|Lord of the Flys Collegiate?|
October 31, 2009
October 30, 2009
The month of October was a busy one. One day alone had:
- the NDP choosing the next leader, and Premier of Manitoba.
- The irony being that it was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
- CFS-MB activists protesting at the NDP convention.
- The second annual Four Directions walk ( <= PDF link ) happening simultaneously with the CFS protest, culminating with a rally at the legislature later that day. (see the justice charter PDF here)
It was a busy October 17th.
BUT ON NOVEMBER 5th, the DAY OF ACTION, the issues of poverty and the need for education to eliminate it will be made known even further.
video from one campus.
But isn't poverty of epic proportion?
another video from another campus.
Event Details (from target poverty website)
Venue: Manitoba Legislature; Brandon University
City: Winnipeg and Brandon
Starting: Thursday, November 05, 2009 (12:00 pm)
Ending: Thursday, November 05, 2009 (2:00 pm)
Cost: Just bring your noisemaker and dress for the weather!
The Target Poverty campaign culminates in a November 5 day of action.
Contact us if you want to organise an event for November 5 in your community or at your school.
And don't forget to sign up here for regular campaign updates:
Contact: Jonny Sopotiuk
|targetpoverty (AT) targetpoverty.ca
the web and blogosphere highlights column
WFMU' beware of the Blog is a highly entertaining blog in terms of music and what odd things it can dig up .
The following two links are highly educational in WWII history, swing music and propaganda:
On October 23-26, over 1000 youth from across Canada Converged on Ottawa to take a message of bold, comprehensive and immediate federal climate action to Parliament Hill. Power Shift consisted of two days of training, strategy and action and one mass lobby day to hold our elected officials accountable to for their part to solve the climate crisis, and to build a cohesive and effective youth climate movement. This was the largest-ever gathering of young people on the environment in Canadian history.
The enormous challenges we currently face are also powerful opportunities. We know that the solutions to the global warming and energy crises will also pave the way to recovery from our current economic crisis. Youth in Canada are ready to build a green jobs economy that provides stable employment while addressing our moral and legal obligations to reduce our emissions and address the climate crisis. Power Shift was made to focus on our potential to overcome the challenges of the 21st century, build a clean energy economy, create millions of green jobs, increase global equity, and revitalize our economy.
These solutions can and must be carried out in a just and equitable manner that respects the rights and heeds the voices of urban and rural communities, low-income people, workers, new immigrants, marginalized communities, and Indigenous Peoples. On behalf of the most diverse generation in Canadian history we ask for nothing short of a clean and just energy future for all of us.
The conference joins a formidable global movement of young people who are stepping up our leadership on climate in the U.S., the U. K., and Australia.
The goals of Power Shift Canada 2009 were to:
1. Understand the magnitude of both the challenges and opportunities presented by the climate crisis and explore our own capacities to create transformative change.
2. Push the federal government to pass bold, comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Government must also connect this legislation to comprehensive job creation and just transition strategies for Canada’s hard-hit sectors in an effort to protect and promote good-paying jobs for Canadian workers.
3. Prepare our leaders and our movement for the international climate negotiations in December 2009 where we will do our part to build and ratify a strong and progressive global climate agreement.
4. Develop a comprehensive strategy for continued political pressure among young Canadians and a shared vision to help facilitate the creation and implementation of individual and group action plans for local, provincial and national campaigns.
5. Strengthen the bonds between diverse youth constituencies while we train and empower each other with the skills needed to create one movement that identifies the inherent links between climate change, environmental and social injustice, and economic hardship, and that is prepared to tackle these challenges head-on.
6. Connect with fellow organizers in the spirit of solidarity and community to sustain this mobilization over the long-term.
