Steady On Her Grind











{November 29, 2010}   Ladies First

Yes, I’m Pep and there ain’t nobody
Like my body, yes, I’m somebody
No, I’m sorry, I’m-a rock this Mardis Gras
Until the party ends, friends
Yes, I’m blessed, and I know who I am
I express myself on every jam
I’m not a man, but I’m in command
Hot damn, I got an all-girl band”- Salt N Pepa, “Expression”

“Who the fuck want war?
Fed-Ex beef straight to your front door.
It’ll be a murder scene,
I’m turning Pink Friday to Friday the 13th.”-L’il Kim, “Black Friday”

“Rap is what you do.  Hip-Hop is what you live.”- KRS ONE


This past holiday, Twitter was abuzz over hip-hop’s latest feud between Young Money’s sole female rhyming sensation Nicki Minaj, and Bad Boy’s former sole Queen Bee,  L’il Kim.  Attempting to pinpoint the source of this bizarre beef will ultimately prove to be a futile task.  Instead, ponder this:  Twenty years ago,  in addition to being able to see Salt, Pep, and Spinderella move the crowds in their videos, one could also see Queen Latifah and Monie Love shout out women everywhere on “Ladies First”, and MC Lyte tell the tale of “Poor Georgie.”  A decade ago, Missy Elliott & Eve spit verses alongside heavyweights Nas & Q-Tip on Elliott’s Number One single “Hot Boyz”, which spent sixteen weeks at the top of the charts.  Now, in 2010, as Nicki Minaj rides the wave of both critical acclaim and mainstream success from a style that at least in spirit appears to be partially influenced by both Elliott & L’il Kim, the latter has chosen to enter into another time-honored tradition amongst female rappers (and not to be outdone, reality show stars as well); tearing each other down, rather than build each other up.

“We believe that women of color are in a state of emergency.,” says Kathleen Adams, co-founder of Momma’s Hip-Hop Kitchen, an event that since 2008, has exclusively showcased female artists and also aims to serve as a platform for community organizing, as well as empower women on issues that directly affect them such as HIV, and reproductive rights.  “There’s a lack of representation available with mass media.  Women are being attacked and exploited not only via hip-hop but also due to our community’s  culture.  Women aren’t being respected.”  And just what are Kathleen’s thoughts on the Harajuku Barbie?  “If she could be more of an advocate with sexuality like Lady Gaga, she hasn’t taken an activist stance on issues.  When asked about her sexuality, she doesn’t ever give an upfront answer.  She has a lot of personas, you never know [just who she is].  It’s just kind of weird.  I don’t think there should be a feud.  L’il Kim said she wanted to be a black Pam Anderson; Nicki Minaj has her Barbie persona.”

While Kathleen’s love affair with hip-hop began innocently enough with the mid 90’s one hit wonder Skee-Lo’s wistful tune “I Wish” (“I was super young…that’s the first thing I got with my brother.”), she admits to becoming disappointed with it as she grew older.  “I fell out of love with hip-hop at the end of high school, going to college.  I was becoming a woman, turning into an adult, dating and exploring the world.  A lot of the interactions I had with men were influenced by hip-hop.   I didn’t like the way I was treated….I didn’t wanna ‘drop it like it’s hot’.  I didn’t feel like I was respected or valued; it was crazy.”

The idea for Momma’s Hip-Hop Kitchen was born in hip-hop’s birthplace, the South Bronx.  Kathleen, who currently serves on the board of Advocates for Youth’s Young Women of Color Leadership Council, began volunteering in the area when she met emcee Lah Tere of Rebel Diaz, and had “a meeting of the minds.”   “Hip-Hop was initially started to spread messages, feelings, emotions, and make change.  People rapped about their situations….[now] hip-hop/rap changed so much there’s no substance to it all, so let’s take it back to its roots.  We just thought ‘Yeah something needs to be done, women aren’t involved in the conversation at all, let’s just have it focused on women’.”

