Obama put in hip-hop spotlight

By The Columbia Chronicle

By Tyler Eagle, Contributing Writer

A Columbia event, Rap Sessions: Community Dialogues on Hip-Hop, hosted a panel of hip-hop activists and analysts from across the country who discussed the importance of the 2012 presidential election, among other topics.

The panel, held in the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., on Sept. 13 touched on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, the Tea Party movement,  the media, the youth culture of black Americans and Hispanics and youth-oriented violence. The event was attended by 40 students from Columbia and Roosevelt and

DePaul Universities.

The panel was composed of five members: Rob “Biko” Baker, executive director of The League of Young Voters; Rosa Clemente, a journalist, political commentator and the former 2008 Green Party vice presidential candidate; Chuck D, an activist, producer and emcee; Laura Washington, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC-7 Chicago; and Jasiri X, an independent hip-hop artist.

Obama dominated the discussion. Washington shared her feelings about the President’s record.

“We heard hope and change to death,” she said. “What did those words mean? People bought into those words without understanding what they were meant to represent. That’s why we’re sitting here disappointed.”

The discussion later turned to how young people could get involved. All panelists agreed that young people need to be aware of both local and national elections.

Jasiri X said he thinks more political education is necessary for young voters. Clemente and Washington concurred, and Washington offered a solution.

The younger generation has a powerful tool—technology—to research and educate themselves on the candidates and their policies, she said.

Jasiri X recommended that young Americans vote for local positions such as state’s attorney, sheriff and judges who he said play a more integral role in daily life than national politicians. Students have more power than they realize, he said.

“[Local politicians] have more power than Obama does on your life,” Jasiri X said.

Chuck D urged young voters to assume a more active role in their own political arenas.

“Ask yourself the question, ‘Who speaks for you?’” he said. “If you don’t know, then speak up for yourself.”

Violence and its effect on youth was another recurring theme in the discussion, as the panel noted the recent string of shootings and violent crimes in the city.

Jasiri X recounted how he and other hip-hop artists dealt with violence in Pittsburgh communities by organizing an active vigil. This earned him a round

of applause.

He pointed to community members as having the most power to “get out on the street and make a change.”

Biko said that positivity is the best way to combat violence.

“I’m a proponent of nonviolence,” he said. “I like sticking it to someone by loving them to death.”

The panel was sponsored by Columbia’s Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media. This was the sixth consecutive year the institute sponsored the event.

Jane Saks, executive director of the institute, felt the subject matter was reflective of Columbia’s motto, “Create change.”

“[The event is] really about hip-hop, the culture, the activism and really engaging in democracy and social engagement,” Saks said.