National Hip-Hop Political Convention Opens In 2 Weeks

By Jeff Chang Jul 18, 2008

Reposted from Since the first National Hip-Hop Political Convention was held in Newark New Jersey in the summer of 2004, young voters have come to the polls in big turnouts, driven by a landmark surge of young voters of color. This surprised many long-time political observers, but not the organizers of the Convention–full disclosure: I was there–who had seen the growth of hip-hop activism and organizing around the country. After the Convention, those efforts continued around the country, joined by high-profile voter registration campaigns by Diddy and Russell Simmons. Those efforts continue today. Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network has taken Hip-Hop Team Vote to a number of campuses. T.I. is joining the Hip-Hop Caucus’s efforts to register and turn out young people to vote in 12 target states, including swing states like Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. When the third National Hip-Hop Political Convention opens in Las Vegas on July 30th–in the heart of another swing state, Nevada–it can boast of its role in expanding the field of hip-hop generation elected officials and candidates, including co-founder Rosa Clemente who will be addressing the body as the Green Party vice presidential candidate. Representatives of the Democratic and Republican National Committees will also be speaking. The focus will be the Convention’s political agenda, first forged in Newark in 2004. 2008 Convention Chair Troy Nkrumah took time away from a heavy load of emails, text messages, and phone calls to talk with about the importance of the Convention and its agenda, and what role it hopes to play in this historic election and beyond. Vibe: This is the third National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Why is it important to hold this convention in 2008? Troy Nkrumah: The whole idea from the start was to develop a political agenda for the hip hop generation. The political agenda is a living document. It’s not set in stone like the Ten Commandments. So the Convention needs to continue to happen to keep the agenda relevant. This convention is even more important than the last because there is more of a possibility of getting at least parts of this agenda implemented with the change of administration coming up. Now that we have people actually expressing that agenda on the national stage, then it makes the other parties look at it.

It’s a time for us as the hip-hop generation to step up and say, we put this agenda out and now we want to see where people really stand on it and we’re calling you to task. You can’t take us for granted anymore.

Vibe: What are the main issues that you’ll be pushing? TN: The first one is the Katrina issue. We want to keep it fresh in everybody’s minds that this has not been resolved. There are still people with no right to return because they can’t afford to. We have issues on gender relations, exposing the troublesome sexual politics of the hip-hop generation. Criminal justice is going to be top on the agenda. We have artists and activists–Rebel Diaz, a rap group out of Chicago who were recently abused by NYPD, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Regina Kelley out of Texas who was thrown in jail by a drug task force over a confidential informant who lied. Vibe: Over the last 4 years, there has been a sharp increase in numbers of young people and people of color going out to vote. A number of hip-hop generation candidates, such as Kevin Powell and Rosa Clemente, are running across the country. What role has the Convention played in developing the space for hip-hop generation candidates? TN: After the first convention, I think a lot of people left Newark, New Jersey, with this feeling like,

Why are we depending on these other candidates who will tell us whatever we want to hear, why don’t we start our own people? So what we saw was a lot of people running for office,

running for school board or city council. And now we see people like Kevin Powell who has a really good chance of beating an incumbent. It’s the work of the Convention to show people that it goes beyond demanding people recognize our agenda. If they’re not going to, we have no choice but to run ourselves. This year we’re going to push that a little further and start preparing for the mid-term elections in 2010. It’s hard to measure how much of an impact hip-hop activism has played. Some people say that it played a really big role, that the work that we did in 2003 and 2004 is the reason Obama can be taken seriously today. Without laying the foundation, a lot of young people would be still saying, ‘The hell with voting. It doesn’t do anything. But we’ve changed that perception. It goes beyond the presidential elections. We didn’t really take into consideration that the prosecutors and judges who are locking up a lot of Brown and Black people are in elected positions. So I think the 2004 convention educated a lot of the activist community in hip-hop to say we have to take the electoral part seriously. We can’t depend on it as the only outlet. But they’re using it against us, so why not switch it and use it for us? Vibe: Do you expect we’re going to see big interest in the elections this year? TN: We know that there are going to be record turnouts at the polls. Now whether or not the elections are going to be fair and whether all the votes are going to be counted is a whole ‘nother story. The question is: If Obama gets the election stolen from him, as did Gore and Kerry, is he going to be willing to fight it? Gore wasn’t. Nor was Kerry. If the elections are stolen again, if the Democrats don’t step up to the plate, they’re going to lose an entire generation putting their last bit of faith in the electoral system. However, it’s going to be powerful to see how big of an impact these young, first time progressive voters actually affect this election. If they do decide this election, then they can understand that they can decide every election. It’s up to us–the activists, the organizers who do this year round–to channel that energy to go beyond November and make it a part of hip-hop culture.