To develop these goals, bold climate and energy legislation mussed be passed. Our generation calls on the Federal Government to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation in 2009-10 that adheres to the following principles:
1. Reduce Carbon Emissions Immediately
* Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the targets science tells us are necessary: 25%-40% below 1990 levels by 2020; and 80%-95% below 1990 levels by 2050
* Implement an effective national plan in 2010 to reach this target that focuses on absolute caps on industry emissions and includes market regulation, investment and carbon pricing. Ensure that this plan does not include special exemptions for the tar sands
* Ensure that carbon pricing is just and equitable, and make exceptions for low income individuals and families
2. Invest In Clean and Renewable Energy
* Make substantial investments in clean and sustainable energy development, protecting Canadian energy security
* Phase out subsidies to dirty fossil fuel industries such as the tar sands within five years and ensure a just transition for workers in these industries
* Refurbish and reorganize the public sector energy grid to promote smaller scale, community-controlled distributed energy production
3. Create Effective Green Jobs
* Create jobs and just transition strategies for Canada’s hard-hit sectors to protect and promote good-paying jobs for Canadian workers in the green economy
* Provide the necessary funding for Aboriginal education and training programs, with a special focus on the green economy
* Involve young people in the planning and developing of retraining projects
4. Demonstrate a Commitment to Environmental Justice
* Allocate targeted funding for impacted communities including the North, rural communities and Indigenous communities
5. Demonstrate a Commitment to Managing a Sustainable & Clean Economy
* Invest in low carbon manufacturing strategies and valued added, local production
* Make substantial investments toward housing retrofits, public mass transit, high speed inter-urban rail and short-haul marine transportation
6. Lead Canada To Do Our Part To Build and Ratify a Strong and Progressive Global Climate Agreement In December 2009
* Show leadership and work constructively with other nations to reach a strong new global climate treaty in Copenhagen that puts us on track to reduce carbon dioxide below 350 parts per million
* Assist vulnerable communities and developing countries in the transition to low-carbon economies and with adaptation to the changing climate
With the goals of Power Shift at heart, and armed with the principles of Power Shift, more than 70 group meetings were arranged with individual members of parliament to discuss these principles and propose the specific legislation to attain the goals, such as Bill C-311 and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both currently unpassed by Canadian parliament.
There are two key events on the political and environmental horizon: the 15th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009, and the G8 Leaders’ Summit in Huntsville, ON in July 2010. The Canadian public values international leadership and expects to see Canada taking progressive, principled positions on the global stage. The goal of Power Shift was to play a key role in directing the attention of media and Canadian society to our government’s role at both events, and in setting expectations for leadership that we can be proud of.
Historically, the labour movement and the environmental movement may seem to push in separate directions, but we must not allow ourselves to think like this this any longer. Creating jobs undoubtedly accompanies the issue of the sustainability of those jobs, and land reform undoubtedly accompanies the issue of what state the land is in that is to be reformed. The very future of our existence on our one and only planet relies on the decisions we make today, and the policies and legislation needed to make those necessary decisions. The labour movement is strong and the environmental movement is strong, and legislation and policies that intertwine and unite these movements, pushing in the very same direction, has the revolutionary power that will make the change both movements need. The power needed to shift our society into sustainability will be realized when Canadian youth, and the youth of the world, recognize that it is essential to consider the environmental and labour movements as one and the same.
October 29, 2009
Dear friends and comrades,
By now many of you will have seen a copy of the new issue of Rebel Youth magazine. Lot's of positive feedback has been streaming in from around the country as Clubs begin the important work of distribution. This is the eighth issue of Rebel Youth that we have published, and we are proud to say that our magazine is continuing to improve as is the level of participation from YCL members and friends in the process of producing the magazine. This issue carries lots of really great content including coverage of the coup in Honduras, socialist democracy in Cuba, the struggles of young workers and students around Canada, and more.
Rebel Youth is starting to become more and more well known amongst progressive youth. With our goal of new issue to be released in January, and a fast approaching December 1st submission deadline, we have a two-fold task in front of us in the coming month.
First of all, it's time to distribute and aggressively promote Rebel Youth. YCL Clubs around the country will be busily ensuring that Rebel Youth gets into the hands of rebel youths. This issue should also be the issue that really starts to build our subscription base in a significant way, an absolute necessity in the process to building Rebel Youth into a regular and self-sustaining publication. You can help too!
We ask our members, friends, and supporters to purchase a subscription to Rebel Youth. It's only $12 for one year and every cent helps us to ensure the continued and improved publication of the magazine. Please consider how you, or your Club, can help. Do you have a subscription? Have you sold any subscriptions?
Fundraisers are another great way to raise money for Rebel Youth. You might be surprised how many people will help us publish Rebel Youth if given the opportunity. It doesn't have to mean renting a hall and holding a huge event, even small events and small amounts raised make a difference.
Secondly, there is no time to lose in preparing content for the next issue. The YCL is in the process of creating and seeking out content for issue number nine. The deadline for content submissions is December 1st which will leave just over one month for proofreading, editing, layout and printing. All of these can be time consuming so it is very important that content is submitted on time in order for us to stay on track!
Content can include articles on local, provincial, federal, national or international issues. You can submit cultural content or reviews of music, movies, books etc. as well as art, poetry, letters to the editor, you name it. Write while you fight! YCL Clubs should discussion what they can do to make this coming issue an success. But it's not limited to members, we welcome the submissions of all our readers. Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
With issues eight and nine we are building on the frequency of the magazines publication. It's up to all of us to continue to drive this process forward by distributing and raising the profile of the magazine, raising the funds, collecting the subscriptions and contributing to the collective process of creating and publishing the magazine.
