“rebel girl” – bikini kill (1993)

History is a subject I always enjoy.  There are a lot of a great stories there, but also opportunities to reflect on how things have changed.  Whether this change is about you or society at large, the fact we can trace the evolution of how things progress, and document that, really fascinates me.

History, though, can be subjective based on who exactly is writing it.  History is written by the winners.  I’m thankful for all the ways we can capture history due to technological advancements.  Photographs, video, the Internet.  These are all great tools in capturing our world and documenting our presence and contribution for future generations.

So, it Is crazy to me with such great tools to record our lives, there are people who still challenge the truth while it is staring directly at them in face.  There is even a new buzzword to describe one’s blatant refusal to acknowledge reality: alternative facts.  Referring to something as “alternative facts” is an intellectually inept way to dismiss a truth if it doesn’t fit within a specific narrative you are writing.  Manipulating audiences with the introduction of alternative facts becomes a way to write history.  In our current political climate, it appears as though the current presidential administration isn’t interested in doing what is best for everyone in the country.  It is about winning.  And in order to win, you have to brand and market your ideas in a way that gets more people on your side.  Because, in the end, it isn’t about what actually happened.  It is about who finished first and on top and that’s when “truth” becomes reality.

We are always going through history and we are always experiencing history changing.  By and large, we don’t recognize we went through something very significant until years later because, sometimes, the historical impact of something takes years, or even generations, to make sense and provide context.  However, there are singular moments that define us and the world.  Moments where we know instantly that we will never be the same again.  And it is up to us to decide how those moments define us for better or worse.

I didn’t watch Trump’s inauguration speech or dinner.  I ignored all footage, reports, and social media posts that directly involved him.  However, I watched the footage of the protest in D.C.  Thousands of people marched and protested Trump’s presidency.  However, what took the spotlight off the large crowds were the few extremists who vandalized and behaved violently.  All of the news reports focused on the window smashing and the fires being lit.  Between the demagogue swearing in and the violent civil unrest in the streets, it was looking like a dark day.

The footage had me worried because I was scheduled to march the next day in Chicago as part of a nationwide Women’s March.  The Chicago Tribune anticipated that 50,000 people who show up in Grant Park to march a few blocks to Daley Plaza.  While I was impressed with that number, it seemed lame to have them march such a short distance.  However, it would be manageable and that would be a good thing considering the unease I felt after watching the violence in D.C.

Throughout the morning, in Grant Park, there were speakers and performers scheduled prior to the march.  I was with my friend Carolyn and we were running late, so we missed all that.  As we left the trains, I was reading a report on WGN that the total number of people was 150,000 and that march would be officially cancelled.  I was so stunned to hear that the number of people attending was three times more than estimate from the day prior.  We left the station and were immediately met with swarms of men and women waving signs and sporting fashionably cute hats with kitty ears; their pussyhats.

The march has just begun when we arrived.  Immediately, I was overwhelmed with a joyous spirit.  The energy and electricity in the air was nearly tangible.  We headed west down Van Buren chanting and looking at all the creative, colorful, and powerful signs.  Signs that could be funny, signs that were poignant, and signs sharing personal stories.  So many beautiful signs.

Carolyn and I ate cookies with frosting decorated like a shit in Trump’s image and cookies with Obama’s famous logo.  We turned north on Wabash and marched under the L train.  The large crowd, like a snake, meandered through the Loop on Jackson, La Salle, Madison, and finally to the famous Michigan Avenue where we marched under the shadow of the infamous Trump Tower along the Chicago river.  However, we didn’t stop there.  The crowd had already veered off the approved path for an already officially canceled march, so it wouldn’t hurt to take it as far as we could go.  So, we marched up State before Carolyn and I broke away at State & Chicago for lunch.

The day couldn’t have been better.  The sun was shining and was unusually warm for a January day.  The protests were larger than expected.  Most importantly, it was a peaceful protest.  Conflicting reports were running until the final estimate recorded that over 250,000 people protested in Chicago.  And not only that, there was a not a single arrest.  So many women marched in this country that it became the biggest protest in U.S. history.  And not only that, but women marched and protested on every single continent. Everything about that event was the exact opposite over the depressing train wreck in D.C. the day before where people rioted, were arrested, and the rain put a damper on spirits as our country watched a vile man take the oath of office for the presidency.

