Black Agenda Radio commentary by editor and columnist Jared Ball
Theoretically, “any Black woman or man is a potential revolutionary.” But here’s another truth: No organization, no revo – whether the potential revolutionaries are Internet-connected or not. A wired populace may hold in their hands the tools of mass political action, but those same tools are wielded by huge corporations and the governments that protect them, as San Francisco Bay transit cops showed when they shut down the cell phones of potential “flash” demonstrators. The end requires more than just the technological means.
At Least Some Ministers Tell the TRUTH: Hip-Hop, Social Media and Revolutionary Politics
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by editor and columnist Jared Ball
“To move from prank to political act and beyond will require more than industry-sponsored pop icons breaking trends and becoming radicals.”
In a recent editorial from The TRUTH Minista Paul Scott took only a few hundred words to raise some of the more relevant questions regarding hip-hop, Black radical politics and social media. What can be learned from a popular rapper, an allegedly misused Twitter account and some scared police? I think Scott’s editorial points us in some very important directions.
The issue is a dust up from last month where one of the industry’s latest and greatest, a rapper known as The Game, had posted to his Twitter account the phone number to the Los Angeles sheriff’s office. The lines were jammed, cops were scared and The Game faced claims that he would do time. But as Scott said, this is “a whole lot bigger than an Internet prank. It is about the potential power of Hip Hop artists and social media to provoke social unrest and political change.” Scott connected this story with the claims that social media spurred on the uprisings in London and then reminded his readers that “this is the real fear of the authorities, not some sophomoric prank. Their greatest fear is that one day rappers like The Game will stop playing games and start mobilizing the masses for political power. In 2011, every thug with a Blackberry is a potential revolutionary.”
Of course, it is not just thugs with Blackberrys. Anyone, and in this case, any Black woman or man is a potential revolutionary. And this is the point to which we are directed by the very nature of Scott’s editorial. Another is his juxtaposing prank with political act. As we’ve argued before, social media are no more a guarantee of revolution than the disorganized collective use of any previously-existing technology. To move from prank to political act and beyond will require more than industry-sponsored pop icons breaking trends and becoming radicals. It will require organization. As Dhoruba bin-Wahad correctly said recently of the so-called Arab Spring, Twitter didn’t do a thing; pro-longed organization finally culminated in mass public calls for change that may indeed one day result in some. The same can likely be said of London. Some prior organization was facilitated in later-stage activity by new social media with instant communication capability culminating in mass public calls for change that may indeed one day result in some.
“In 2011, every thug with a Blackberry is a potential revolutionary.”
But organization is the key. The current drive by New Jersey’s People’s Organization for Progress to truly honor Dr. King with a year-long daily protest demanding jobs and justice is just one example of pre-existing organization moving ahead of any social media. That media may now be deployed to assist their efforts but here the chicken certainly did not come before the egg. Organization also means that the outcomes, good or bad, of this extended 381 day planned protest will either be best put to use or mitigated by an organized and prepared body of activists. Pranks, on the other hand, often lead to unexpected outcomes for which the pranksters are not prepared to exploit or defend against.
Organization is also an issue as it reminds those involved of the fact that our political enemies are also organizing, are themselves already using social media and, more importantly, they actually control it. Protestors last month in San Francisco found their phones entirely disabled by Bay Area Rapid Transit (B.A.R.T.) officials in order to prevent them from on-the-fly preparations. British Prime Minister David Cameronsaid he might do the same in London to prevent what he said was a misuse of the “flow of communication” for “violence.” Even Obama and the Republicans used Twitter to help reach their debt agreement. Now, that – the violence of empire and capitalism – is the real misuse of social media.
So it is true. Some ministers do tell the TRUTH. And this is a good one; pranks are cute, even inspiring, but we need to organize to go from prank to political act. Because the next question is, what is done while a police force has its communications knocked out?
For Black Agenda Radio I’m Jared Ball. On the web go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
Dr. Jared A. Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore and is the author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto (AK Press). He can be found online at:IMIXWHATILIKE.COM.