The first event was held in 2008 in New York City and in addition to musicians, featured visual artists, theatre, dance, and poets.  A typical guest’s experience should go something like this:  “When you walk into the lobby, you’d see a plethora of community organizations, and vendors.  You’d see a DJ doing turntable tricks, bomba dancers.  You can see great artwork from visual artists, you can see spoken word poets, at the end of the event, you’ll receive a compilation of the artists for free.  [One can] meet and network, reunite with old friends.  It’s early in the afternoon, and safe for the family to come.  Sometimes we have an afterparty, it’s just a great free afternoon.”  One can also receive free HIV testing.  “We really encourage our audience to be HIV tested.  The goal is to make sure we’re staying protected.  My goal, my passion is to lower the rate amongst communities of color.”

Much to the surprise of the organizers, MMHK exceeded its attendance expectations.  “We thought seventy-five people were gonna come.  It was all word of mouth, social media.  Five hundred people came.”

Since that auspicious beginning, it has become a yearly event held in the Bronx,  and as a result of the warm reception they’ve received, as well as requests to hold the event in other cities, there are plans to do so in the Midwest.  “We’ve had a lot of great feedback.  Initially we weren’t trying to do this every year.  But now we’ve formed a company, an LLC, we have fiscal sponsorship.”

Kathleen double majored in women’s studies and urban studies with a concentration in architecture and a minor in environmental policy as a student at Fordham University and is currently working to earn a Masters In Urban Studies, (and later on plans to get a Masters In Architecture) there as well.  So naturally her advice to young women looking to get in the hip-hop game is to “stay in school.  You really have to have talent, to know the business, you have to be professional.  Women know ‘If I use my sexuality and sex, I’m more likely to get attention’.” [But] if she had the knowledge of how the industry works, she’d realize, you can still have commercial success and keep your clothes on.”

The next MMHK is scheduled to happen on March 5th, 2011, and applications for artists will be made available on their website.



{November 8, 2010}   She Ain’t No…

The previous post was about a woman who took her activism off the Internet and straight to the streets.  This next piece also concerns activism in the digital age and is about a woman who is using the Internet and mobile technology to address a centuries-long problem that happens to millions of women everyday:  Street Harassment.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily May back in 2005 when she and a group of friends began HollabackNYC.com, which has evolved from a feminist blog to a global feminist revolution.

photo courtesy of iHollaback.org

 

“I think the Internet is our new campfire.  We can take a story that’s completely isolating, and make it sharable,” says Emily May, co-founder and Executive Director of iHollaback.org, which since 2005, has given women and members of the LGBT community who’ve experienced street harassment a place to air their grievances, and in hip-hop parlance, put those fools on blast if they wish, with an accompanying photo.   On iHollaback, one can read thousands of personal accounts with men that can run the gamut from annoying to terrorizing.

“Feminism had addressed harassment in the workplace in the 80s and 90s, but hasn’t addressed harassment on the street, because they haven’t had a way to address it. With harassment in the home, one can file a legal charge, in the workplace, sue the pants off companies, ” says Emily.  But what to do on the street, where a frustrated woman’s decision to fight back with her own words could end in her being assaulted or even murdered?

“I really think our generation can address this daily form of discrimination and harassment in a way others couldn’t because of the Internet.  It really comes down to education and awareness.  Street Harassment is already illegal in New York City, but it’s not enforced.”

HollaBackNYC.com was inspired in part by the actions of Thao Nguyen, who Emily calls “the Rosa Parks of street harassment.”  During the summer of ’05, Ngyuen used her cameraphone to take what turned out to be a crucial snapshot of restaurateur Dan Hoyt, who masturbated in front of her while they were in a subway car.  After learning that the authorities weren’t interested in her piece of evidence while filing a report, she posted Hoyt’s photo on the website flickr.com, where it was seen by nearly 45,000 people.  It was also featured on the front page of the Daily News, which led to more women identifying Hoyt.  He was eventually arraigned on four counts of public lewdness the following fall.

“She was young, a woman of color, she was a girl, and this guy was middle class, lover of extreme sports, white guy.  She was really able to turn the lens off of her and back onto him. She also created a citywide conversation about public masturbation.  She just did it because she thought it was the right thing. [We thought]  let’s take this model and let’s use it, to not discuss just masturbation, but groping, and other things that happen on the street.”

A year after the launching the blog, HollabackNYC was contacted by women who wished to start Hollaback chapters in their own cities.  “We really felt strongly about what local activists could do, instead of just having a warehouse of street harassment stories.  We wrote a startup packet, and whenever someone contacted us, we gave them a startup packet.”

