, they really shouldn’t. I think that hip-hop has always been political. I mean it has always been, as I said, [what] we call the CNN for urban communities and, really, it has been our way to express to all communities that now across the land are using hip-hop to be the language of the oppressed. And what is seen now with hip-hop, people shouldn’t be surprised to see it more political.
RT: And talking about the Hip-Hop Caucus, what is your role in it, what is this organization all about?
LY: Hip-Hop Caucus is, I would say, [a] civil rights, human rights organization for the 21st century. It’s a very diverse organization, but that is black people. But it’s black, it’s brown, it’s yellow, it’s red, male, female, atheist, theist…it’s a new generation that is emerging in the 21st century. And the diplomacy of using our cultural expression to [be] our political experience, it really moves things forward. And so our most important goal is this: when there’s poverty, we want to end it. People don’t have health care, they are in bad schools. We want to get them health care; we want to get them good schools. When they are hurting in the richest country in the world, who wants to fix that? So our goal here is to give voice to the voiceless in America.
RT: What are the most important issues? What’s the agenda you are pushing for?
LY: Well, this is an effort as all. I mean one of our key issues is the climate – we have the Green and Black Program in which we are trying to engage people in urban communities – from conservation to having good green jobs. But also things that have been forming problems in America: things ranging from poverty and a lack of resources to police brutality, to a number of issues that we are obviously working on. We are working on one issue right now – to get more people involved with the Constitution, the one thing that always helps governing process, and get them engaged right now. Therefore, the Hip-Hop Caucus is at the forefront of the political spirit of getting young people more engaged in politics.
RT: Now, you have this agenda, [and] you obviously support Barrack Obama. But many experts have said, you know, that some of the changes he promised during his election campaign are not quite being fulfilled, especially [that] his foreign policy is more like George W. Bush’s foreign policy. How do you, on the one hand, wholeheartedly support Barrack Obama and then state your message because sometimes these things don’t always coincide?
LY: I’ve always said that we obviously support democracy. It doesn’t really matter that we are not making Congress. We are not trying to push for a Democratic Congress or a Republican Congress, we are looking for a human Congress. I am making a hip-hop “no war” campaign where we put out the images of the Iraqi refugees. I personally have been roughed up fighting to end this war. I think that what we want to do is to make sure that our Congress is a human congress and make our young people – those of us who are in their twenties, thirties, in their forties and teens – sure that this world is a better place. And so I decided to support Barrack Obama. Well, I make sure that we understand – but it’s about supporting democracy, it’s about supporting a place where everybody is again at the table. And we know this: either you are at the table or you are on the menu. There’s no in-between in that process. So we want more people in this process to be at the table to make sure that their voices are heard. So, this is great to have Barrack Obama as president. But things such as torture we need to end. Things like endless wars from Afghanistan to Iraq; they need to come to a close. We ought to go for diplomacy, so we are not just wholeheartedly supporting blindly someone’s policy, but make sure that this is an agenda for the 21st century.
RT: Now, speaking on that agenda, it’s kind of progressive, and many people, rightfully so, look at the lyrics of some of the biggest hip-hop stars: violence towards women, disrespect for women, you know; drug use and things that don’t really coincide with that agenda. How do you respond to that, because Barrack Obama himself during his campaign shied away from some of those lyrics. He said: “Look, I don’t condone those lyrics, I don’t support that”. So, as the president of the Hip-Hop Caucus you probably come up to this quite a bit in trying to send your message. So, how do you confront that?
LY: I think that if you refer to the Hip-Hop Caucus as the President of the Hollywood Caucus who can do images in entertainment, I think it doesn’t really matter. Unfortunately, too many times in entertainment there are degrading images to a woman, to people of color – there are degrading images of people who live in poor communities. And you are right, we want to obviously improve the images, but the one thing with the hip-hop community is that people who will come out of these communities will keep saying about what their experiences are. I don’t think it’s fair to ask somebody…there are no drugstores in their neighborhood, the police are beating up the people in their communities, they are strip joints and they take drugs – that is an experience in which a teenage girl or boy are growing up. And you cannot expect them to speak and talk about “So, how the sun is shining, and it’s so wonderful!” No, they are going to say how bad it is sometimes. And that’s changing. That’s what the Hip-Hop Caucus wants to do. We want to change the environment, and if we change the environment which now has an impact on the lyrics, don’t expect that change the environment and expect the lyrics to be the same as well.
RT: Now, rappers and hip-hoppers start campaigning for candidates. Is it really anything new? Once candidates are already in the White House, there hasn’t really been a momentum. How do you sustain that interest? How do you keep that momentum going throughout the presidency?
LY: That’s a key point. I’ve always been involved with the movement, so that is not new. So I haven’t taken a new trend at all. How do we sustain and maintain obviously the pressure, or make a sort of policy that we want for our community, for the White House? We must continue to organize, mobilize and energize the masses. We must reach out to people where an institution is void. Those who are going to college or those who are doing quite well in the middle class – go to the barber shops, to the beauty saloons, go to the black as we call it and get them engaged; get them organized. Go to those communities to really find change.
RT: Now, you yourself were arrested a year and a half ago by the Capitol Hill police when you tried to get into a testimony which General Petraeus was giving on the war in Iraq. Tell me a bit about that experience and how that has shaped your sense.
LY: Well, before becoming the president of the Hip-Hop Caucus…I was an air force officer. I was obviously ready to protect the Constitution from foreign and domestic enemies. But in that process I also recognized that what we were doing with the war in my good conscience was wrong and that we would have the effects that we have- we’ll have millions who will be killed in Iraq. There will be millions who will be displaced and become refugees. Women will be forced into prostitution in Syria; people will be homeless in Jordan – we will lose this, we are losing this process – and it was important for me as an officer to go to another officer. I know that when officers lie, soldiers die. And so for me, going to the Petraeus’ hearing was important. We’ve seen thousands of people yelling and screaming, getting organized against this war in Iraq. So it was just important for me to go and hear, but unfortunately in that process there are still some things to work out. And that the voice of sense can sometimes be squashed. And despite the fact that I was beaten and bruised, the experience is still strong to keep fighting against these wars and to keep fighting for diplomacy to reign in our land.
RT: What’s your end goal? When you can kind of sit back and say “well’ I’ve accomplished something for my community?” What’s that point for you?
LY: For me, obviously, I think it’s for future generations. In what we got is forgetting the climate to make sure that we are fighting poverty and pollution, and see that people who are living next to coal plants do not get sick. It’s one thing. One of my goals will always be poverty. Babies who are growing up were almost dead before they were born. As they grow up they don’t have any food to eat. I think I can slow [that] down a little bit. I want people to be educated in schools, so I say for me that it may not be in my lifetime but if we put things in place, so that in twenty years, forty years or one hundred years from now we can be in a place where poverty no longer exists. We are now ruining our planet with greenhouse gases, we are in a place where people from Russia, Africa and America can live and be what they want to be. And we support them as people, and that’s when the end game is over. When you can be this human in this place called the world and if that happens, then we really all can have a rest.