Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Amiri Baraka Visits Madison

Prodigious Marxist poet, dramatist, writer and activist Amiri Baraka came to speak at UW-Madison Monday night. Invited by a hip hop/spoken word group, Baraka spoke about that challenges that face young people committed to changing the world with lessons from the past and poems that were very insightful and inspiring, not to mention hilarious - "There are some negroes that are as backwards as Rush Limbaugh. Well, almost." He emphatically challenged 'identity politics' and whiteness theory, a huge hurdle for multiracial organizing today by explaining how Black mayors haven't improved the lives of millions of working and poor Blacks - for instance in his hometown of Newark. Additionally, he pointed out how H. Rap Brown was convicted by a jury of 9 Black people and 3 whites.

Despite his published condemnation of those on the Left that would criticize Obama as a pro-imperialist and business-as-usual Democrat, Baraka emphasized the need for organization and politics for a movement that would bring about the changes we want to see. He argued for study circles within movements and that those who haven't read the Souls of Black Folk aren't intellectuals. Without saying it so directly, Baraka was arguing quite strongly for the need of an organization capable of being the 'memory of the class', with knowledge of previous struggles - victories and defeats - in order to orient the fights of today. Another important point I believe Baraka made quite subtly, given that the event he spoke at was a spoken word/hip hop forum, was that while music - particularly the Black music tradition - is important for understanding the changes in society and culture in the past and can play that role in the present, art alone cannot change society. This is not to say that rap and music are incapable of supplementing struggles and exposing the crimes that capitalism carries out daily, but is an important to know that to really force Obama to bring the troops home now, give us universal health care and create jobs struggle and organization are a must.

Here is a video of Baraka's infamous - read: amazing - poem that he composed and delivered soon after the events of September 11 entitled "Who Blew Up America"