According to Emily, in 2009, twenty Hollabacks had been formed and by 2010, only three remained active.  “ …the model of giving startup packets didn’t really work.  What we wanted to do was something that really maintained this idea of giving local control to different Hollabacks.  We wanted people to really own it…we wanted people to be part of a larger movement.”

One of the ways iHollaback has done that is by continuing to embrace new mobile technologies that have emerged during the past five years.  Their applications for both the iPhone and the Droid have been launched in the United States this past Friday, and Emily also partnered with RightRides on a mapping project that lets people map their encounters with street harassment experiences in real time.  There are currently chapters of Hollaback that have been started in France, England, and even in Israel.

iHollaback are themselves part of a renewed reaction to the problem of street harassment.  This past September, after writer Elizabeth Mendez Berry’s op-ed piece Street Harassment:  The Long Walk Home appeared in the newspaper El Diario, Queens Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, whose district was already receiving complaints from school administrators about students being harassed on their way to school,called a two-day hearing on the topic.  It was the first of its kind held in an American city.

“It was really incredible, there was an all women crowd.  Fourteen people ended up testifying, it was so beautiful.  So many people came forward,” says Emily.

Some of the possible solutions iHollaback proposed in their testimony were a study that would examine which communities were directly affected by street harassment and its resulting consequences, and also a “harassment free” zone near schools.

“It was a positive response, the City Council latched on to the first two ideas, they were hesitant  about the [harassment free zone] idea, because of free speech.   We got ridiculous press on it, because the AP wire was there.   The story got picked up by 200 outlets, we’ve been watching the story on the news, there’s been really positive feedback.   It was totally historic.”

The Astronomical Kid’s “Stop Lookin’ At My Moms” Video, which was screened at the hearing.

Emily earned her Bachelor’s Degree from NYU and her Master’s from the London School of Economics, and in 2008, she won the Stonewall Women’s Award.  Last year she was a 2009 Progressive Women’s Voices Fellow and the Women’s Media Center also recently selected her as one of thirty “Women Making History”.  Before  beginning her work with iHollaback, she helped teenagers obtain their GEDs and find jobs, and also worked with mentally ill adults.  “It’s a pretty dramatic shift in gears for me.  From doing that work to this work, there are very different cultures surrounding it.  I think these issues interest me, front and center.  I think that moving forward, I will have more space for it.”

Her advice for younger activists is “to be a badass.”   “I still feel like I’m learning so much.   I think being in a leadership role is terrifying but being a lady on top of it, we’re socialized to be mediators, socialized to think before we speak; if all you do is trying to do all the things you’ve been socialized to do, you won’t be able to kind of break out and inspire people.  I think that the number one lesson I’ve learned, is if you want to be change the world, you have to be a badass.  Believe in yourself, know you are coming from a good place and a right place.   One voice can’t change the world, but one more voice in the conversation is the only voice that does change things. ”




{November 2, 2010}   Know Your Rights!
Iana

Iana and members of Civil Rights Fast party in the street

Members of Civil Rights Fast holding vigil with Dan Choi
As I began writing this on Halloween towards the end of what has been a gruesome midterm election season, I realized that October had nothin’ on September in regards to its ghastliness.   The families of Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas,  Raymond Chase, Seth Walsh, and too many others unfortunately witnessed the harsh effects of such ghastly intolerance up close.  ”When I was in college, I had a friend who was a dancer,” says Iana Equality Di Bona of the group Queer SOS.  “He wanted to bring his boyfriend home and couldn’t because both of his parents were bigots, and didn’t accept him for who he was.”    She admits being affected by her friend’s plight.  “I didn’t understand how a parent could disown their child.”

Iana and other members of Queer SOS also can’t understand how politicians can idly stand by and do nothing but give lip service to a few high-profile issues such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and Gay Marriage without addressing another fundamental issue:  Civil Rights.

