Boots Riley from The Coup and Music for America 3/27

Working on the club calendar yesterday I ran across a Jambase listing that said The Coup is playing Humboldt Brews, March 27. It didn’t make sense — they’re too big for the club and they weren’t included on the calendar the club’s owners sent me. An e-mail came in today from Passion Presents and now it makes sense. The event should start at around 7 p.m. Here’s the press release: 

GET INVOLVED!  The Coup and Music for America Hit the Road to Combat Apathy and Engage Young People to get Politically Active.

 Also Previewing The New Coup Album, “Pick A Bigger Weapon”.

 The Coup’s Boots Riley and activist organization, Music for America (MFA) are teaming up for a series of speaking engagements around the country to urge young people to get involved in the political process.  Attendees will be able to register to vote and opt-out forms will be available for high-schoolers, allowing them to opt-out of an obscure provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that forces public schools to supply high school students’ names and private contact information to military recruiters.

“Public schools can’t, out of one side of their mouth, tell students that they want them to have a bright future after high school and out of the other side of their mouth tell them that it’s okay for them to go kill and die for a profit-making war machine,” says Boots on military recruitment. “That’s why I support the “Opt Out” campaign promoted by Music for America.  I think conscientious school administrators should choose not to release student’s personal information to military recruiters.”

Boots and MFA volunteers will also be educating the audience with minimum wage “issue cards” containing facts and actions to take.  “Putting music into action is something that both The Coup and Music for America are all about,” says Riley, “so it’s only fitting that we work together in this way. What we really need are militant unions at fast food places and chain retail stores, but until then, we need to substantially raise the minimum wage because people are struggling, not only in their every day existence, but to make enough to pay for gas and parking to get to work in the first place.”

MFA is a nonprofit engaging young people in progressive politics through partnerships with musicians and music communities.  MFA aims to provide the cultural capital and political savvy for America’s youth generation to reinvent progressive politics.  The organization has 60,000 members, more than 325 partner bands, and has reached 3 million young people at more than 3,600 concerts since 2003.

“If you want to reach our youngest voters, you have to go where they hang out — the local music and arts scene — precisely the sort of places in which Music for America does its incredible work.” said Markos Moulitsas, publisher of the popular Daily Kos weblog.

The idea behind this tour is to channel the excitement of music into something proactive and positive.  MFA’s central principle is that every young person is a member of a music community.  And every community, with the right tools, has the power to effect huge change. Boots will be bringing advance copies of the highly anticipated new Coup record, “Pick A Bigger Weapon” to preview to the crowd and then discuss the album and the issues fans and local MFA folks from every community the tour hits.

Want more?
I interviewed Boots back in 2002 for a story published in Panache Magazine:

The Coup — silent “P” — coup as in coup d’état, the overthrow of the government — revolution. Why does the Coup’s lead rapper Boots Riley feel like revolution is in order? He explained in a call from Oakland the day before he appeared on the late night talk show Politically Incorrect and a few days before he came to Eureka to share his views on stage at Club West.

“Right now the government in place is supposed to serve the people, but we know that it’s really there to protect the interests of a few people — the big bosses, the ruling class — from the rest of the people. Not that there aren’t good people trying to do good things in government, but the way that’s the way it works. We need a system that’s a real democracy, in which the people not only elect one person to make decisions for them, but we need for the people to democratically control the profits that they produce as workers. That’s real democracy, economic democracy. I would say we saw one peep of the truth with the election of George W. Bush as President. The Republicans said that it’s not really a democracy. The idea that they’ve taught us in school is just something to make high hopes for the people.

As a matter of fact a lot of things we’re taught about the way the system is supposed to work are not true. For instance we’re taught that this country is founded on freedom of speech. Just a little bit of research shows you that when they passed to First Amendment, it did not say that Congress guarantees the right to free speech, it says Congress shall not abridge the right to free speech. The reason they said that was because every city and every state at the time had laws saying that you can’t have seditious speech in public. They made sure that their law didn’t override any of the laws of the states. The reason they had it in there was as a bluff for the people who were engaged in various rebellions up and down the coast against the up and coming ruling class. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries people were arrested regularly for getting up on a soap box to say, ‘We should have a union,’ or for singing songs.

In the 1900s, for instance, people in the IWW, the Wobblies, they would get arrested for singing songs. The folksinger Joe Hill got arrested a number of times for singing basically about joining the union, one big union. None of those laws got wiped off the books until 1928 when somebody on the East Coast, one of the Wobblies, got arrested for speaking out and saying, ‘We should have a union.’ They took it all the way to the Supreme Court and showed how it contradicted the Constitution and they were able to get those laws wiped off the books, but that wasn’t until 1928, and before that, talk about freedom of speech, even in universities, was considered Un-American.

Do you have freedom of speech?

What we are learning is that you can say what you want to say up to a point. But the ability to speak is not just the ability to move your mouth and let words get out, it’s the ability to be heard. That’s why they talk about freedom of the press.

You know what they say, “You have freedom of the press if you own a press.”

Exactly. It’s the same with freedom of speech. It’s not freedom of speech if you can’t be heard. In reality, the viewpoints that are heard in most media outlets are the viewpoints of the people that own them. We don’t hear the sentiments of the people.

You speak your mind on your record, which I must point is put out by a major label owned by a huge multi-national business that probably does not like what you have to say. They don’t stop you?

The way it works is, a few people get to squeak by so that there’s a semblance of freedom of speech. And if it makes money, it makes them more powerful. And in a sense, as soon as they want to cut me off, they can.