The day before, I had finished a book entitled Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus.  It was the next book to read for a music book club and I didn’t know much about riot grrrl.  However, how fitting it would be to finish it the day before the Women’s March.

The title of this book comes from a mantra championed by the Riot Grrrl movement, an underground feminist punk group, that challenges the patriarchy within music and culture while creating a safe space for women and girls to participate while also giving them a venue to express themselves. The Riot Grrrl movement originated in 1991 in Olympia, Washington before generating a second hub in Washington, D.C. In these groups, young girls and women formed bands, created zines, and held group discussions that encouraged sisterhood and positive reinforcement of self. Out of the movement, bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile were formed as a musically engaging way to address issues that plagued women including rape, domestic abuse, and sexuality. These punk rock shows and zines provided an outlet and a voice for women and all the inherent subcultures within to challenge not only the “boyocracy,” but the outdated ideals of 70s feminists in favor of a more radical and progressive style of feminism, third-wave feminism, a concept that was more focused on the individual and inclusivity.

Bikini Kill gets credit for inventing the riot grrrl movement, but this is something they refuse to accept.  Regardless, they made powerful music with a powerful message.  Released in 1993, “Rebel Girl” is Bikini Kill’s most memorable and serves as the unofficial anthem of the riot grrrl movement.  In this hardwired punk classic, Kathleen Hanna sings about a girl in the neighborhood who is so confident that she seems to own the entire area.  Hanna is enamored by this girl and desires to be her best friend.  In the spirit of riot grrrl, Hanna wants sisterhood and to crush all the critics of this queen of the neighborhood.  The song has rebellious spirit with a message of tolerance and elevating women.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that song during the march.  And given that I just finished that book the day prior, it added more significance to the day’s events.   I went there to support all of the important women in my life and to express solidarity with women all over the world.  It is a moment I’ll always cherish and I feel honored to have march alongside such brave and brilliant women.  In an age where our written history is at stake, I am happy with the choice I made of where to stand.  Revolution girl style now!

“make america great again” – pussy riot (2016)

This Friday, January 20th, is Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States of America.  In the weeks and months since winning the election, he has continued to prove himself to be unpredictable, irrational, and an overall danger to the freedom and safety of the country’s citizens.  Tapping into a seething white rage of nationalistic imperialism, Trump has managed break all traditional understanding of what it means to hold the office.  He hasn’t even taken office yet, but he has already made his mark

Since before and after the election, controversy has followed Donald Trump.  Prior to November 8th, Trump’s ever increasing list of offenses include inciting violence at his rallies, denigrating Mexican immigrants as rapists, threatening to document every known and practicing Muslim in a federal registry, numerous sexual assault allegation, broken promises to his supporters, and a lack of decorum on Twitter with.  Since November 8th, he has continued that rhetoric but with the authority of someone who will be the leader of the Free World.

Additional allegations and claims against Trump have continued to surface since his election victory.  These allegations include the Russian government tampering with the election through hacks and a highly-orchestrated campaign of spreading fake news to negatively impact Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  Most recently, leaked intelligence documents suggest that Trump was videotaped in a Russian hotel with prostitutes performing golden showers.  As this is a continuing story, details are being vetted and confirmed as we speak.  However, the overall problem in the situation is that the next president of the United States allowed himself to be put in a compromising position by a foreign leader and manipulated to do their bidding for fear of additional blackmail to leak.  In line with his personality of being unpredictable and brash, Trump held his first press conference in six months to deny the allegations and blame various new outlets for spreading unverified information.

So much can be said about the toxicity of Trump’s campaign that it can fill a book.  It has been his behavior over the campaign and during his transition to the Oval Office that have people worried about what will happen when the world “elect” is dropped from his title and he officially becomes “president.”  Critics have turned to social media to voice their concern and fear of what will happen to their friends, family, and themselves.  And they have every right to be worried.

I was in shock when Trump won the election on November 8th.  For about two weeks, I was devastated and struggled to pull back the tears.  I was worried about the women, transgender, gay, and non-white people in my life.  I had so much anger.  I went to the protests.  I argued with people.  I wanted to express my outrage in a way I had never done before.

