August 28, 2009
From Sunnydale to Solar-Powered Hip-Hop
A few weeks ago I was on the bus riding through San Francisco's Sunnydale, one of many neighborhoods in the Fusionlandia that is San Francisco.
Though in an international city, Sunnydale can almost seem worlds away. When I first returned to San Francisco and visited some of the Sunnydale housing projects my mind immediately recalled the rural projects of upstate New York where I had worked with intelligent and immensely talented young brothers and sisters in a town called Hudson -- where incredible mountain views and disturbing poverty intermingle.
From the window of the bus I saw a community elder planting vegetables in front of a small housing project unit where a lawn might have previously been.
The majority of the units have completely dried-up lawns, but in contrast his was a beautiful mineral-rich dark brown, his small row of lettuce was lush. He seemed to be enjoying his work.
In front of the unit right next to his were two young brothers sitting on the steps, looking at the street silently.
I immediately wondered why it was they weren't helping their neighbor out. There was no way in hell that man could eat all of those vegetables, and their own small lawn could have grown so much more.
How ill that they'd be able to save money by growing their own food -- that's the main reason I've begun to grow things in my own house. I just happened to fall in love with gardening in the process. If I'd had the time I would have gotten off the bus and begun a conversation with them all, but I had a meeting to attend.
This scene speaks to the gap between the visionary and the disillusioned. It speaks to the gap between our young people and our grandparents. We are at a point in post-industrial capitalist societies (as academics and environmental activists preach) where we can use up the fresh water we have left and leave our great-grandchildren to oppress, enslave and declare war for access to clean rivers... or, instead, we can begin the long process of rejuvenating the soil we have stripped of meaning and nutrition.
It is the responsibility of those of us in between to stretch our definition of the word "revolution." We must do the work night and day of learning that which we do not know and that which we fear. As native elders of this very land often said and still say, we must "follow the path to the point of knowing."
Then we may engage in the shared task of introducing, translating and making relevant these truths so that our youth can take it over... and of course from there, do their own translating and re-understanding amongst each other.
If the Bay Area can be renowned for its contributions to hip-hop language and expression, than let us create our own names, too, for "urban agriculture," "sustainability," "soil," "pollution," "climate crisis." The Vietnamese anti-imperialist leader, Ho Chi Minh, wrote that, "The poet must learn to lead an attack." In other words, the poet must understand their responsibility to something bigger than the sole expression of their ego, the poet must harness their media in new and increasingly complex ways to dialogue with the public.
At a time when Dead Prez and Mistah F.A.B. can share a solar-powered stage, we cannot meekly nod our heads to the folks who are already doing this work. The bridge is not complete. It is going to take more than a few hundred compost bins and some garden programs to show our communities that this is not some hippie nonsense from outer space.
Youth must see us all interested and willing to try something new, they must see us, too -- afraid of the dirt and grossed out by worms, trying new foods and diets, reading and listening to new voices. In truth, the task of sustaining human life on this planet does not rely on our physical strength or the numbers in our bank balance, rather it depends on our ability to step out of our comfort zone.
May we find the courage to take off our kicks, reintroduce ourselves to the earth and follow the path to the point of knowing.
(Grind for the Green, San Francisco's annual solar-powered hip-hop show, wraps up this Sunday, August 30, 2009.)