Another way to help Rebel Youth magazine is to read and promote the Rebel Youth blog, which contains a wealth of great, frequently updated content. The blog's readership is growing and you can help! It can be as simple as posting a story on the blog to your Facebook profile. Check out the Rebel Youth blog at http://www.rebelyouth-magazine.blogspot.com/
Rebel Youth is Canada's only Marxist-Leninist, pan-Canadian, bi-lingual, youth and student magazine. Whether you are a YCL member, a subscriber or frequent reader, or a fellow activist, we look forward to hearing from you and invite you to help us build the magazine that fights for peace, jobs, education, and socialism on every page and in every issue!
Stephen Von Sychowski
Rebel Youth Content Editor
October 28, 2009
Students release Canada's Education Action Plan
OTTAWA, Oct. 19 /CNW Telbec/ - The Canadian Federation of Students released its Education Action Plan today; a blueprint for post-secondary education in Canada.
"It is time for big thinking," said Katherine Giroux-Bougard, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. "To excel in the economy of tomorrow requires leadership from the government today."
The Plan was created in advance of meetings with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley, the Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, and other elected officials. The Plan contains recommendations to increase accessibility to and the quality of colleges and universities, reduce student debt, build research capacity, increase innovation, and ensure access to higher education for Aboriginal peoples.
"Canada's Education Action Plan is a roadmap to a better future for all Canadians," said Giroux-Bougard. "Students and their families are bearing the brunt of both an economic recession and record high tuition fees. We need to act now, they can not afford for us to wait."
Released today, the Plan will be circulated to Members of Parliament and the Senate by Federation representatives.
The document is available for download at www.cfs-fcee.ca.
Founded in 1981, the Canadian Federation of Students is Canada's largest student organisation, uniting more that one-half million students in all ten provinces.
For further information: Katherine Giroux-Bougard, National Chairperson, (613) 261-7528
October 27, 2009
October 26, 2009
By IAN URBINA, New York Times
MEDFORD, Ore. — Dressed in soaked green pajamas, Betty Snyder, 14, huddled under a cold drizzle at the city park as several older boys decided what to do with her.
Betty said she had run away from home a week earlier after a violent argument with her mother. Shivering and sullen-faced, she vowed that she was not going to sleep by herself again behind the hedges downtown, where older homeless men and methamphetamine addicts might find her.
The boys were also runaways. But unlike them, Betty said, she had been reported missing to the police. That meant that if the boys let her stay overnight in their hidden tent encampment by the freeway, they risked being arrested for harboring a fugitive.
“We keep running into this,” said one of the boys, Clinton Anchors, 18. Over the past year, he said, he and five other teenagers living together on the streets had taken under their wings no fewer than 20 children — some as young as 12 — and taught them how to avoid predators and the police, survive the cold and find food.
“We always first try to send them home,” said Clinton, who himself ran away from home at 12. “But a lot of times they won’t go, because things are really bad there. We basically become their new family.”
Over the past two years, government officials and experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13. Foreclosures, layoffs, rising food and fuel prices and inadequate supplies of low-cost housing have stretched families to the extreme, and those pressures have trickled down to teenagers and preteens.
Federal studies and experts in the field have estimated that at least 1.6 million juveniles run away or are thrown out of their homes annually. But most of those return home within a week, and the government does not conduct a comprehensive or current count.
The best measure of the problem may be the number of contacts with runaways that federally-financed outreach programs make, which rose to 761,000 in 2008 from 550,000 in 2002, when current methods of counting began. (The number fell in 2007, but rose sharply again last year, and the number of federal outreach programs has been fairly steady throughout the period.)
Too young to get a hotel room, sign a lease or in many cases hold a job, young runaways are increasingly surviving by selling drugs, panhandling or engaging in prostitution, according to the National Runaway Switchboard, the federally-financed national hot line created in 1974. Legitimate employment was hard to find in the summer of 2009; the Labor Department said fewer than 30 percent of teenagers had jobs.
In more than 50 interviews over 11 months, teenagers living on their own in eight states told of a harrowing existence that in many cases involved sleeping in abandoned buildings, couch-surfing among friends and relatives or camping on riverbanks and in parks after fleeing or being kicked out by families in financial crisis.
The runaways spend much of their time avoiding the authorities because they assume the officials are trying to send them home. But most often the police are not looking for them as missing-person cases at all, just responding to complaints about loitering or menacing. In fact, federal data indicate that usually no one is looking for the runaways, either because parents have not reported them missing or the police have mishandled the reports.
In Adrian, Mich., near Detroit, a 16-year-old boy was secretly living alone in his mother’s apartment, though all the utilities had been turned off after she was arrested and jailed for violating her parole by bouncing a check at a grocery store.
