No movement sans art

In the vast history of war and mass movements, artists have always set the cadence. Just think back to the drummer boys of the Revolutionary War or the song Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday during the Civil Rights Movement;

“Strange trees bear strange fruit.

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

-Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday

I have been thinking a lot about my role in the movement and what I can do better. My lack of appreciation for art stands out as a major blunder. And chances are that if you are reading this post, you probably suffer from this same problem but don’t fully appreciate the implications thereof. The problem as I see it is that those of us who freely use the words progressive or movement often have very little tolerance for art forms that do not promote social uplift. In my own life this translates to consuming vast amounts of NPR News, old school jazz, progressive blogs, newspapers, conscious hip hop, finger-snapping poetry slams, and a strict adherence to reading nonfiction books that focus on Black people or general knowledge.

As such, my lifestyle virtually ensures (with some exception) that I live in a bubble where I believe if people would just look at the facts, they would be converted to my world view, making the movement imminent. This of course is wrong-headed and paternalistic.

I think for those of us fortunate to contemplate and discuss the nuances of politics, economics, foreign affairs, social policy, etc., it is our responsibility to make sure that we not only appreciate art but go the extra step to make sure we work with artists to make sure that our message is reaching the masses that we rarely touch in a meaningful way.

What does this look like? I met a beautiful sister at YearlyKos who told me she writes progressive-minded songs to help people understand various issues ranging from health care to education and more. Hopefully, I can get this sister to post some of her work on The SuperSpade. These are the types of connections are vital and we need look no further than public access TV to find more; local hip hop.

In Detroit, as I am sure in most cities in America, local hip-hop artists buy public time on television to promote their music videos. I really don’t watch it because most of it takes the uninteresting theme of “I’m the best and you are not.” The fact is though local hip hop artists have the ear of the streets much more than sites like The SuperSpade. After watching a local hip hop show though, it wasn’t lost on me that not 3 minutes would go by without a display or reference to someone’s myspace page. What that tells me is that the digital divide we often speak of has not taken the form that is usually discussed.

The potential to reach people online is easy but more importantly, I don’t know who better understands organizing masses of folks better than local hip hop artists. Just think about it, many artists virtually live on local radio, turn thousands out to a party, and convince thousands more of people to buy CDs out of their trunk. As a full-time organizer, I have nothing but respect for local artists’ ability to literally move masses of people. Now imagine local hip hop artists using their organizing force to host a party to raise funds for the Jena 6? Now imagine bloggers crystallizing the tales of brothers forced to hustle because they can’t find jobs as a way to speak about the genocide otherwise known as the American criminal justice system.

We need to find ways to reach out (perhaps doing interviews and posting them on our respective blogs) to our local artists to understand their world view and more importantly, get past the pseudo-bravo songs and where there is overlap for positive change; combine the power of art (in this case, music) and blogs to push an agenda that everyone can plug into.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

p.s. I used the word sans in the title to point out that the people we need to reach do not talk in the clouds.


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4 responses to “No movement sans art”

  1. Josh Koenig says :

    Culture is the key, it’s true, and I think it’s important to make sure not to limit yourself by saying you lack an appreciation for art. It’s not the stuff in museums that’s going to drive the movement, but rather (as you say) people with their ear to the streets.

    Culture doesn’t need to be overtly political — protest jams, etc — or even socially uplifting per se to fuel a political movement; it’s really all about the broad themes. What’s the story we want to tell, the story of our world?

    That’s actually a really hard question to answer, so it’s to see more and more people breaking out of the “if only everyone had the facts” mindset and engaging it. Because I certainly don’t have the key.

  2. Brandon Q. says :

    Thanks Josh, I may have misspoken. It’s not that I don’t appreciate art but I don’t do a good job of marrying political causes to art (artists) in a meaningful way. For me, the purpose of this post was to help myself and others breakdown the silos that traditionally separate art and politics. I agree that art/culture doesn’t need to be overtly political but when you think about how we can tell the story of the world, there is no way that blogs alone can achieve this. It always has and always will be absorbed by the masses via art, period.

    Josh, I hope you will join me in breaking down these barriers.

  3. Colette Washington says :

    Hello again Brandon-

    This posting touched my heart. Thank you for your inspiring words.

    It was so nice meeting you at Yearly KOS 2007 in Chicago, and talking with you about my humble efforts to use music (the universal language) to engage people in joining movements for social change. We should all be thinking about how we can repackage our messages and utilize our various skills to reach broader audiences.

    I just returned home to Oakland after a brief vacation at Lake Mendocino (near Ukiah, California) where I was unplugged for a week, so I just came across your email with a link to this wonderful posting. You are so right about progressive minds stepping out of our comfort zones to share resources and talents.

    I was pleased to learn that you and other black bloggers are working to broadcast the struggles and successes we face everyday in communities of color across the nation. I blogged about how inspired I was by your work at (, and I shot some Yearly KOS video you should also check out while there.

    I work for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee ( and (, leaders in the fight for Single Payer healthcare for everyone in America—which would eliminate the profiteering insurance companies from taking 30% of every healthcare dollar.

    As we know too well, people of color are disproportionately impacted by a lack of healthcare, and people with health insurance are being DENIED once they have a need to start using it. So I wrote “Healthcare Justice” and performed it on tour with national nurses, doctors, and filmmaker, Michael Moore during the premiere of his movie “SiCKO,” which every American should see!

    So please, let’s keep speaking truth to iconic power while harnessing our own individual and local powers to “make this land a better land than the world in which we live. I know we can make it. [Together] I know darn well we can work it out” – The Pointer Sisters 1st LP, 1973.

    Peace and one love,

    –Colette Washington

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