Yes, my Badger friends, I’m coming back. You better have my cheese curds ready.
This weekend is the 15th anniversary United Students against Sweatshops (USAS) National Conference – a big deal in its own right. This year, though, in honor of the Wisconsin labor uprising that began exactly one year ago this week, USAS is holding their conference at UW-Madison. And they asked me to give me the keynote performance on Saturday night. International student-labor spoken word solidarity in Wisconsin? Oh hell yes.
This is going to be a special event for me, in many ways. When I was a student at UW-Madison, I was a member of our USAS group, the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC). SLAC was really where I cut my teeth as an organizer, where I learned how to build coalitions between farm boys and sorority girls, develop campaigns that targeted capitalism in bite-size chunks, and realize that yes – if we’re smart, united, and put some flavor in our fight – we can win.
We were SLACkers who were anything but lazy. I can’t even remember all the campaigns: fighting privatization and tuition hikes, demanding better conditions for immigrant workers and campus employees, ensuring university apparel was made in unionized factories instead of sweatshops. And every Thursday night after our meetings, we’d go to Nick’s Cafe on State Street for plenty of beer and blueberry pie. Hey, we were college students — solidarity was a struggle, but it was a damn good party too.
In my book, USAS is the most important, most effective national student organization on the Left. It’s impressive how they’ve changed the game on so many campuses (and helped lay the groundwork for things like the Wisconsin uprising and Occupy Wall Street) over the last 15 years. I can’t wait to join the current crew of 400+ student activists this weekend and see what they’ve got planned for the next wave.
And speaking of waves, there’s no way I’m coming to Madison without seeing my old friends at First Wave. I can’t tell you how proud I am that the little university hip-hop arts program we co-founded in 2006 is now on its 5th class of incoming student artists on a full scholarship, touring new theater works in New York and London, and currently facilitating a lecture course on hip-hop education that was recently featured on CNN.
I’m going to be in town for the Monday night lecture series, which just so happens to be featuring two good friends and Bay Area hip-hop heroes. I’ll be sitting in on the event, possibly for a short performance, possibly just to be part of the discussion. Either way, it’s going to be a good one.
From the picket line to the cipher, just a regular couple days in good old Wisconsin…
Saturday, February 18
USAS National Conference — UW-Madison
8:00pm. Union South, UW-Madison campus.
For conference participants only.
Monday, February 20
Hip Hop Pedagogy and Politics — UW-Madison
Hosted by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and OMAI / First Wave.
Alongside Dawn-Elissa Fisher & Davey D.
7:00pm. Grainger Hall, UW-Madison Campus
Free and open to the public.