In Huntington, W.Va., Steven White, 15, said that after casing a 24-hour Wal-Mart to see what time each night the cleaning crew finished its rounds, he began sleeping in a store restroom.
“You’re basically on the lam,” said Steven, who said he had left home because of physical abuse that increased after his father lost his job this year. “But you’re a kid, so it’s pretty hard to hide.”
Between Legal and Illegal
Survival on the streets of Medford, a city of 76,000 in southwest Oregon, requires runaways to walk a fine line between legal and illegal activity, as a few days with a group of them showed. Even as they sought help from social service organizations, they guarded their freedom jealously.
Petulant and street savvy, they were children nonetheless. One girl said she used a butter knife and a library card to break into vacant houses. But after she began living in one of them, she ate dry cereal for dinner for weeks because she did not realize that she could use the microwave to boil water for Ramen noodles. Another girl was childlike enough to suck her thumb, but dangerous enough to carry a switchblade.
They camped in restricted areas, occasionally shoplifted and regularly smoked marijuana. But they stayed away from harder drugs or drug dealing, and the older teenagers fiercely protected the younger runaways from sexual or other physical threats.
In waking hours, members of the group split their time among a park, a pool hall and a video-game arcade, sharing cigarettes. When in need, they sometimes barter: a sleeveless jacket for a blanket, peanut butter for extra lighter fluid to start campfires on soggy nights.
Betty Snyder, the newcomer in the park, said she had bitten her mother in a recent fight. She said she often refused to do household chores, which prompted heated arguments.
“I’m just tired of it all, and I don’t want to be in my house anymore,” she said, explaining why she had run away. “One month there is money, and the next month there is none. One day, she is taking it out on me and hitting me, and the next day she is ignoring me. It’s more stable out here.”
Members of the group said they sometimes made money by picking parking meters or sitting in front of parking lots, pretending to be the attendant after the real one leaves. When things get really desperate, they said, they climb into public fountains to fish out coins late at night. On cold nights, they hide in public libraries or schools after closing time to sleep.
Many of the runaways said they had fled family conflicts or the strain of their parents’ alcohol or drug abuse. Others said they left simply because they did not want to go to school or live by their parents’ rules.
“I can survive fine out here,” Betty said as she brandished a switchblade she pulled from her dirty sweatshirt pocket. At a nearby picnic table was part of the world she and the others were trying to avoid: a man with swastikas tattooed on his neck and an older homeless woman with rotted teeth, holding a pit bull named Diablo.
But Betty and another 14-year-old, seeming not to notice, went off to play on a park swing.
Around the country, outreach workers and city officials say they have been overwhelmed with requests for help from young people in desperate straits.
In Berks County, Pa., the shortage of beds for runaways has led county officials to consider paying stipends to families willing to offer their couches. At drop-in centers across the country, social workers describe how runaways regularly line up when they know the food pantry is being restocked.
In Chicago, city transit workers will soon be trained to help the runaways and other young people they have been finding in increasing numbers, trying to escape the cold or heat by riding endlessly on buses and trains.
“Several times a month we’re seeing kids being left by parents who say they can’t afford them anymore,” said Mary Ferrell, director of the Maslow Project, a resource center for homeless children and families in Medford. With fewer jobs available, teenagers are less able to help their families financially. Relatives and family friends are less likely to take them in.
While federal officials say homelessness over all is expected to rise 10 percent to 20 percent this year, a federal survey of schools showed a 40 percent increase in the number of juveniles living on their own last year, more than double the number in 2003.
At the same time, however, many financially troubled states began sharply cutting social services last year. Though President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package includes $1.5 billion to address the problem of homelessness, state officials and youth advocates say that almost all of that money will go toward homeless families, not unaccompanied youths.
“As a society, we can pay a dollar to deal with these kids when they first run away, or 20 times that in a matter of years when they become the adult homeless or incarcerated population,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
‘You Traveling Alone?’
Maureen Blaha, executive director of the National Runaway Switchboard, said that while most runaways, like those in Medford, opt to stay in their hometowns, some venture farther away and face greater dangers. The farther they get from home and the longer they stay out, the less money they have and the more likely they are to take risks with people they have just met, Ms. Blaha said.
“A lot of small-town kids figure they can go to Chicago, San Francisco or New York because they can disappear there,” she said.
Martin Jaycard, a Port Authority police officer in New York, sees himself as a last line of defense in preventing that from happening.
Dressed in scraggly blue jeans and an untucked open-collar shirt, Officer Jaycard, a seven-year police veteran, is part of the Port Authority’s Youth Services Unit. His job is to catch runaways as they pass through the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the nation’s busiest.
“You’re the last person these kids want to see,” he said, estimating that his three-officer unit stops at least one runaway a day at the terminal.