Which is why for the past thirty-six days they have been holding a round-the-clock vigil across the street from Sen.  Kirsten Gillibrand’s office in Midtown Manhattan demanding that she file the American Equality Bill, which would allow the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity into the 1964 Civil Rights Act.   The obvious question some may have is why Gillibrand and not Sen. Schumer, who has been in Washington for far longer and has more clout?  ”She’s the appropriate person to ask, and she’s our ally,” says Di Bona referencing Gillibrand’s support for ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).   Iana is yet to meet Sen.  Gillibrand in person, however, “…Several vigilers spoke to her last Saturday in Brooklyn, and asked about her position on the American Equality Bill. Her response was that she’s working on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and ENDA, and has an election to win.  That was her response.”

“We have spoken to her state director, her pr person, her staff, they see us every day.  We go to her office to say ‘Hello, we’re out there’.  But yeah, she knows.  We have people calling, emailing, my father has called, my mother has called, friends have called and emailed.”

” [Gillibrand] says it’s easier to fight in pieces for things, which I think  is unacceptable.  Partial equality is not equality.  We want federal equality.  I don’t want to wait a single moment longer.”

“We will not disappear,” is a phrase that was uttered by Iana not only during our interview, but also when she, along with other activists including DADT activist and ex-serviceman Dan Choi were chained to a fence at the White House.  “Anyone that thinks they’re in power needs to know that. I’m not going to disappear.”

By the time you read this come November 2nd, Queer SOS will have evolved into Civil Rights Fast and will be, you guessed it, fasting round the clock until their goal is reached.  “We are escalating into a fast because our senator has yet to file our civil rights bill.   We hope she will now listen to us and file that bill.  That our community, LGBT, straight, everyone alike will rally behind this sacrifice.”

In an era where activism has gone online and made huge strides through websites such as MoveOn.org, and through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, it seems rare these days to see actions that are steeped in the roots of past activists like MLK, Chavez, and Milk in 2010.

“Those tools, Facebook, Twitter, E-mailing, those are the means to cultivate each other into one space and then go do-that ‘s the point of it-to bring people together.”  She quotes her fellow vigiler Alan Bounville’s call to “Get off the computer.  Get on the street.  The real church is on the street, not on the computer.  [After watching footage of the Homophobia Kills Die-In]  I said to myself, ‘this is church’ “.

“It’s really about agitating our politicians, our people, in any which way.  Any response is a good response,” Iana says.  This is about them, where they feel they are right now in their lives, what dreams they have for themselves, how far they’re willing to go. I know how far I’m willing to go.”

Iana has been involved in activism since her  college days at CUNY-Hunter College, and after receiving her Masters in Urban Affairs continued to work with various social justice groups.  Queer SOS was developed by Iana, Todd Fernandez, one of the authors of the AEB, and Alan Bounville.  The idea for the vigil came about over the summer.  “Alan and I were on the road, doing civil disobedience training from the Midwest to the West Coast…in the midst of it, Todd brought this idea to us, and we started off on the 27th [of September].”

Iana’s advice for young activists looking to fight for what they believe in is to “Follow your instincts, do what feels right.   Keep yourself open to those who are available and those who want to be educated.”

Iana sits with gifts from passersby

Queer SOS/Civil Rights Fast’s time on 26th street has been full of moments with those who wish to learn more about civil rights, or simply support their cause.  “I’ve always known for a very long time, that people are good.  There’s a very small percentage of what you call bad people.  People are generally very good to each other.   People let us use their facilities.   They bring us coffee, food, when I woke up, there was money by my head.  We wake up with shoes on our feet.  People come up to us with hot chocolate.”

There have, however, been some rocky moments, such as receiving a disorderly conduct summons.  “We’re not being disorderly, our senator is.”

Overall, the experience has been enlightening for Iana.  “This neighborhood is amazing.  I’m gonna feel like I’m missing a part of me when I leave.  Thirty-five days, over a month out here.  They’re all so supportive.  When we got the summons, the doormen came to us and made sure we were okay. ”

When a man who initially thought Iana was homeless learned the real reason why she was out on the street, his offer of money turned into an offer for a Bible.  Iana’s response?   “The moment you looked at me, when you were moved to put your hand in your pocket and help me, I want you to go with that feeling, because that is humanity in action.  We got to keep going that way, and then we can get things done.”

 

(Photos and video used with permission from http://www.civilrightsfast.com)



et cetera