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As the second part of the viral conversation during the REVOLT Summit in Atlanta, “Trap the Vote: Hip Hop & Politics,” the REVOLT Summit in Los Angeles hosted the “REVOLT 2 Vote” panel that focused on all things surrounding political power. As future leaders, it is important to be knowledgable on the aspects that most affect our lives, and this conversation zoned in on issues, decisions and the power we have to make an impact.
Moderated by CEO of REFORM Alliance and CNN political contributor Van Jones, the passionate conversation with political strategist and CNN Political Commentator Angela Rye, award-winning journalist Jeff Johnson, activist and co-president of the 2019 Women’s March Tamika Mallory and lastly; Aoki Lee Simmons, daughter of Kimora Lee and Russell Simmons representing for Gen Z activists, began from a place of respect for those before us.
To set the tone, Jones gave Rye the floor to discuss Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, and used his character as a model for the panel. “All I would encourage us to do before we prepare to have this conversation today is really ground us into the truth, the kind that sets us free,” Rye said. “And the type of authenticity, transparency and humility that Congressman Cummings carried every day.” She continued to say we live in treacherous times, and to honor the legacy of the Congressman Cummings, we must “move with the kind of urgency that is right now.”
Johnson, who moderated part one of the conversation in ATL, spoke on its impact. “It was the kind of starting point for political debate that this moment in time often doesn’t allow us because most people talking are full of shit,” he said, which then results in folks leaving the conversation. “Not going back to a place where they are actually fighting for the people that they claim to be fighting for when they’re onstage.”
Filling in the gap, Mallory clarified the purpose of these types of discussions by stating: “I think hip hop’s role in that is helping us have those real raw conversations. That’s been hip hop’s role in our lives forever.” She also added that its role is to find those who are not involved in the conversation and seek their voices. This welcomed the young Simmons into the discussion to give her take on the impact young voices can have.
“I think young people really need to understand their vote is almost most important because what you vote on today … will impact you the longest,” she said. “If we all care not just about voting, but political activism in general, that care will spread and will become a huge movement and you can make decisions for yourself now that matter 30 years in the future.” Rye added, “It is to our disadvantage to singularly focus on the power of the vote, and not overall political engagement.”
The political strategist continued: “What is in front of you is what can happen if you’re so apathetic that you don’t take your political power into your own hands. I can get worse, it is worse. You don’t have a choice, but to be politically involved…your political participation should not be optional. You don’t have time to do anything less.” On black women, Rye simply put it, “Yes, black women voices need to be lifted up.”
Mallory gave insight into what she learned through her work with the Women’s March 2019. “People are only going to engage when they see and hear themselves and their issues,” she stated. With black women seemingly at the end of the line economically, financially and politically, many need to feel empowered with an agenda to build a movement.
She continued: “That’s where the real power is going to come from, not just in 2020, but in general in our communities. It’s going to come from people who are considered to be at the bottom. Once we are able to lift the foundation of this country, which looks like all of us who are sitting here today, then the rest of those who may feel oppressed may feel broken will be able to rise. Until we address the issues of black people, and black women in particular, the rest of the country is going to go to hell.”
Rye added: “At some point, it will be time, and I think that it’s now for black people to really grapple with the power we have, the foundational power we have. We’re not alone in this, but we are if we continue to believe that we’re invisible. We are if we continue to believe we’re voiceless.” Backing up Rye’s points, Mallory stated, “Everyone knows our power, we are the ones that have not recognized the power that we have.” She went on to explain the only reason that voter suppression exists is due to the importance and weight the black community has in politics, if used right. As it’s been said before, it’s more important to be engaged than it is just to vote, and every panelist agreed that’s on all levels of government.
“Making electoral politics and civic engagement part of our DNA, that happens at the local level,” Johnson remarked. Not only is the groundwork at the local level extremely significant, but the legitimacy of politicians on all levels to make those connections are, too. “Authenticity is really important, everything you do, we see,” Simmons stated. “You have to be who you say you are.”
Before the conversation ended, the panelists opened the floor to questions from the audience. One in particular regarded influencers and social media. “An influencer can’t influence anything without information, so part of it is the inner-knowing of how powerful you are, how great your voice is,” Rye answered.
Johnson added his thoughts by saying: “Every artist I know is waiting to be led. We have to decide who [the] validators are... Don’t diminish the power of your organizing and your mobilization because artist are like everybody else waiting to see how they can plug into leadership they trust and who’s authentic enough to put themselves behind. They’re waiting for you to do that.”
Throughout the conversation, panelists gave away free information, empowered, and reiterated how important it is to know your strength. “We want to make sure we’re leaving here with our power. We want to leave here with a plan,” Simmons said near the end.
Jones gave the final word, “You can not get everything you want by voting, but you can lose everything you have by not voting...This is not somebody else’s country, this is not somebody else’s project. This is our project that we have put blood in the ground for, martyrs in the ground for and our ancestors would be very very proud.” Commencing a standing ovation for the panelists, Jones closed, “They are doing the real work for freedom.”
Watch the full “REVOLT 2 Vote” panel below!