Pausing to look at a girl waiting for a bus to Salt Lake City, Officer Jaycard noticed a nervous look on her face and the overstuffed suitcases that hinted more at a life change than a brief stay.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he said to the girl, gently, as he pulled a badge hanging around his neck from under his shirt. “You traveling alone?”
“Yes,” she replied, without a glimmer of nervousness. “I’m 18,” she quickly added before being asked.
But the girl carried no identification. The only phone number she could produce for someone who could verify her age was disconnected. And after noticing that the last name she gave was different from the one on her bags, the officer took her upstairs to the police station.
When she arrived, she burst into tears.
“Please, I’m begging you not to send me home,” she pleaded as she sobbed into her hands. While listening, Officer Jaycard and the social worker on duty began contacting city officials to investigate her situation, and found her a place at a city shelter. “You have no idea what my father will do to me for having tried to run away,” she said, describing severe beatings at home and threats to kill her if she ever tried to leave.
The girl turned out to be 14 years old, from Queens. Shaking her head in frustration, she added, “I should have just waited outside the terminal and no one would have known I was missing.”
In all likelihood, she was right.
Lacking the training or the expertise to spot runaways, most police officers would not have stopped the girl waiting for the bus. Even if they had, her name probably would not have been listed in the federal database called the National Crime Information Center, or N.C.I.C., which among other things tracks missing people.
Federal statistics indicate that in more than three-quarters of runaway cases, parents or caretakers have not reported the child missing, often because they are angry about a fight or would simply prefer to see a problem child leave the house. Experts say some parents fear that involving the police will get them or their children into trouble or put their custody at risk.
And in 16 percent of cases, the local police failed to enter the information into the federal database, as required under federal law, according to a review of federal data by The New York Times.
Among the 61,452 names that were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children from January 2004 to January 2009, there were about 9,625 instances involving children whose missing-persons reports were not entered into the N.C.I.C., according to the review by The Times. If the names are not in the national database, then only local police agencies know whom to look for.
Police officials give various reasons for not entering the data. The software is old and cumbersome, they say, or they have limited resources and need to prioritize their time. In many cases, the police said, they do not take runaway reports as seriously as abductions, in part because runaways are often fleeing family problems. The police also say that entering every report into the federal database could make a city’s situation appear to be more of a problem than it is.
But in 267 of the cases around the nation for which the police did not enter a report into the database, the children remain missing. In 58, they were found dead.
“If no one knows they’re gone, who is going to look for them?” said Tray Williams, a spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Child Services, whose job it was to take care of 17-year-old Cleveland Randall.
On Feb. 6, Cleveland ran away from his foster care center in New Orleans and took a bus to Mississippi. His social workers reported him missing, but the New Orleans police failed to enter the report into the N.C.I.C. Ten days later, Cleveland was found shot to death in Avondale, La.
“These kids might as well be invisible if they aren’t in N.C.I.C.,” said Ernie Allen, the director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Paradise by Interstate 5
Invisibility, many of the runaways in Medford say, is just what they want.
By midnight, the group decided it was late enough for them to leave the pool hall and to move around the city discreetly. So they went their separate ways.
Alex Molnar, 18, took the back alleys to a 24-hour laundry to sleep under the folding tables. If people were still using the machines, he planned on locking himself in the restroom, placing a sign on the front saying “Out of Service.”
On the other side of the city, Alex Hughes, 16, took side streets to a secret clearing along Interstate 5.
On colder nights, he and Clinton Anchors have built a fire in a long shallow trench, eventually covering it with dirt to create a heated mound where they could put their blankets.
Building a lean-to with a tarp and sticks, Clinton lifted his voice above the roar of the tractor-trailers barreling by just feet away. He said they called the spot “paradise” because the police rarely checked for them there.
“Even if they do, Betty is not with us, so that’s good,” he added, explaining that she had found a friend willing to lend her couch for the night. “One less thing to worry about.”
October 25, 2009
Reprinted from Canada’s EXCLAIM magazine
Loud chunks of laughter are erupting from around the theatre. The music is blaring hard and heavy, and every track is received like an anthem — hands are thrown into the air and girls stand on bench seats to dance. All eyes are on the stage, where the DJ mixes for MCs who spit hard and heavy lyrics that burn and sting with bitter honesty. Beautiful girls in short shorts and baseball caps bounce to hard bass lines and snapping snares; tough looking b-boys in military fatigues and baggy jeans nod their heads while puffing on tobacco and swigging from plastic water bottles filled with white rum. A wave of power-to-the-people fists sweeps across the sea of heads after one of the MCs calls out for revolution. The breeze blows across the river and down through the palms that roof the theatre as I take a hard swig from a passing bottle. I’m standing in a crowd of MCs, breakers, bombers and DJs, all friends and fans of the spiritual entity they call hip-hop. Every single person here believes that hip-hop has the power to lift them up out of poverty, despair and destitution. Tonight, under the stars, in the middle of the open-air parque Almendares theatre, a new spiritual movement has engulfed Cuba’s youth. The way the energy pulsates amongst the beauty of nature makes clear why so many heads call this place El Templo de Hip-hop.