The medium you use for your message is hip-hop. Do you think that you are an exception to the rule when it comes to the direction hip-hop is going? For the most part it has become part of the mainstream and people don’t talk about things like revolution.

That goes back to freedom of speech and the ability to be heard. I don’t think the direction you are talking about is the direction most hip-hop artists are going, only the ones that the major corporations allow you to hear. There are so many people who have good music; there are many who have bad music too. There are so many people that you are not able to hear. And not just revolutionary hip-hop, other hip-hop that just talks about identifying to problems that are happening, socially relevant hip-hop. It’s happening, but you don’t hear it. Even when you’re on a major label, what’s thought of as the ‘direction of hip-hop’ is what’s being played on the radio all the time. We know that even if you’re on a major label, unless that label commits hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to paying to the radio stations, you will not be heard. It doesn’t matter if every DJ on a station loves your record. It’s just a matter of how much is being paid to the station. People think payola was outlawed, but it’s only payola if you pay the DJ and don’t pay the manager. If you pay the station manager, and the corporation that owns the station, it’s not defined as payola.

I read about what they call, the independents, the record promoters who pay off the stations. Recently Clear Channel was going to buy the largest independent firm in the country. They already own a thousands of the stations.

And they own a lot of venues and concert promotion companies.

Exactly. If you look at Pollstar’s number for last year you see that Clear Channel was the No. 1 concert promoter, so far ahead that if you added the ticket sales of everyone else in the top 20 together, they were still bigger.

What’s dangerous about this is that they’re the channel that put out the banning list for all those songs. They deny it now, but there are those who work for them who say it was true.

I imagine the Coup is probably permanently banned by Clear Channel.

I don’t know about that. But there was a time when we had a hit on this station KMEL, in L.A. Somebody who was an independent promoter took a liking to the song, “Fat Cats and Bigger Fish” and got it on the radio. It was getting all these requests and because of that it got a lot of requests on the box (TV) and was getting played on BET. We ended up being the No. 1 most requested song on KMEL for five weeks, but they wouldn’t put us in rotation. That station wasn’t owned by Clear Channel at the time, now it is, but it shows you something about the way it works. Clear Channel is a corporation with an outwardly conservative leaning. I don’t know about up there, but down here they own most of the billboards also. And they’re buying all sorts of TV stations.

They’re in the process of buying one up here. And that station just shut down its news department.

This is the democracy we’re fighting for, the democracy of the Bush Administration and the Enron Corporation. They tell us the fallacy that they’re bombing other countries for freedom of speech; they’re bombing for democracy. We see all of that is not true. We’re being lied to all the time. As a matter of fact, look at this war. On TV, they keep quoting these statistics, and they say that so may people are in favor of this war that’s going on. I’ll tell you we went on a tour up the West Coast, into Montana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and into Middle America: Ohio, Missouri. At each place I took time to talk about the war, to say why it is a horrendous thing. At each one, crowds full of people were cheering in support of antiwar statements, and these were areas where people told me everyone was for the war. In some of the shows, you could say we were headlining so, those were the people who came. I would argue that many were college towns where whatever is going on that night is where everybody goes. The other thing is that some were events where we were not the headliner, where people didn’t necessarily come to see us. It was recognizable that people are not as much in favor of this war as the media would like you to believe. That’s just one case of media manipulation.
On this tour I’ve been talking about this friend of mine, Jeremy Glick, his father got killed in the Sept. 11th thing. He has a group of victims families, a large, large group that are all against the war. They say, ‘Not in our names.’ And they can’t get on major television networks. You would think it would at the very least be a human interest story. And we’re talking about 100 families that are against the war. In November there was a march on Washington of victim’s families against the war. The New York Times didn’t show any of the signs that said, ‘Not in our names,’ they showed a picture where you couldn’t read the signs and said, ‘Victims families mourn their loss.’

9-11 also brought you some major media attention because of the album cover. (The original cover of “Party Music” shown above had Boots and Pam the Funkster posing in front of an exploding World Trade Center.) People heard about you that had never heard about you before. What are your thoughts on all that in retrospect?

I think that to some extent we were able to use that to get some ideas that weren’t being heard out there. Bit I have to tell you, I think that the people who had the most animosity toward the idea of the album cover were journalists. I wanted to use the controversy around the album cover to be able to talk about and expose the realities of what the U.S. was about to do — which was bomb Afghanistan — and to be able to expose the reality that the U.S. is the biggest supporter of terror around.
The U.S. was found guilty by the World Court for killing 30,000 innocent civilians in Nicaragua to overthrow a democratically elected government. Right now they are housing a terrorist who was convicted by the World Court, Emanuelle Constance from the FRAP organization from Haiti. They have him in Queens, New York and the rest of the organization that came with him is in Florida. They were being funded by the CIA to overthrow Aristide. They killed thousands of people along the way. Afterwards there was a World Court hearing about some for the massacres they carried out and he was found guilty. They refuse to extradite them to Haiti. He was already being held here, the World Court wanted to bring him to Haiti, and the U.S. was going to comply. Then Constance said he would expose the CIA connection in all of this, and the U.S. said, ‘Okay, we’ll keep you here.’ The FBI actually protects him since there are people here who want to kill him for what he did to their families in Haiti.
Anyway, as I said, I wanted to use that (the controversy about the cover) to bring up these other political topics. All the journalists were all like, ‘How could you do that. It’s so insensitive to use it to put forward a political agenda?’ My answer was, the media right now is using it to put forward a political and economic agenda. As we saw, Coke didn’t stop doing commercials in between shots of the World Trade Center being blown up.

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