“Bin Laden didn’t blow up the projects. It was you n----, tell the truth n----. Bush knocked down the towers. Tell the truth!” As the crowd bulldozed though the chorus of Immortal Technique’s inflammatory song “Bin Laden,” the Harlem emcee paced the stage of Manhattan’s The Madison, playing resident hype man of the 9/11 Truth Movement. The moment encapsulated the fervor of a patriotic night of hip-hop, truth telling and advocacy.
The star-studded concert was a benefit for first responders, a group of 9/11 rescue workers who've been largely ignored by the government. They include firefighters, police officers, port authority workers and volunteers who searched for victims in contaminated debris at and around ground zero in the weeks following the attacks. Now, many suffer from life-threatening respiratory illnesses.
The concert, however, was only a portion of the four-day affair, which also included demonstrations, speeches, movie screenings and a barbeque.
While many benefit concerts are lost in the divide between the politics of the events and the subject matter of the artists, Now or Never was refreshingly consistent since most of the artists took time out to discuss the importance of helping first responders and demanding an independent investigation of the 9/11 attacks.
Immortal Technique voiced his distrust of the government’s handling of the attacks on his track with Mos Def called “Bin Laden” and the militant “Homicide Harlem.” Mr. Green relayed his memories of the attacks and spoke to the importance of holding our leaders accountable. Talib Kweli, who brought his kids out to the event, finished the evening by blazing thorough tracks from his latest album Eardrum, including the incendiary “Hostile Gospel.”
The evening also featured speeches by We Are Change founder Luke Rudkowsky, the FealGood Fondation’s John Feal and Green Party Presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney. Although one would think that Talib Kweli would be the man of the hour, these three activists received the loudest applauses of the night, proof that the message of the night was not lost in the hoopla. Rudkowsky in particular stood out as a folk hero of sorts among those in attendance, as they frequently rose their collective voices in chants of “Luke! Luke! Luke!”
An event that many will no doubt write off as the product of a radical leftist movement was in fact a rousing demonstration of patriotism. While many liberals seem to have conceded the American flag and a fierce love of country to the conservative movement, Now or Never sought to reframe the issue. “We are fearless, we are patriots, we are change!” declared Rudkowsky wearing an American flag bandanna around his neck. In a time in our history so driven by fear, many have stopped questioning the decisions and events that drive this country forward. As Immortal Technique put it, “The people should not be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people.”
Although the weekend’s events were very much focused on the controversy surrounding 9/11, the underlying hope is that such events will set an example for citizens mobilizing around other issues of justice and progress. As host and performer Mr. Green put it after the show, “The power is at the grassroots level. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it, the power is in the people, so stop waiting for someone to fall out of the sky.”
Lukas Brekke-Miesner is a poet and freelance writer who focuses primarily on hip-hop, education and urban issues. A native of East Oakland, Calif., he currently resides in New York, NY. He is a graduate of UCLA where he studied Sociology and Education, and has also done youth advocacy work in Oakland, South Los Angeles and Inglewood, Calif.