Just a few hours earlier, walking past the gates of El Templo, the scene was very different. Chunks of cable and wiring that ran along the ground and up walls had been stripped; bandits had ripped out the fuse box and most of the electrical work — even the outlets had been pulled from the walls. In Cuba, even the most basic electrical components are valued on the black market.
Anywhere else, this kind of disaster would have resulted in the show’s cancellation, but with time running out, organisers are trying to wire a rudimentary sound board — not doing so hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind. Our friend Alexis, a local DJ, producer and promoter who helps run El Templo, knows an electrician who can help, but not for free. So we three visiting Canadians dig into our pockets to help out. The show goes on.
Later in the afternoon, watching Alexis set up his decks — or rather, his single turntable and a beaten-up CD disc-man — the economics of the Cuban music scene are thrown into high relief. The two friends who’ve accompanied me on this trip have been here before and have come with hip-hop care packages from the land of plenty: packs of blank CDRs, sketch books, Sharpies. These simple tools will help facilitate hip-hop expression here in immeasurable ways; it’s simply the reality of hip-hop in Cuba.
For his part, Lildo “Lildeano” Rodriguez Baquero, one half of Los Aldeanos, an outspoken duo of MCs from the heart of Cuba’s underground, believes it’s an insult that anyone with money can make a record in the U.S., while their message is held back for economic reasons. “There aren’t any studios,” says Lildeano. “Instrumentals are made by a few kids with computers. Cover art isn’t easy to make. All these things cost money. In the U.S., if someone gets an idea for a song and has money, they can go try it out in a studio. Here, in Cuba, you have to line up your songs, know exactly what you want to do, save the money and only then can you record it.”
A lack of access to equipment combined with a disorganised market for the music has stumped many Cuban artists. Although strides have been made, there is only so much that can be done while living under a 40-year-old economic blockade. Graffiti artists live without spray cans. Breakers live without sneakers. MCs don’t have notebooks and DJs have only one turntable and barely any vinyl. Yet no matter how sparse these tools might be, hip-hop is alive inside of them. Their expression won’t be slowed down by want.
“Óyeme papa, hip-hop is a daily lifestyle,” says Alain “El Profe” Varona Talavera, an MC and graffiti artist who frequents El Templo. “For me, hip-hop isn’t made — it makes you. Not just through the four elements and how you speak or dress or even live your life individually, but each of those things is a way for you to express the hip-hop inside of you.”
When American hip-hop was maturing into a dominant commercial sound, Cuban hip-hop was in its infancy. Originally, the music was heard on the island through broken radio waves from Miami in the late ‘80s, or through records sent from friends and relatives Stateside. But while hip-hop was breaking out, Cuba faced a crippling economic crisis prompted by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its $6 billion in financial aid. This “special period,” as Cubans call it, was the major reason for the decline of the country’s infrastructure and social development for the next decade. Poverty sent many young Cubans out on the street, where hustling and rum were easy temptations.
Meanwhile, a former black power activist named Nehanda Abdioun was being pursued by the FBI in connection to a 1981 robbery; in 1990, she fled to Cuba where she was granted asylum. In Cuba, Abdioun became something of a den mother to the young hip-hop movement, eventually forming the Havana wing of Black August with Pablo Herrera. (Black August is a grassroots movement inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X that helps to promote social justice and political awareness through hip-hop culture. Global exchanges are facilitated by Black August to help promote the power of hip-hop culture on a global scale.) With an informed political agenda behind her, Nehanda Abdioun was key to helping young kids apply the power of hip-hop culture to the realities of their barrio.
The early years for hip-hop in Cuba were difficult. Shows were regularly shut down, and many MCs spent a night in prison instead of on stage. The government saw hip-hop culture as counter-revolutionary and the lyrical content was often misinterpreted as open criticism of the Cuban government. After years of misunderstanding and repression, the Cuban government decided to stop beating them and joined them, establishing La Agencia Cubana de Rap in 1994. The state-supervised agency still runs a state-owned hip-hop record label, publishes a Cuban hip-hop magazine, and organises major events such as the Havana hip-hop festival. (Apparently, the change of heart stemmed from a lunch during which Harry Belafonte explained hip-hop culture to Fidel Castro.) The government, specifically the ministry of culture, would eventually proclaim hip-hop the new voice of the revolution. The biggest boost for Cuban hip-hop came in 2000 with the release of the critically acclaimed debut from Cuban hip-hop act Orishas, establishing Cuba as a new head on the hip-hop block.
