I spend a lot of time telling political organizers the importance of art & culture in creating the space for social change. 9 times out of 10, the organizer’s response is, “Sure, yeah, that sounds great. Can you run me some poll numbers on that?”
But that one other time, when you meet someone who really gets it, great things can happen. That was the case with The Progressive magazine and its forward-thinking editor, Matt Rothschild, who I first met in Madison during the early days of the movement against the ongoing Iraq War. Last year, Matt approached me about somehow bringing the energy of the spoken word movement into the political dialogue fostered by the magazine. Less than a month later, the Progressive Spoken Word series was born.
Over the last year, I curated a weekly video for The Progressive’s website, showcasing a range of spoken word artists, musicians, and comedians “using their voices to rewrite the American narrative.” We’ve gotten a great response, and exposed new audiences to the power and potential of these cultural innovators. Now a year later, I’m turning over the editorial reins to my friend and comrade Isaac Miller, not a shabby poet himself.
But before I go, I want to share the full series thus far. This list of videos is for everyone who’s asked me, “Josh, where can I get good spoken word besides Def Poetry Jam?” This is a resource for educators, for activists…and yes, for us artists too! Study your craft! And know that your poem can move a crowd bigger than your local slam.
You can check the series at http://progressive.org/spokenword. Here in the order they appeared (not by ranking) are all 46 videos from the last year. I’m highlighting some of my favorites, along with the accompanying commentary, below.
Not feeling my choices? Then put that glass of haterade down, and add your own.
The Progressive Spoken Word Video Series
Kyle “Guante” Myhre is an emcee, poet, and activist based out of Minneapolis, MN. With “Family Business,” he offers more than a working class manifesto, he provides a chessboard glimpse into the everyday hope & heartbreak of janitors and teachers, farmers and soldiers. Our current recession was made by the kings and queens of the world, but it’s us pawns who get swept off the board the quickest. What would happen if we could do more than just march straight forward?
7. Nate Marshall and Demetrius Amparan: “Lost Count: A Love Story”
8. Mark Gonzales – “Made in America”
9. Patricia Smith – “Skinhead”
10. Saul Williams – “Pledge of Resistance”
11. George Yamazawa – “Brown Titans”
12. Paul Flores – “Brown Dreams”
13. Public Enemy – “By The Time I Get To Arizona”
14. Chris Rock – “Gun Control”
Sometimes political activists need to think outside the box. Sometimes we just need a good, hard laugh. Chris Rock provides both in this bit, tackling one of the most divisive, deadly issues in the country. As he points out, maybe we’re trying to regulate the wrong piece of metal.
15. Queen GodIs – “…In the Mirror”
16. Rafael Casal – “My Miller Chill”
17. Ryan Hurley – “Monuments”
18. Kevin Coval – “Hero Israel”
19. Staceyann Chin – “Feminist or a Womanist”
20. Rebel Diaz – “Which Side Are You On?”
21. Danny Glover reads “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes
This coming weekend is the Fourth of July, and let me tell it like it is: I love this country. I love the Rockies mountains, I love The Roots, I love the beautiful people in ugly situations from DC to Oakland. I love America — almost as much as I hate how it doesn’t live up to its promises. Freedom and justice for all? The record hasn’t been that pretty. It’s up to we, the people, to hold the country to its highest standards. America’s greatest poet, Langston Hughes, says it best in this piece, as read by Danny Glover: “Let America Be America Again.”
22. Dahlak Brathwaite “Just another Routine Check”
23. Common – “Letter to the Law”
24. Sierra DeMulder – “Paper Dolls”
25. Danny Hoch – “PSA”
26. Blue Scholars – “Back Home”
27. George Watsky – “Carry the One”
28. Pharoahe Monch – “Push”
29. Amiri Baraka – “Someone Blew Up America”
30. Sunni Paterson – “We Know this Place”
31. Michael Cirelli – “Culture”
32. Gil Scott Heron – “Whitey on the Moon”
33. Martin Espada – “Alabanza”
If the earth of Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers stood before 9/11 is sacred ground, then all the people who died that day in those towers are sacred too. All the people — including the immigrant workers who kept all 100+ floors clean, safe, and operable. Should there be a mosque near Ground Zero? Sure, why not. But if we want to honor all those who made the towers what they were, there should also be a union hall.
34. John Legend & The Roots – “Wake Up Everybody”
35. Yosimar Reyes – “for colored boys that speak softly”
36. Ryan Red Corn – “Bad Indians”
37. Brother Ali – “Uncle Sam Goddamn”
38. Aracelis Girmay – “Arroz Poetica”
39. Mahaliyah O – “Reclaim”
Red state/blue state. Liberal/conservative. Crazy redneck/crazy hippie. With the midterm elections this week, we’re sure to hear about how deeply divided our country is. Yes, there are profound disagreements over certain issues, but like Jon Stewart pointed out in his rally in DC, “we can have animus without being enemies.” Echoing that point, here is a brilliant young poet, Mahaliyah O, who had a personal run-in with the other side in her own town, the People’s Republic of Berkeley.
40. K’Naan – “Take a Minute”
41. Lauren Whitehead – Whiplash
42. Common Market – Escaping Arkham
43. Tara Betts – “Erasure”
44. Welfare Poets – “Fed Up”
45. Josh Healey – “Why I Write (#137)”
46. 2Pac – “Keep Ya Head Up”
It’s a new year, and we pray it will be a year of greater peace, fuller justice, and shared union with the earth. Truth is, we know all that won’t happen in 2011. So as we build our movements and go through our daily struggles, do as the late, great Tupac Shakur – the most influential poet of the last 20 years – says, and keep ya head up.