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The National Hip-Hop Political Convention sets an agenda for a new generation

The NHHPC was modeled after the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. Chaired by legendary poet Amiri Baraka, the convention has been cited as a key moment in the civil rights movement’s evolution — from campaigning for legal rights to winning state and local offices for African Americans. The hip-hop convention was the result of a conversation between Baraka’s son Ras, who also works as vice principal at Weequahic High School, and Bakari Kitwana, author of The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture. During the national agenda discussion and vote on Saturday, Amiri Baraka made an appearance that reprised his role at the 1972 event. He exhorted the audience to vote against Bush in November. “If you’re not registered to vote, then you’re a fool,” he told the crowd, dismissing dead prez’s “pox on both houses” remark. “Bush is killing us with fascism.”

However much the hip-hop generation likes to portray itself as a revolutionary force, the obstacles it faces — or doesn’t even encounter — are very different from the civil rights generation. The original National Black Political Convention convened at a crucial turning point in history, when young radicals were killed and jailed by the hundreds; when vanguard organizations like the Black Panther Party were being torn asunder by egoism, drug use, and FBI infiltration; and when older, more conservative activists were increasingly marginalized for a refusal to embrace a radical, antigovernment agenda.

The gathering itself was a contentious one that represented a range of political backgrounds, from a then-black nationalist Rev. Jesse Jackson to President Nixon aide Robert Brown, and was attended by 8000 people. Despite several walkouts, though, the convention was able to ratify a national black agenda known as the Gary Declaration.

In contrast, the NHHPC’s adoption of a national agenda was a relatively bloodless debate attended by only a few hundred people. Roughly 350 delegates from fourteen states (some of whom didn’t attend the final vote) worked out an agenda that addressed five major areas: education, economic justice, criminal justice, health, and human rights. Among other things, the agenda specifically calls for free admission to all public colleges and universities; “reparations for black Americans, including funding to support institutions destroyed by slavery, Jim Crow, and eroded by centuries of institutional racism”; free “universal holistic healthcare”; creation of a truth and reconciliation commission that would investigate human-rights violations “committed by the United States government throughout its history”; and an end to “U.S. imperialism,” beginning with troop withdrawals from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Puerto Rico.

Co-chair Baye Adofo Wilson says he and others hope to present the agenda at the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer. “We haven’t spoken to many people at the higher echelons of the Democratic Party, but we have spoken to people who feel like they can help us negotiate some time for a presentation of our political agenda,” he says, adding that he hasn’t yet discussed it with anyone from the Republican Party. The next National Hip-Hop Political Convention is scheduled for 2006 in Chicago.

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