More than race, gender or politics, culture is the most important unifier in Cuban life and hip-hop has taken its place in it. Poet Jose Marti has inspired at least two revolutionary movements in Cuba, and quotes from musicians like Ibrahim Ferrer dot a landscape of political wall art — a long-practised tradition that links easily to hip-hop graffiti. Puerto Ricans are famed for bringing break-dancing to hip-hop, but Cubans have been stomping to rumbas and other Afro-Cuban rhythms since the early days of Spanish colonialism and slave trading. An awareness not just of their revolutionary history but of their place in a broader cultural context lends great weight to the importance of hip-hop in Cuba — after all, without a commercial market, music can hardly be co-opted for commercial purposes.
“Hip-hop culture, to me, is a religion,” says Alexis. “It’s like a religion because it shares many common things. It comes from Africa, from the Caribbean. All these movements come from these places and so does Yoruba religion. On top of all this, we have musicians making hip-hop beats with a specific Cubanismo, with roots from Yoruba and rhythms like el Abacua, el Palo, and la cumbia. It’s a fusion of the real culture that is ours, that comes from Africa.”
Love for hip-hop culture — combined with a sense of betrayal at the state of hip-hop in the U.S. — fuels a desire to keep the four elements of hip-hop alive and to spread them as much as possible.
“It’s what we see in videos,” says Reynier “Adversario” Fumero, founding member of popular hip-hop crew Maxima Reflexión. “They promote the perfection trio: money, women and cars. It seems like they’ve lost a bit of the essence of true hip-hop, the eye of the streets and the voice of life in an urban society. They’ve lost hip-hop as a manifestation of social restlessness and a commentary on your place in your surroundings — the message that started hip-hop in the late ‘70s.”
The strength of the culture should be enough to unite Cuban hip-hoppers, but the bling temptations of American hip-hop remain. Workshops are set up at El Templo to promote the four principle elements of hip-hop. People like Alexis concentrate their energy in trying to teach the younger generation about the true spirit behind hip-hop.
“From what we see here in Cuba, hip-hop in the U.S. has very little cultural roots remaining,” says Alexis. “All we see here is purely commercial. Thanks to friends who come down to Cuba, I’ve gotten to see a small amount of what I consider to be close to the revolutionary roots of hip-hop. That’s very important to us. We need to be able to show people here in Cuba that the culture of hip-hop is break-dancing, graffiti, MCing and DJing. We need to rescue many here in Cuba who are beginning to lean toward the same as those commercial artists. That stuff, es una mierda.”
The state of American hip-hop is disconcerting for many young Cubans, who feel that a powerful revolutionary tool has been lost. For Kumar, a young MC who has found a way to tap into influences such as reggae, jazz and funk to express his social message, hip-hop in the U.S. has been taken over by outside influences. “I feel very full, as opposed to those who have been taken by the trans-nationals and have become very empty and very full at the same time,” Kumar says. “Very empty spiritually and very full of money and full of mierda.”
As ghettoised as conscious hip-hop is in the North American market, it’s practically impossible to separate politics, or “consciousness,” from Cuban hip-hop, yet Cubans have a clear knowledge of the broadness of politics. Instead of seeing politics as concerning matters of government, Cubans understand that politics is part of human nature and therefore encompass all human interaction.
“Many of the MCs working in music here in Cuba are very political,” Alexis says. “They are political in the sense that they speak about and defend peace and equality for the entire world. Because of all the commercial bling-bling music that’s seen here, we’ve lost a few to that side. Those who have remained have worked very hard on helping people understand that bling-bling is not hip-hop culture. Hip-hop in Cuba is very political, very revolutionary. Defending all the rights of human beings, that’s what we teach here in El Templo.”
Yanellis “NoNo” Valdes Herrera is a sharp graffiti artist and MC; she is joined by Eyastrefrazu “La Negra” Lopez Ramos in the group Atomicas. For these two women, politics is almost all-encompassing. “My politics can be about love, about nature, of women and our rights,” says La Negra.
“Of the community,” adds NoNo.
“It doesn’t have to be something so extreme politically.”
“And if we do speak about politics it’s an international issue, not just a Cuban issue.”
Where hip-hop in North America is slow to advance female MCs and women continue to be objectified and disrespected in lyrics and music videos, women in Cuba are encouraged to be a part of the scene. In fact, when I ask Yanellis about the challenges of being a woman in hip-hop, she twists her face. “Why not women in hip-hop? If a girl has that passion to be a rapper and can do it, she should follow it. Same goes for graff artists, b-girls, DJs, whatever, as long as there are women.”