I’m still angry, but I’ve managed that.  Now, as the months have passed, I’ve become less angry with the situation and angrier with the people around me.  In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, I was reading social media posts full of woe that 2017 would be the worst year ever and that the end of the world would be January 20th.  Despite the melodrama that these people exhibited, I couldn’t deny that things wouldn’t be hard.  But I was becoming disappointed in this mentality that people were just going to lie down and let Trump dominate them.  I didn’t want to wallow in self-pity anymore.  I recognized that as hard as the fight was going to be, we still had to get up and fight.

Pussy Riot is an all-female protest punk rock group based out of Moscow that specialized in guerilla performances with themes including women’s right, LGBT discrimination, and opposition towards Russian president Vladimir Putin.  They made headlines worldwide in 2013 when they were arrested for staged a group performance inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Citing their actions as sacrilegious and blasphemous, the government incarcerated three of the members for several months.  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich became the faces of a new brand of international feminism that was angry and justified.

The members were eventually released from prison, relocated from Russia, and have continued their own brand of feminist punk rock aimed at toppling an oppressive patriarchal government.  So, it is no wonder that Trump would be an obvious target for the group.  Not only does Trump represent a virulent philosophy to the group with his promises of oppressing women and minorities, but his alleged connections with Putin have rekindled a new flame in the girls of Pussy Riot.

A few months ago, they released the single “Make America Great Again.”  With the title referencing Trump’s campaign slogan, the band creates a peculiar protest song set against a stark and disturbing prophetic vision of Trump’s America.  The song itself is a little jazzy bossa nova number with some occasional hip hop drum patterns coming in during the chorus.  Though poppy, short, and sweet, the song packs a powerful and unconfused message.   The first line of the song asks the question “what do you want your world to look like?” with a chorus that declares to let other people across your borders, to listen to the women marginalized in your country, and to stop the senseless murder of unarmed black children.  Coopting Trump’s slogan, this is how Pussy Riot says you can make America great again.

However, it isn’t the lyrics that are the biggest takeaway from the song.  While the music poppy and the message of the lyrics reasonable, it is the video for the song that sends the real message of how dangerous Trump’s America can be.  The video opens as a special bulletin from the Trump News Network.  A news anchor is declaring that Trump’s victory will mean no more Mexicans or Muslims, no more fat pigs and small breasts, and more gays.  Footage from Trump rallies including speeches and raw footage of violent supporters play during these declarations of how American can be great again.

Nadya, who plays a Russian immigrant in the video, is taken into custody by police officers with Trump’s hair.  She is branded with a scolding hot iron labeling her as “OUTSIDER.”  She is then taken to a courtroom where she is branded as “PERVERT” by the judge.   Then, before being branded as a “FAT PIG”, her clothes are violently stripped away while her body is measured and analyzed compared to the American beauty standards of a big ass, thigh gap, and large breasts.  Nadya’s story come to an end when she is shot in the back by one of the Trump police officers after attacking a doctor for branding “SHE HAD AN ABORTION” on her inner thigh.

The video for “Make America Great Again” is shocking, disturbing, and violent.  However, it should be.  With the threats Trump poses to the rights of it’s citizens and to the safety of other nations, it must be expressed just how much the world hates and fears him.  Between the threats of violence, blackmail from foreign leaders, and the absence of any decorum, Trump has proven to be a big problem. Even though he isn’t in office yet, various investigations and public initiatives are likely to occur to will have a shameful impact on the office and this country for generations.  However, we can’t wait for that.  Government and bureaucracy moves slowly.  Until then, the solution is to get angry and share your voice.  The women of Pussy Riot have shared their stark vision and, while extreme and hyperbolic, has every possibility of becoming a reality.  Until Trump is impeached, assassinated, or successfully completes his first (and hopefully only) term, the solution it to fight and not normalize his brand of hate.  With a united voice focused on peace and justice, we can get through this.  It will be hard, but we can be harder.  If you want to truly make America great, then do it on your terms.  Terms that allow everyone justice, peace, and freedom.

Yes we can.

“land of hope and dreams” – bruce springsteen (2012)

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President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 was the first time I had ever voted in a presidential race.  I was a month shy of turning 17 when George W. Bush won reelection in 2004.  Despite being unable to vote at that time, I still followed politics as well as any teenager could.  I watched the campaign footage, read the articles, and laughed at jokes on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  These were ways I could be a part of the excitement. While I was unable to understand the nuance of many issues, it was the spirit that thrilled me.

When Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the 2008 election, I only vaguely remembered him speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  I didn’t think much of him because there were several other candidates throwing their hat into the ring.  After eight years of fear mongering and smear campaigns, it seemed most Democrats were thinking about running to fix the problems of the Bush administration.

Frankly, I didn’t think he had a chance.  And neither did my friends.  Here was this young, African-American man with the middle name Hussein.  There was no way this guy could get elected let alone with the nomination.  I didn’t believe America could be ready enough to elect someone who wasn’t an old white man.  Still, I watched the primary debates and became increasingly mesmerized by this man.  So, when he accepted the DNC’s nomination after Hillary Clinton conceded, I was ready to cast my first vote in a presidential election.  And I’ve never regretted it since.

President Obama made a lot of promises during his campaign, but he also delivered on many of those promises.  During the first two terms of his presidency, I was in college and working as a master control operator working during the evenings at a National Public Radio affiliate.  Every Wednesday and Saturday night, I would listen to the BBC World Service and All Things Considered while I was working alone with a dimly lit studio.  I remember, in a breach of decorum, Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” twice when Obama was giving a speech about his plans for the Affordable Care Act.  I was afraid that his presidency would be met with stalemates throughout the entire term.  So, you can imagine my surprise and elation when I was watching the ACA vote on C-SPAN in my dorm when Congress passed this historic act.  I had really liked him before, but this is the first moment where I loved President Obama.

Throughout his first term, Congressional gridlock seemed destine to keep Obama a one-term president.  Even Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said as much.  It was during the second half of his first term that I moved to Chicago.  I was now at the heart of his movement.  I would walk by Grant Park and imagine the energy of that historic November evening in 2008.  I would even encounter people who were there and even met the man!

Being in Chicago leading up to his 2012 reelection campaign gave me a thrill that has been unmatched in politics since.  He seemed to be everywhere.  Literally!  I was on a walking tour of the Kenwood neighborhood during the summer of 2012 and there he was!  Granted, he was 100 feet away and I couldn’t get close to him unlike some other citizens had, but I had seen him in the flesh.  I would also be fortunate enough to attend a fundraising dinner where I would meet his wife, Michelle, and subsequently take one of the most hilariously awkward selfies of my life.

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After Obama was declared the winner in 2012, I left my friend’s apartment and walked back home.  It was chilly and late.  The streets were quiet, but there was this electricity in the air.  I felt good about the future and what opportunities were going to be made available to myself and others in this country.  What freedoms would be granted to the marginalized.  What progress we would make as a nation.  We were all in this together and it all seemed so perfect.

During his second term, I did become more critical of the president.  He was victorious in his reelection and now there was no need to hold anything back.  His success during his second term was his to lose.  I wanted my president to more of a badass and get shit done.  And in all fairness, he did step up his game at being more aggressive to his opponents.  In 2008, his message was centered on compromise and bipartisanship.  Four embattled years later and he learned that you should just do things your way.

While he did oversee the overthrow and execution of Osama bin Laden and Muammar al-Qaddafi, there were legitimate criticisms to be made about his military strategy.  The American public was fatigued by war and his actions were hawkish at times.  Promises to remove troops were kept unfulfilled as more troops were sent in.  He refused to release Mohamedou Ould Slahi from Guantanamo Bay for almost 8 years.  He authorized the deaths of American civilians with the use of military drones.  I’m sure these were tough decisions, but I refused to believe these were the policies and actions of my president.

Regardless, I still loved my president.  The man I voted for twice.  I had just turned 21 when he entered office.  Now, I am 29.  He has been a role model for me during my 20s.  For almost a decade, this man has been a symbol of everything I hope and aspire to be during my formative years; intelligent, compassionate, caring, and empathetic.  So, like many in this nation, I was sad to see him give his farewell speech last night.

I was unable to attend the speech in person at McCormick Place, but I watched online.  Immediately, I was drawn in and emotional early on when he described first coming to Chicago in his early twenties.  That was my story, too!  Like him, I came to this city and trying to figure out who I was and what my purpose in life should be.  He spoke of solidarity and overcoming challenges with openness; two qualities I have learned to value in life.

His speech was one of the most riveting things I have ever watched and it brought back all the reasons and memories of why I came to adore this man nearly a decade ago.  As we are transitioning to a time of anger, confusion, and uncertainty, I am trying to embody the principles I learned from this man.  That democracy needs me as well as other people in my community.  That while sometimes we’ll lose, sometimes we’ll also win because the process that we value in our democracy will not disappoint us but rather serve us.

