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Jeff Chang’s Voices of The New Majority :: A Hip-Hop Activist In Search Of Answers

Foto taken in 2008 at the 421 productions HQ and recording studio.

(This article was written by Jeff Chang, and has been revised and updated from it’s original post date in October of 2008).

In August (2008), crowds gathered every day in the streets of Denver to protest at the Democratic National Convention.

On the day before the Convention opened, one in the crowd was a 22 year-old Puerto-Rican, University of Colorado student named Carlo Javier Garcia. He wore SPY sunglasses, red and black Adidas, a red & black kaffiyah, camo shorts, and a black “Recreate ’68” t-shirt. He marched alongside anarchists.

Photo Courtesy B-Fresh Photography

At that same moment, two of his brothers were deployed overseas, one on his second tour of duty. Another brother was at home after being wounded in combat in Iraq and awarded a Purple Heart. His father, an Ret. Army Colonel* (active Lt. Colonel at the time), had also done a tour in Iraq, and was still stationed as part of a Civil Affairs unit at Southern Command in Miami.

Carlo was clearly from the black bloc of the family. But he saw the protests from a different perspective than many of his companions. His family’s service to the country, he said, inspired him to be there.

“There’s a warrior ethos in our family,” he said. “I was in ROTC for a year. The more I thought about it, the more I read and learned, I was like, I can’t be a part of this illegal war. You come to realize you don’t need to be a soldier in the army to be a warrior and fight.”

He spoke as the anti-war marchers and riot police stared each other down in front of the State Capitol. “This”, he said, “is me being a warrior and fighting.”

As an argument broke out among the marchers over whether or not to confront the police, Carlo and I spoke some more. He had helped organize the rally earlier that morning for Recreate 68, which had featured Green Party candidates Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente and Dead Prez.

“You think of what happened in the DNC in Chicago 1968. There were police riots, there was a police state. Look at it now,” he said, pointing to the lines of riot cops facing down the activists, “they are storm troopers going to battle. All the bad things that happened—no, that’s not what we’re trying to recreate. What we’re trying to recreate is the spirit of activism and unity that was so prevalent back then. Now it’s 2008, it’s time for us to reinspire everybody.”

I asked Carlo if he planned to vote. He had more surprises. He said that, unlike many of his fellow marchers, he did. And he was voting, as he had in the previous election, for the Democratic candidate. “Barack is an inspiration,” he said.

Why was he helping organize a protest at the DNC, I asked him, if he was voting Democratic?

He chuckled. He’d heard the question before. A lot.

He explained that his dad was a “yellow-dog Democrat”—an old term Southerners invented to describe voters who would vote for a yellow dog on a Democratic ticket over any Republican.

“Your vote isn’t necessarily significant. I voted in 2004 and 2006 and I’ve been disappointed both times,” Carlo admitted. But he felt the protesters played a crucial role in influencing the Democrats.

“We could go to the RNC and protest all we want. We could have the police state attack us and destroy us at the RNC—it’s not going to make a difference to John McCain and the rest of the Republicans. But we can come here to the DNC and potentially have Barack Obama see us in mass force, see the people movement, and inspire him for change.”

He added, “We have to hold them accountable. In 2006 we elected a Democratic Congress on the platform that they would end the war in Iraq and cut funding for the war. There’s been a troop surge. We’re still at war. My brothers are in there now on 15-month tours. This is my family. These are my problems.”

At that point, the activists seemed to have settled on a decision. They retreated and marched in the other direction toward downtown. The police dispersed. Garcia left to join the marchers.

During the DNC in 2008, our Chief Operator was taken into police study during a demonstration in Civic Center Park.

Later that week, we caught up with each other at the Iraq War Veterans’ demonstration. He had been arrested the previous day, and because he had been on probation, he was facing potentially serious charges. Despite his concern, it seemed as if he had to be at this protest; it hit the closest to home.

He marched to the Pepsi Center then left for Boulder to help set up a Public Enemy concert, sponsored by his hip-hop collective, 421 Productions. It was a good day—the War Veterans demonstration was the peak of the week for the street demonstrators and the Public Enemy show was a success.

But in general, the protests in Denver hardly matched the fervor of the ones in St. Paul at the Republican National Convention, let alone the outpouring of emotion that greeted Obama’s acceptance speech.

Since then, the economy has become the nation’s most pressing issue, but the wars rage on. In the last month, there have been 10 American and over 130 Iraqi civilian deaths.

A couple weeks ago, I emailed Carlo to check up. He wrote back, saying that he had as his court case loomed, he had thought a lot about what he and the Denver activists had called their “Days of Resistance”. He wasn’t entirely sure they had worked.

“The day of the large scale protest is dead,” he wrote. “I realized our protest wouldn’t change policy before it all went down, but I hoped it would inspire others, and to tell you the truth, ain’t shit changed. We gotta figure out a different formula to inspire the people who need to be inspired.”

He was still searching for answers.

I thought back to something he had said on the streets of Denver: “The Bronx was burning. That is us now. Our country is burning and there are people who are speaking out against it. Your average hip-hop head now should be an activist, should be going out and doing something.”


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