“We have the same passion but we can express hip-hop in a different way,” says La Negra. “The men need us in hip-hop.”
I’ve met MCs, breakers, graff artists and DJs here in Cuba, all who hold hip-hop close to their hearts and have not yet allowed the conditions that they live in to stop them from expressing it. Hip-hop has found a new home in Cuba and in hip-hop, Cuba has rekindled its revolutionary roots. El Templo de Hip-hop both teaches and represents the roots of this cultural movement, and in turn helps to revitalise hip-hop in a way not seen since its birth. Cubans have a deep understanding of hip-hop, a shared knowledge that isn’t a musical fad, but a combination of different roots born from many shared struggles.
The lack of proper tools for these artists has created in Cuba a more roots-based hip-hop. Alongside his wife Magia, MC El Tipo Ese creates a style of hip-hop that reaches to traditional Afro-Cuban roots to inspire both the rhythm and the rhyme of their group Obsesion. “I don’t know if you knew this, but we got the chance to perform [in the U.S.] twice,” says El Tipo Ese. “We went to the cradle only to realise that the people weren’t saying anything and the movement itself wasn’t very strong. There wasn’t much heart — it was very shallow there. Not only did we see this but after we performed, people would come to us — American rappers — and tell us that we were an inspiration to them!”
Back at El Templo de Hip-hop, the beats are flowing soft and smooth; each lyric is mouthed by fresh-faced kids wearing shades and Castro caps. The girls shake hypnotising hips to the music as the performers bounce across the stage chopping the air with talking hands. The night is lit up with stage lamps and stars as the calm breeze cools the deep fire that burns on the stage and heats the crowd. A mutual love has developed between hip-hop and Cuba’s youth; both have rekindled a passion for revolution and re-awakened the power for change. Hip-hop has already become a global language, but Cuba has made the effort to cultivate and cherish a new voice as more than just a style of music. Today, at El Templo, a group of artists lives hip-hop as a community, a culture, a religion and a new weapon in the fight for social change. These artists are living hip-hop as it was born — not as a business or a marketing hunting ground for new urban trends, but as a force of the people.
Cuban hip-hop has to compete with the era of bling and hold its own in a time when representing hip-hop is more about album sales than skills. “The youth need to have a leader,” says El Tipo Ese. “Right now they have Snoop Dogg’s poster up on their wall. When they have a poster of a Cuban group, that’s a victory, because that shows that they’re finally identifying with one of their own.”
New Cuban Hip-Hop
Orishas El Kilo
Taking their name from the Yoruban word for gods, Orishas flip traditional, organic Afro-Cuban rhythms with their original laid-back Cuban drawl to create a distinct flow and style of hip-hop recognised as a pure example of hip-hop con Cubanismo. As the first group to put Cuba on the hip-hop map, Orishas have been turning heads and making noise since the release of their debut album, A Lo Cubano. Their second release, Emigrante, became an international smash, putting them at the top of many lists as the best international hip-hop act in 2003, as well as solidifying their place as pioneers in Cuba’s young hip-hop scene. Now living in Europe, Orishas is taking it up a level with their third release, El Kilo. An ambitious blend of that distinct mix of rhyming/chanting/singing between MCs Ruzzo, Yotuel and Roldan, bouncing along to new electronic chops and beats that cover everything from rumba and guaguancó to flamenco and reggae. Check out the electro-mambo of “El Bombo” or the electronic folklore of “La Calle” to see how their sound has progressed to include a mix of more outernational sounds. Even though El Kilo pushes Orishas into undefined territory, the question remains whether this album can actually carry them from the world music charts to the crossover urban charts. (EMI Latin)
Various Cuba 21
This compilation arrives just as Cuba is emerging from the dust left behind by the pre-revolutionary imagery championed by the Buena Vista Social Club. Showcasing a variety of new and young Cuban talent that is virtually unknown to the outside world, every track pulsates with the vibrancy of a reenergised Cuba, from the Afro-Cuban rock of Francis’s “Sentimiento” to the sweet bolero-soul of Haydeé’s “Siempre Que Te Vas” and the dubbed-out groove of Siete Rayo’s “Cumbia Reggae.” One of the most interesting tracks on this compilation, “Chinito” by Candyman (the only track that is labelled pop in the liner notes) is Cuban reggaeton that sounds more influenced by Trinidadian Soca than Jamaican dancehall. The new and strange sounds from Cuba carry both a revolutionary instinct as well as a spiritual connection to their traditional rhythms, creating a distinct collection of exciting and entertaining music. Even the worst tracks on this record are entertaining examples of Latin America interpreting Western pop. This record not only gives you a proper glimpse inside the island’s current musical state of mind but it also prepares you for the incredible wave of alternative music expected to burst from these shores. (EMI Latin)
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