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Rev. Lennox Yearwood Headshot

Hip-GOP

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Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele received considerable flack for his recent comments about giving the party of Lincoln a "hip hop makeover."

Never mind the mental images of a gold tooth flashing John Boehner. That statement actually has merit, so to the surprise of some I'm not here to condemn the new chairman.

I'm here to thank him for saying it, and to ask him to put RNC money where his mouth is, or "bling bling" as he so eloquently put it.

In the firestorm since, the media has derided the idea, Democrats have laughed at it, and Republican politicians misunderstood it as a call to act like MC Gusto. But for now, I'm taking the man at his word.

Let me be clear though, hip hop politics already exist and aren't shackled to either party's platform. The party that gets our vote is the party that takes the time to listen to our concerns. And acts on them.

A melting pot of the streets, hip hop is a movement cultural in nature, artistic by choice, spiritual when it wants to be, political when it has to be, but always refined. And in our movement we walk with a swagger.

Hip hop is the firepower for the 21st century Civil Rights struggle. We are the boots on the ground, and in case you weren't paying attention we been marching for some time now.

Marching to end the war in Iraq. Marching for climate justice and clean energy, and to end racial profiling. Marching for inner-city job creation and worker's rights, and healthcare for all.

Addressing the needs of urbanites, minorities and young people, otherwise known as hip-hop's constituent base, had been the life's work of the Hip Hop Caucus since our inception in 2004.

When members of our base were dying in high numbers in unjust wars in the Middle East, we organized the "Make Hip Hop Not War" campaign.

Hip hop heads are all too aware that war is never the answer, because they're the ones sent off to fight, not the silver-spoons from the suburbs.

In March and April of 2007 we did a sixteen-city national bus tour with hip hop artists, Iraq War Veterans, youth leaders, peace and security experts, and different Members of Congress. We held events, rallies and roundtables in each city and educated audiences on the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and motivated young people to take action and have their voices heard.

Those voices promoted the closing of Guantanamo Bay and the restoration of Habeas Corpus. Those voices were heard.

The death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing struggle of Gulf Coast residents to return to their communities, revealed a need for racial, social and economic justice.

When FEMA fell short, the country looked the other way, and 11 republicans voted against giving any aid to the victims, the Hip Hop Caucus was there with the Gulf Coast Renewal campaign, which won the 2006 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

For the biggest election in a lifetime, the Hip Hop Caucus made sure our culture was represented.

Along with celebrities Keyshia Cole, T-Pain, and Young Jeezy, the Hip Hop Caucus and spokesman T.I. led the "Respect My Vote!" campaign to register thousands in cities across the country. So when change happened, it had a hip hop vibe.

At no point in the registration drive did we tell anybody what party to sign up with, or who to vote for.

And if Republicans would only try, they might actually become viable in East Harlem or the South Bronx.

Oddly enough conservatives seem compelled to try their appeal to hip-hop only through free market capitalism braggadocio. Apparently based on the premise that all rappers, and subsequently their fans, care about is "getting dat' money."

That misses the point. Rappers tell stories about making the paper because they grew up poor, because their mommas grew up poor, and because they don't want their children to. Urban Poverty is the shadow villain of our street rhymes; rap is our cry for help.

Soon the Hip Hip Caucus will launch the Communities of Choice campaign to end Urban Poverty. Members of the Republican Party are more than welcome to join us to storm the ramparts of such institutional destitution.

Hip hop is post-partisan. Our culture does not care whether the politician is a Democrat or Republican, Green or Libertarian, just as long as they have progressive intentions for American cities, hip hop's homebase.

This country needs both major parties to care about urban issues. And if the Republican Party intends to survive it will have to start winning cities eventually. So it's a match made in heaven.

To go from the party of Eisenhower, to the party of Pat Buchanan, to the party of Big Daddy Kane would be pure poetic justice. And living proof of evolution.

For the conversion to work though, it would have to be of substance and not just style. Chairman Steele, please keep it real and cut out the street slang, which cheapens the message of a Republican change. President Obama never used that stuff, he spoke to the streets, he didn't imitate them.

Russell Simmons, BET and The Source will have to start retiring words if Michelle Bachmann keeps talking like she's Ice-T.

For the Republican Party to appeal to urban voters, and our culture, a "makeover" is not what they need. They need to tweak their policies.

I would love to see them try. I want to have a legitimate choice every time I step in the voting booth, as does hip hop. So I had a few ideas in mind.

Since hip-hop is the world's largest melting pot, our issues are diverse and every member free to vote for whom they choose, but first and foremost its hard for us to vote Republican if the party openly and admittedly disenfranchises us.

Fix that, and then a Hip-GOP could exist.

And it could be beautiful, made up of black and white, brown and yellow, male and female, straight and gay, Christians, Muslims, Jews, theists, atheists and nonbelievers. A party that truly looks like America.

A party of love instead of hate, of peace and no more wars. A party that fought for urban progress, a clean environment, a common sense drug policy, affordable healthcare, and equal opportunity for all.

Can you make that happen Chairman Steele?

For Future Generations...
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.
President, Hip Hop Caucus