With the spotlight firmly on Ferguson, Mo, and Staten Island, NY, for the killing of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, by police officers, activism has become more than just a buzzword.
Truthfully, it’s more of an imperative to enforce and uphold the tenants of the democratic state that defines the values of America. The United States has a proclivity for intervening in the affairs of other nations, when they are besieged by anti-democracy forces and gross levels of inhumanity. Yet as a country, America’s house is a murderous mess, in that same regard.
This weekend, August 23rd & 24th, the AfroPunk festival will take place at Commodore Barry Park, in Brooklyn NY. It will feature a slew of live performances, by amazing bands representing alternative Black music, as well as a shopping market of DIY vendors and the Greenlight Bookstore.
But just as the people need fun, the people also need freedom from tyranny and the right to self-respect and dignity. Police brutality and misconduct have been a particular rallying point for recent activism.
I was interested in this wave of activism and spoke to Robin J. Hayes, PhD, founder and principal organizer of Progressive Pupil, which is co-curating Activism Row at this year’s AfroPunk Festival. I asked her seven questions about Progressive Pupil, activism and what band she was most looking forward to seeing, at AfroPunk. Below is the interview:
WHAT IS PROGRESSIVE PUPIL, IN A NUTSHELL?
Progressive Pupil is a non-profit organization that makes Black studies for everybody, by creating documentary films and interactive media. We’re based at the New School, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, where for the last three years, I’ve been a professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, for three years.
WHY IS ACTIVISM SEXY?
It’s sexy because it’s collective action, working together and feeling empowered and making things better. It’s very generative and creative and the more the merrier. So I think it’s quite sexy in that way
IS THIS THE FIRST YEAR THAT PROGRESSIVE PUPIL HAS BEEN INVOLVED WITH ACTIVISM ROW?
I first went to Activism Row at AfroPunk in 2012, and then Progressive Pupil participated as an exhibitor in 2013, while this year is the first year that we’re co-curating Activism Row with AfroPunk
WHAT’S THE VALUE IN PARTNERING WITH A MUSIC FESTIVAL, FOR AN ACTIVISM INITIATIVE?
The value of partnering with a music festival in general for an activism initiative is that the best community organizing goes where people are, and my experience with Activism Row and AfroPunk is that the festival attracts so many really intelligent, creative young people who are interested in making things better. A lot of people who are already engaged in activism or who are teachers or students and they are excited to learn and find out about opportunities to participate and contribute to their community, are attending AfroPunk.
So it’s great to go to a central place where people are brought together by positive spirit and validation of personal expression, which is a great environment to talk to people about activism. And AfroPunk is is something that carries that even further.
WHEN’S THE UPCOMING ELECTION AND WHAT ISSUES ARE IMPORTANT FOR THE PROGRESSIVE PUPIL?
There’s local elections, primaries in September and general elections in November. What’s important to think about in voting is that there’s so many issues that are important to communities of color. We’re finding out about the extent of police misconduct and how it’s affecting communities in NYC, Brooklyn and throughout the country. People are concerned about economic issues. Wages are at a standstill, the minimum wage is not at $15 an hour, which many labor activist believe it should be, for it to be a living wage. And we’re also very much concerned about education and with healthcare. These are long standing concerns in communities of color.
When thinking about voting, it’s important to be mindful that it’s only one part of the process of holding your elected officials accountable. It’s good to vote, but then you have to stay with the people in power, whether you voted for them or not, and let them know you feel and what’s important to you and how you feel. We will be having an Activism Row, voter registration, letting people know who and who is not eligible to vote, but also letting people know it’s only one part of the process and that it’s good to keep in touch. It’s good to keep in touch with your friends, with your family and it’s also good to keep in touch with your elected officials
WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE TAKE AWAY FROM ACTIVISM ROW?
The two most important take-aways for us, is that there are organizations working to solve problems in your community. As a professor, sometimes students ask me what they can do for problems that are so big and on the other hand, I meet so many great activist telling me that if they had more help, they could do so much more. So we really want people to see that there are people working on these issues and that they’re winning and making an impact and secondly, letting people know that they can be a part of that impact even greater if they want to get involved in the change. All hands are needed on deck, and anyone that’s interested and cares, their participation is welcome.
WHAT PERFORMER OR BAND DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE MOST AT AFROPUNK?
This may surprise people, but I love Unlocking The Truth. Activism Row is right between all of the stages, and we hear everybody and it’s great, but for me, unlocking the truth is very very exciting because they represent, to me, exactly what happens when people challenge boundaries and challenge presumptions. For the people that don’t know, they’re these three young kids, who are unbelievable guitarist and rock musicians and you wouldn’t necessarily expect one of the most anticipated and talked about, up and coming rock bands, to be a trio of young black boys.
You wouldn’t expect that unless you knew about the history of blues and who really invented rock and roll, like Bo Diddley and Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. It’s carrying that tradition forward and so much of activism is about standing on the shoulders of giants and moving forward the work that has been done in the past. So if their was an Activism Row band, it’s probably, in terms of showing the benefits of progress, it might be Unlocking The Truth.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE GET MORE INFORMATION ON PROGRESSIVE PUPIL?
They can find us on our website at Progessive People.org, on Facebook, on twitter @ppupil and they can email [email protected] and can see us this Saturday and Sunday, August 23 and 24, at Activism Row at AfroPunk!