[NEW YORK, NY] George Martinez grabbed national headlines when he became the first Occupier to qualify as a major party primary candidate for the United States House of Representatives, but few know that the fledgling politician also has a seasoned career as a celebrated hip-hop emcee in New York City’s grassroots political hip-hop scene.
Last week when Jay-Z was interviewed for a cover feature in the New York Times Style Magazine he indicted Occupy Wall Street as a directionless cloud of ideas. Local press was buzzing with how Occupy would respond, would they ignore it?, would they protest?, would Jay even care if they did? Hip-Hop media mogul Russell Simmons quickly seized this opportunity to open up a dialogue with Jay-Z surrounding money in politics. Simmon’s political director, Michael Skolnik quickly followed suit with his own thoughtful response, but in order to fully capture Occupy’s & Hip-Hop’s response to Jay-Z’s uninformed comments it would be best to have the response come from an Occupy Hip-Hop artist.
The following is George Martinez’s letter to Jay-Z & Russell Simmons…
First, I want to thank Jay Z for his recent public statements regarding the Occupy movement. I respect his honesty and I welcome this exchange as an end to the “Government For Sale” syndrome corrupting our democratic processes.
Second, I want to thank Russell Simmons for his response to Jay in an attempt to educate and build solidarity. His response was a thorough and thoughtful summation of the macro issues that Occupy has raised over the last year. In particular, Russell helped to illustrate the connections between “the corrosive influence of money in politics and elections” and repressive policies like stop and frisk.
Jay, I would prefer to build with you instead of slam you, and I know that you are already supporting a number issues that make up the cloud of “Occupy,” like… ending the war on drugs, supporting job creation and supporting the president on marriage equality. And let’s also be clear, I know progressives don’t want to plunk tens of thousands of dollars per plate on campaign fundraisers when they know that the money could be going to directly helping people and directly investing in the community. But because some have highjacked our democracy through Super PACs that spend limitless amounts of corporate cash in politics, hope and opportunity get stifled. This process has driven our country towards the brink of economic ruin.
In response to this process a coalition of activists, artists and various segments of the community have taken on the challenge of getting money out of politics and putting the people back in charge of their democracy. To get the money out …and put the voters in!
Our public and political institutions should not be allowed to operate under the same rules the govern regular commercial industries, since our constitution and our republic exist only through a social contract bound by the consent of its’ people. Thus “we the people” vest trust in our public institutions and must raise up when that trust is violated, or when special interests join to undermine the integrity of our public institutions, politicians and their elections. Imagine Jay, some people believe that corporations are people like you and me. They believe that these corporations have the same rights as people. Then, with a Supreme Court decision called, Citizens United v. F.E.C, the “Super PAC” was born allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections because of their individual rights to “free speech” just like you and me. I hope you would agree, that this is wrong. In fact, President Obama, has also said he supports exploring a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the “Citizens United” decision.
For me, “Occupy” can be easily understood from a Hip Hop perspective.
With Hip Hop we bum rushed school yards and sidewalks and transformed them into dance arenas for breakers. We didn’t ask James Brown or anyone if we could sample their records. We “borrowed” electricity from lamp posts to power our amps. We painted subway cars and inspired a global phenomenon that is literally saving lives around the world through the convergence of 5 elements: Dj, Rap, Aerosol Graffiti, B-boy, and Knowledge.
What happened in Zuccotti Park was similar to the spirit of Hip Hop; in that an unauthorized assembly of like-minded and creative people, created a space for community building and organizing to directly address local community concerns. More importantly, “Occupy” took on the overarching barrier to addressing these concerns due to the corrupting power corporate money has on our democratic processes and institutions. Through this organic coalition, a framework was created to mobilize around the reality that “another world Is possible.” By creating this framework, a model was built that embraced a diverse set of strategies to encourage everyday people to find where they could fit into the movement to work towards the overarching goal of reclaiming our democracy and building opportunity.
At the beginning of my involvement with OWS, I also observed that there was a “cloud of issues,” however, I quickly recognized many of them as issues that I and others in the Hip Hop community had been vocalizing and organizing around for years. Through keeping an open mind and participating in the democratic and community-building processes, I learned from others and was able to build support to identify specific strategies and actions to focus the movement on addressing issues that impact my immediate community. This included focusing on strategies to challenge the power of money and its’ corrupting influence on our democracy. We did this by building a grassroots movement and providing tools to empower the hood through a “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY), direct democracy engine that would facilitate community deliberation of important issues, implementation of community solutions and community resource management. Additionally, we inspired people to “Occupy” local political office. My personal “direct action” involved running for Congress by building a “Block by Block, and City by City” electoral direct action movement called Bum Rush The Vote (BRTV). The premise of BRTV is simple, build a people’s machine that can compete against the power of the corporate control over our democracy.
Five months into the Occupy movement, I declared my candidacy, for New York’s newly redrawn 7th Congressional District. This included my home neighborhoods Red Hook and Sunset Park and your home neighborhood of Marcy Houses. Throughout the course of my campaign, I met with thousands of people on their neighborhood blocks, highlighting their stories in order to move the dialogue beyond the macro analysis of the issues to the real-time effects on our neighborhoods. One issue in particular, that Russell also highlighted, involves the relationship between money and the prison industrial complex which has particularly harsh repercussions in the hood. Studies document that there is a dollar for dollar relationship between dollars cut from public education and increased investment in the prison industrial complex. Furthermore, in New York, your home neighborhood of Marcy Houses falls in the police district with one of the highest rates of youth “stops and frisks,” all while local schools and youth programs are either failing or are being shut down.
This is our opportunity to “HEAL” once again. To hold those accountable who have corrupted the political system with corporate interests. The end result includes the reality that communities we come from are further disempowered, underserved and deliberately targeted by the prison industrial complex to the point that there is a dollar for dollar correlation in cuts to education and investment in prisons. KRS ONE, said it so eloquently in his lyrics to HEAL Yourself, “…black and white ain’t the real fight, that’s the only thing the media hypes, the real fight is these major corporations, holding back on real education…”
This is why I occupied, this why we are the 99%, and this is why we need the 100% who want to reclaim our democracy and our communities. I believe that the space of transformational hopefulness that is at the core of “Occupy” is available to everyone, and that we all have a part to play in finding solutions. I have committed my non-profit organization, the Global Block Foundation, to developing and distributing Bum Rush The Vote as our official political literacy initiative. I invite you to join us, or, in the spirit of “Occupy,” get in where you fit in. Working Together, Block by Block and City by City, Another World is Possible.
All Day, All Week, Occupy All Streets!
George Martinez, is the first OWS organizer to qualify as a major party primary candidate for the US House of Representatives and creator of Bum Rush The Vote. He and his wife are the creators of the #OWS Hip Hop Anthem: Occupation Freedom He is an artist/ activist who believes in the power of Hip Hop culture as a force for positive world change and serves as a Hip Hop Ambassador with the US Dept of State. He is a former Democratic District Leader of the 51st Assembly District in Brooklyn, a professor of Political Science at Pace University and the Founder of the Global Block Foundation. He has appeared on MSNBC, HuffPost Live, Telemundo, TEDx and was the subject of a cover story in the Village Voice. Follow George on twitter at @hongeomartinez Follow Bum Rush The Vote on Twitter at @bumrushthevote