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This Will Make You Angry

by Dawn Smith Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002 at 7:14 PM 213 251 9164

Article about anger is the fuel for activism and social change. Focuses on prison issues and hip-hop activism.

This Will Make You Angry

My first reaction was, ‘How dare she get so intimate with me?’ I was at a lunch meeting with a fellow activist and she asked what makes me angry. At that moment, the question did. It seemed far too personal an inquisition for our first meeting. I told her that I couldn’t think in those terms. I thought that if I started thinking on those terms, I’d never stop. I thought that was why the letters to “President” Bush and Governor Davis still lie unwritten in my head, why I haven’t moved to Canada despite witnessing, with the kids at my community center, a missile launch like an enormous explosion in the sky that was described, the next morning, in a remote paragraph of the Metro section of the LA Times as “what has become a beautiful Southern California tradition”. I thought that was why I was not screaming in the streets, why I was still here, working in the nonprofit sector, believing in the power of youth to affect change. Because if I let myself think about it, I felt I would be completely overwhelmed, mortified, horrified. What the hell could Bush want, making these demands, then, when they are met, saying they are beside the point. He reminds me of my nephew, wailing for something but when he gets it, he is still wailing, with two hands on his younger brother, one tickling him, the other strangling him, and when asked why he is still screaming, he momentarily forgets why, then stammers out some new void the world has forgotten to fill in his life. What the hell is wrong with Davis to prioritize prisons over education, to now be talking about reducing the state’s deficit by cutting school funding when classes are already held in broom closets, when students are pleading for improved education, when a trigonometry class is taught with no textbooks. Meanwhile, some of us stand in the proud California sunshine, in the state so often criticized as all looks and no substance, the state that is #1 in prisons spending and fluctuates around 42nd in spending on public education, the state where, thanks in part to our governor’s priorities, one of the kindest, brightest, wisest youth I know is locked away for the rest of his life in adult prison and hasn’t seen our California sunshine in a month, with no assets but anger to fuel our dissent.

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports that, “Despite a billion budget deficit, declining arrests and prison commitments, state officials are prepared to spend 5 million dollars to build a new 5,160 bed prison in Delano, California. … While the 2001/2002 prison budget faces only a million reduction in its .6 billion budget, the Governor proposed to cut 4 million from the California education budget and million from the Healthy Start Program. In addition, the Governor proposed cutting million from the Healthy Family Program.”

So maybe it’s not such a bad thing to think about all the reasons I am angry.

If you’re feeling angry, I’ve learned, one of the first things to recognize is that you are not alone. As it turns out, may of us use anger to fuel political and social activism. A WebMD article on handling anger suggests looking for like-minded souls who share your passion and consider working for an organization for social change. I would add to that to consider starting your own. Dana Crowley Jack, EdD, a psychologist at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, is quoted in the Web MD article expressing that, “Joining other people who care about what you do can transform anger into a positive expression.”

I have a lot to learn. I know that art and music are outlets for expression. I love the hip-hop culture because it’s a culture that emerged from oppression and transformed experiences of urban life into music, dance, and art. Their oppression became their power. And best of all, battles—then and now, represent competing with one’s craft rather then punches and blows.

How conscious is the choice to channel anger into music, art, and activism? I’d like to learn how to make that choice more conscious. Because I’ve stopped watching the news. I never read the paper. How do other cultures turn oppression into beauty? What role does spirituality play?

An article called “Social Activism in Cynical Times” discusses how many may turn away from politics and social justice issues because, “to confront the reality of evil or injustice in the world is perhaps to confront their own underlying despair.” But, the article continues to say that activism can make us alive and well and quotes from Paul Loeb’s book, Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time , “There's a process of dying that happens when you shut yourself off to the inequalities and injustices in front of you,” Kelly told Loeb.”

Personally, I do believe that peace in the heart will eventually bring peace in the world. Partly from a sort of universal consciousness—the reason when a monkey on one side of the world learns a trick, a monkey on the other side is seen to do it shortly thereafter, and partly because I do believe that if I am at peace, I will truly treat others with the unconditional love and dignity they deserve, and so on down the line. But I also believe that we may not have enough time to leave it at that. We need activism now more than ever. I know that dissatisfaction has enormous potential. Dissatisfaction fueled me to right this article- it may fuel you to revolution. After all, isn’t dissatisfaction the root of all activism?

We need to work on ourselves AND the world, we need to channel our frustrations into articled, letters, petitions, protests, billboards, rallies, and revolution. And, to quote again from “Social Activism in Cynical Times, “Without the capacity for anger we "tolerate the intolerable," as the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a Yale chaplain who became one of the leading theologians to oppose the Vietnam War, once said. The larger challenge is not to avoid or deny our anger, but to express and channel it, appropriately and effectively, into positive action on behalf of human dignity and justice.” 3 We need to work for peace and for the work to be effective, I think it helps to be angry. Really, really angry.

Dawn Smith is the Founder and Director of J.U.i.C.E., a hip-hop youth center in Los Angeles, and can be reached at

To get more involved in prison issues or hip-hop activism, contact J.U.i.C.E. at , or check out these sites:,,

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things that make you angry Topple Bush Friday, Dec. 13, 2002 at 10:29 AM
Simple Simple Simon Friday, Dec. 13, 2002 at 6:43 PM
................ ................ Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002 at 10:24 AM

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