I was in tears by the end of his speech.  The humility he expressed when talking about how fortunate he was to have the support and his optimism about the future made me realize that this era was coming to an end.  But, that means he won’t stop.  Ensuring the rights, freedoms, and liberties of all Americans requires the hard work of everyone involved.  And Barack Obama is no exception.  The man who served a beacon of hope for me while president was going to step down and continue the fight to move democracy forward.  We relied on him to bring about change for eight years.  Now that he will no longer be president soon, it is up to us to bring about changed.

When Obama finished his speech, Bruce Springsteen’s track “Land of Hope and Dreams” started playing.  Springsteen had written the track in 1999 and released a live version on the album Live in New York City in 2001.  The song wouldn’t see a proper studio recorded version until it released on 2012’s Wrecking Ball.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect song to follow such a historic and moving speech.  Springsteen sings of a train that is heading down unknown track.  You won’t know where you’re going, but you know you won’t be back.  However, this train carries everyone.  The sinners, winners, whores, gamblers, and the broken-hearted ride this train.  On this train, fools and kings are equal.  All dreams and people are welcomed on this train and you don’t need a ticket to get on board.

The ideals that Springsteen sings in the song mirror Obama’s ideals that guided his presidency.  To quote Obama from his 2004 DNC speech, “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

Despite our differences of opinions, we’re all on this ride together and I thank President Barack Hussein Obama for his service.  Yes we can,  we did, and we will continue.

“faith” – george michael (1987)

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On Christmas, the world lost George Michael and the world was devastated.  Amongst all the social media posts blaming 2016 and wondering how any more celebrities will pass before New Year’s Day, there were heartfelt tributes to the artist from fans, new organizations, and music publications.  I scrolled through my feeds looking at videos and fully written tributes posted by friends.  Even if you didn’t know who George Michael was, it was obvious that this was a cultural icon that would be missed.  However, unlike many of friends, I didn’t know much about George Michael.

I can never say I was someone who really listened to George Michael.  Until his death, I could count all the songs of his I knew on one hand.  “Last Christmas,” his biggest single ever and one of my favorite holidays songs, was the only Wham! song I knew other than “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” which was a song I never liked.  “I Want Your Sex” because it was such a provocative song.  And “Freedom! 90” I knew because I was alive at the time and the song was included in commercials.  I guess you could say I wasn’t a fan.

Since his death, I watched some videos and listened to more of his songs.  And I really liked them.  Why wasn’t I someone who appreciated his music more? Perhaps it has something to do with timing.  I was born in 1987 and George Michael was before my time.  Granted, I listen to a lot of music that is older than me.  However, there is just so much old music.  It was hard to sift through it all, so it Is understandable that some things would not be on radar.  Though you could say that someone as monumental as George Michael shouldn’t have slipped right by me.

Before his death, the only real connection with George Michael I had was that another one of his songs was the #1 song on Billboard charts when I was born.  “Faith,” officially released in October of 1987, just happened to be the biggest song in the country when I entered the world.  I just think it is fun to know little nuggets like that.  You want to know what life and culture was like when you were technical a part of it, but not conscious of it.  All my life, that was my only tie to George Michael.  I never listened to his music, but I knew that superfluous connection.

In the days following his death, more news came out about Michael that I never knew.  Of course, I knew he was this mega big gay pop star.  He wore his sexuality like a badge of honor (as he should).  But, I never knew how generous he was.  He gave away millions of dollars to various charities and organizations.  He also made sure that his Wham! partner, Andrew Ridgely, would be taken care of through residuals.  I was surprised to find out how philanthropic he was.  And others were as well.  The last time I had heard anything new about the man was when I watched the Olympics ceremony when he performed and I was thinking he didn’t look that great.  However, this was someone with a such a massive heart and generous heart.  It only made me respect him more and continue to motivate my new-found interest in the man.

His 1987 album Faith was a huge album spawning such amazing songs like “Father Figure” and “Faith.”  Hearing it for the first time 30 years after it’s release, it sounds so timeless.  While there are songs on the album better than “Faith,” that is the song I’ll associate with the most because of a coincidence.  I’m taking some more time to explore Michael’s back catalogue and I know I won’t be disappointed.  It’s just a shame that I’ve gone this long without really listening to him.  Sometimes, you gotta have faith.