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photoessay: CHANT DOWN BABYLON! artists against war, by Hans Bennett

by Hans Bennett Saturday, Feb. 22, 2003 at 9:21 PM

On January 30, 2003, Chuck D, Ani Di Franco, Ozomatli, Saul Williams, and Michael Franti performed at an anti-war benefit concert for AWOL magazine. Includes essay and photos from the event.

photoessay: CHANT DO...
n1.jpg, image/jpeg, 414x432

In this photo, Chuck D begins his set with the Public Enemy song “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” To view all 14 photos, please link to:

CHANT DOWN BABYLON! Radical artists challenge Bush’s War on the World

By Hans Bennett

"Who here has heard of Paul Robeson?" Saul Williams asked. Few in the

crowd of over 3,000 seemed to know. "If you haven't heard of him,

there's a reason," Williams explained, arguing that activist artists

like Robeson have been consciously erased from our nation's historical


For those who don't know, Robeson was a revered black actor, singer and

athlete who used the privileges his fame brought him to speak out

against lynching, white supremacy, capitalism and US foreign policy. As a consequence, he was blacklisted and lived the last years of his life in poverty. But that didn't stop him from doing what he felt was right.

At the January 31 "Not In Our Name" anti-war concert in Berkeley,

artists like Williams, Chuck D & the Fine Arts Militia, Ani Di Franco, Ozomatli and Michael Franti & Spearhead helped keep Robeson's tradition alive. The performers, as well as concert organizers, used their platform to speak out against the upcoming war on Iraq, US imperialism, media censorship, domestic poverty, and a host of other critical issues. The concert itself was a benefit for AWOL Magazine, a Philadelphia-based hip-hop periodical published by the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. One of AWOL's main objectives is to counter the military's recruitment of youth of color, and each issue comes with a free CD featuring some of the best in today's revolutionary music.

The concert came at a pivotal moment, as the federal government sought

international support for escalation of its ongoing war on Iraq. While

Operation Desert Storm killed between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis, the

subsequent sanctions and bombings have persisted as never-ending "low-intensity" warfare against the Iraqi people. Aerial bombings committed by the US and British militaries in the name of enforcing "No Fly Zones" that were never authorized by the UN and are therefore illegal have been killing people since the early 1990s. Still, these bombings have primarily had psychological effects. The real death and destruction have come in the form of economic sanctions. These

sanctions have done nothing to loosen the Saddam Hussein's dictatorial

control over the nation. What they have done is claim the lives of over 500,000 innocent children and over one million people overall, according to a 1996 UNICEF report. Sanctions make it difficult for most Iraqis to access nutritious food, clean water and adequate healthcare. These problems are exacerbated even further by radioactive depleted uranium (DU) dust left over from exploded US and British DU ammunition from the 1991 war.

The "Not In Our Name" concerted proceeded with this background in mind.

Chuck D & the Fine Arts Militia opened the event with the 1988 Public

Enemy song "Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos." In the song, the singer

is imprisoned after refusing to be drafted by the US military. He

eventually escapes during an armed insurrection in which he shoots and

kills a prison guard. The song begins, "I got a letter from the

government the other day…it said they were suckers. They wanted me for

their army or whatever…They could never understand that I’m a Black man

and I could never be a veteran."

Chuck then began reading poetry from his book to the sounds of Fine

Art’s Militia’s hard core rock. In one piece, Chuck D repeated the line "Rebel Vs. Thug Vs. Rebel…" as he castigated rap that glorifies

gangsterism, something he argues is fundamentally counterrevolutionary.

Throughout the concert there were many different speakers. Rutgers

University Professor Jeremy Glick criticized US foreign policy and

blamed it for the death of his father, who was killed in the September

11 World Trade Center tragedy. Further still, Glick passionately argued that George Bush and other leaders have used the death of his father and others to justify their wars of aggression beyond.

