A contingent of about 30 Pittsburgh activists, many members of Pittsburgh's League of Young Voters, spent the weekend of July 21st in Chicago at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention.
Attendees said the weekend of panel discussions and performances served mainly to rededicate them to their mission of educating and empowering themselves and their peers to be politically active, and to gain a sense of perspective on hip-hop's place in history as a political entity.
The convention included discussions on grassroots organizing, lobbying, media wrangling, and the history of hip-hop as a political vehicle, and performances by Dead Prez and Immortal Technique.
"It makes a lot of sense to engage young people through their culture," says attendee Jennifer England, communications chair for the League. "Hip-hop culture is originally political. It was protest music."
Being around activists from other cities cemented in the minds of Pittsburghers that local action and organizing is on par with national efforts. "What we're doing in Pittsburgh is cutting-edge in terms of organizing," England says. "There's no secret we're missing. We're not behind the curve."
Khari Mosley, Pittsburgh regional director for the League, appreciated the setting for the convention, previously hosted in Pittsburgh. Chicago's South Side, he says, is definitely a community in transition. "The people and the policies you want to address are right there in front of you."
Sessions on arts-based organizing struck a chord with Julia Nagle, executive assistant to the League. "That's a lot of what we do here," she says. The League often has a presence at shows at East Liberty's Shadow Lounge, for instance. Liz Carrier, an intern with the League, mentions registering voters at the Warped Tour punk festival ... hip-hop is not the exclusive means of reaching young people on their terms. "It's finding music that speaks to people, it's speaking to people who are on the margins."
"By really making political activism a central part of youth culture, we can transform communities," says Mosley.