Or, A Mind-Blowing Week of Midwest Academy Organizing Training for A Community of Hope!
“Father West… Father North… Father East… Father South
Grandfather, I’m calling on you, need your guidance now”
Nahko and Medicine for the People sing on their seminal, 2016 album HOKA, a reference to his Native American background. The word comes from the language of the Lakota tribe and signifies a call to action. The Puerto Rican, Apache, and Filipino leader of this favorite new band, Nahko Bear, is greatly influenced by his mixed heritage.
HOKA! No other album has inspired me as much to keep fighting the good fight for social justice. It’s why it kicks off one of the best music curations I’ve ever made (new word, curation: I, as curator, juxtapose a list of songs that in my case only fit on an 80 minute CD as MP3s sound like tin. Yes I know many only stream now, hence this blog’s cornucopia of links).
I’ve been making curations of newly released tracks obsessively, compulsively, since the dawn of the millennium. It’s when I went to seminary in 2000. I discovered Amoeba in Berkeley and CDs. I went apeshit. I ended up spending a chunk of my grad school student loans (how dumb is that) on CDs I still have in a monstrous CD collection I currently have nowhere to put. But it is one hell of an I-as-curator collection! Come the cyber apocalypse, I’ll be the one with tunes. FYI.
So yes, like hundreds of us managing life without basements in California, I am in need of a mancave. For my posters, too. One of them is River Phoenix circa 1985. (Keanu Reeves is on the other side but I’d show River. My mancave. My rules).
The display and access issue is beside the point. I am obsessed with music. It’s a combination spiritual practice/sanity saver/obsessive hobby. Got one of those?
To make me even weirder, yes, I think it’s a terrible idea to pay nothing for music. I make my living off intellectual property and it’s the same thing. It’s why some great bands over the years just don’t make it and have to quit. It’s why even when they DO make it, they don’t make it, because life is endless touring to make ends meet. Think of how much Mark Twain hated the end of his career, forced to tour his speeches around the world to pay the bills. No matter how legendary you are, the life of a successful act is a life on the road, which is tough.
It wouldn’t be that way if we compensated artists properly for their services.
But back to my magnum opus, titled “A Community of Hope,” recently completed. Since having children in 2009, I haven’t been able to press a complete set of Best-of curations each and every year. I had to do a single run of 2012 – 2014, for example, resulting in a 16 CD set, which I may or may not have narrowed down to a dozen. Each year individually yields anywhere from 2 – 6 CDs.
Hot off the press is Best of 2015 -2016, yielding five, the best one “A Community of Hope” which I dedicate to my most excellent Midwest Academy Class of March, 2017!
This training blew my mind. Community organizers, professional and volunteer, came from all over the country to Sierra Madre, CA for five days of full-time, intensive instruction. We learned that progressive organizing is all about leveraging power over decision-makers, or targets. It’s as sophisticated as any political strategizing because that’s exactly what it is. We learned the intricacies and subtleties of choosing campaigns, allies, and tactics. How to make a dossier of your target, how to find weaknesses. How to not waste energy on pageantry and how to win.
I met staff from the headquarters of the NAACP, tenants’ and labor unions, environmental agencies, neighborhood groups, efforts to reform the criminal justice system, immigrant rights, and more. I was there with POP! Pasadenans Organizing for Progress, which has just won its first major victory in a matter of weeks since our full-time organizer Lizbeth Mateo came aboard March 1.
I dedicate my curation “A Community of Hope” to my fellow Midwest Acad alums because it speaks of the injustices of our day: poverty, incarceration, deportation, racial profiling, earthicide, and yet, also manages to totally rock and celebrate the beautiful diversity of our country and our world.
The second song after the first track “Directions” is the one for which the mix is named The Community of Hope by PJ Harvey. It’s a song about a poor community on South Capitol Hill. It’s dark and hopeful at the same time, much like the times in which we live. I see us activists as being part of a community of hope, along with those who suffer injustice directly. We are growing powerful together, united in our solidarity.
The third track is We the People by A Tribe Called Quest. The refrain says it all, “All you black folks, you must go . . . all you Mexicans, you must go . . . all your poor folks you must go . . . Muslims, and gays, boy we hate your ways . . . So all you bad folks, you must go!” Summing up nicely the platform for a politics of fear.
I won’t go into all the Yoko Ono (Track 4: Approximately Infinite Universe) that sprinkles this curation, except to say that, as Octogenarian Oracle-in-Chief, Yoko’s groovy collaborations are a creative interpretation of the art of winning at progressive social justice campaigns! Plus she’s always been an activist.
M.I.A. (who, at the moment, I believe is banned from our country for her terroristy ways) makes her debut with Visa on Track 5. “At the border, I see the patroller, cruising past in their car. Creeping in my socks and slipper, Mexicans say ola? Hiding in my Toyota Corolla . . .”
Track 6 is Blood Orange’s “By Ourselves” featuring poet Ashlee Haze who says, “If you ask me about representation . . . I will tell you, that right now there are a million black girls just waiting to see someone who looks like them.”
And now, with Track 7, brought to you by your Rev. Hustler, it’s time for all of us to have a good cry, because that is part of this work, whether we like to acknowledge that or not. At least, I just now had one, as I watched this video of Nahko Bear’s second appearance on “A Community of Hope.” I haven’t watched an actual music video in about 30 years, and this one slays me because it summarizes the Standing Rock resistance movement with one of the most beautiful songs for our times, Love Letters to God. The searing lyrics will replay in your head during those moments of gathering courage, or when we fight to not lose hope.
“Love letters to God – I wonder if she reads them, or if they get lost in the stars . . . so many parts to a heavy heart, if there’s no beginning, then where would you start?”
If there’s any song I want you to pay attention to, it’s this one, so I’ll end this meandering blog here. Below is the rest of the mix, with asterisks for notable tracks. I hope you enjoy my curation, meant to soothe and groove you, and keep pumping that fist in the air.
In farewell to my righteous guardians of justice, don’t forget to feed your soul, so your mind, body and heart can keep doing this work. Listen to music, or whatever inspires you to keep writing those love letters to God, we the authors of this Community of Hope.
Hustlin’ in all ways and always, HOKA!
12) The Space Program – A Tribe Called Quest*
13) Talk – M.I.A.*