Ozomatli, Ani Di Franco, Saul Williams, and Michael Franti & Spearhead

followed with performances that blended political commentary with

excellent music and poetry. The day was a testament to the powerful

potential of performing artists to assist and work in conjunction with

community organizing and political movements.

Artists who publicly challenge the policies of the powerful today still

face similar obstacles to those of Robeson. In the mid-90s, world-famous pop star Sting publicly supported death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal by signing an ad calling for a new trial and by appearing at public events for Abu-Jamal. When Sting's 2000 music tour came to Philadelphia, a national police organization refused to do security for the show and threatened to cause problems at future concerts. The day before the concert, Philadelphia's most prestigious newspaper printed an article about his support for Abu-Jamal. This article, along with Sting's photo, was interestingly enough featured on the obituary page. The next day's paper featured a long article in which Sting denied ever signing an ad on behalf of Abu-Jamal, saying that it must have been a mistake.

At the "Not In Our Name" event, artists not only performed on stage;

they courageously spoke out against Bush's war drive during a pre-concert press conference. The various speakers briefly introduced

themselves and explained why they felt a need to speak out.

Michael Franti poignantly described his feelings of powerlessness since

September 11 and how he is "scared about what’s happening in the

world." He said his performance that day was a way to "join with the

community and say that we are not just opposed to this war, but also

to militarism in general."

Mario Africa of AWOL magazine, as well as MOVE and the International

Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, quoted MOVE founder

John Africa, as saying that "as long as you’re committed to doing what’s right, the power of righteousness will never betray you."

"A lot of our family is being snatched away be military recruiters.

They are being misled and tricked into joining the military and

supporting war," Africa explained. He argued that people who suffer

from poverty, particularly youth of color, are preyed upon by US

military recruiters offering a way out. "They lure recruits from one

culture of death to another. We have to stop what’s happening in our

communities. We have to stop the body snatchers."

Africa described the real motivations behind the imminent war on Iraq

not as "fairness, equity, or protecting US citizens." He said, "This is a war of aggression. It’s a global takeover… It’s an addiction to oil that is afflicting the entire planet."

When asked about the role that mainstream media plays in supporting the

war drive, Saul Williams pointed to the fact that Secretary of State

Colin Powell’s son Michael is the head of the Federal Communications

Commission. "There’s a strong connection. Media conglomerates are

large corporations," he explained.

Williams recalled watching CNN during the Rwandan genocide of the

mid-90s. "I’ll never forget CNN saying that ‘thousands of people have

died today in Rwanda’ for 18 seconds. Then they had a one and a half

minute feature on the Rwandan gorilla that is becoming extinct."

Ani Di Franco said that, "Even the facade of truth or objectivity in the mainstream media is gone… We can’t look to the White House for political leadership. We can’t turn on TV and see truth. We have to look to each other and become our own media."

Africa seemed to agree, saying, "If we think there needs to be people’s

radio, TV, music videos, and art, then we need to do it."

The last questions of the day hinted at tactics for stopping the war and the issue of where the anti-war movement may be headed. Africa

responded that people should be doing whatever it is they can best bring to the movement.

"In our movements for liberation we often see the ‘this group won’t work with that group because their ideologies are too different’ behavior, which keeps us from being stronger. If we really want to bring this system down, we have to come at all levels," he explained.

As an example Africa discussed about the current debate over the issue

of property destruction. He said that protesters not engaging in

property destruction shouldn’t have a problem with "comrades who want to throw something through the window of Starbucks…While I may not be doing that, I’m not going to fight with or discredit them. They are not the enemy. The enemy is the death culture that we see in front of us."

Williams ended the press conference on an uplifting note, pointing out

that, "There are more people protesting now than before the Vietnam

War... This is a reason for us to be inspired... We as a people are more powerful than any people in legislative positions."

Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with Philadelphia’s INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. He can be reached via email: or

c/o INSUBORDINATION po box 30770 Philadelphia, PA 19104

To view more photos from the concert, please link to the AWOL magazine article:

See also the Brain Raps website:

To view a partial archive of Hans Bennett’s work, please link to:

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