Huck celebrates independence: people and movements that paddle against the flow. Inspired by radical youth culture, Huck roams the globe seeking out artists, activists and creative renegades who are breaking down the old world to build something new.
In the world of rapper and poet Saul Williams, everything is happening at once.
When I finally get him on the phone (and it takes some chasing), he’s busy putting the final touches on the Kickstarter for Neptune Frost, a musical he’s written and plans to direct.
On top of that, he’s writing, mixing his next album (also titled Neptune Frost) and finishing work on a graphic novel, all of which are part of the MartyrLoserKing universe, an art project that launched in 2016 with the album of the same name. Oh, and this week, he’ll leave for Europe, where he’ll spend the summer touring.
You’d never guess it, though. Saul speaks with the effortless cadence of someone who has time to assess and analyse the individual impact of each and every word, and is as affable as he is enlightened. After all, for the poet, rapper, actor, writer and activist, busy is good. It’s in his nature.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing,” he says, before breaking into a relaxed, semi-ironic giggle. “It’s been just… crazy.”
At the end of the month, the New York-born artist is headlining The Last Word Festival in London, bringing the work drawn from MartyrLoserKing into a spoken word setting. Ahead of the show, we sat down with the seminal polymath to discuss the power of language, protest in the digital age, and why Kanye West represents the dangerous pinnacle of celebrity culture.
Do you remember when you first realised the power of language? Yeah. I was young. I had some revelatory moments listening to Public Enemy as a kid. There were lines where I remember crying. I remember being at a party, crying, hearing ‘Welcome to the Terrodome’ or ‘Bring The Noise’. Even my parents, who were not initially hip hop fans, were like, ‘Yo, you guys are pushing it forward.’
That was obviously a particularly progressive era for hip hop. Growing up as a hip hop head in New York – in an environment where there were also metal heads and punk kids – we had to defend hip hop. But, when groups like Public Enemy started saying shit, delivering a message over the wildest beats and noise – it was undeniable. At those moments, I was drawn by the power of sound, beats and language. Simultaneously.
Saul Williams - List Of Demands(Reparations) - YouTube
Was it just music? I had been touched by language in other ways simultaneously. For example, I started doing theatre when I was eight, and I started with Shakespeare. The first play I did at eight was Julius Caesar. I played Mark Anthony. I remember that speech – ‘if you have tears, prepare to shed them now’ – and the process in which Mark Anthony had to use words in order to convince a crowd. I realised in the power of oratory there.
Also, my father was a minister. I grew up in the tradition of the African-American church. So of course I had moments where I realised the power of language. Those people, those ministers and songwriters, they were magicians. They were connecting this ancient story to our story. This ancient, coded story of oppression to our oppression. You guys had that wake-up call recently, with an African-American preacher during the wedding over there [laughs].
I grew up surrounded by language. From Broadway, to everything I encountered in the church, to growing up in the ’80s in New York with all of this energetic new music that was coming out and taking over the streets. My life was bombarded by language as a kid.
Nowadays the distinctions between hip hop and poetry aren’t quite as strict. They’re entangled – and people seem far more at peace with that. It’s kind of bizarre, our relationship to these terms. The thing I usually point out is that Homer, for example – the Greek Homer – was not widely read in his day, because 90 per cent of Greece was illiterate at that time. But people gathered to hear Homer speak. Homer was a spoken word artist.
The fact of the matter is that the oral history of poetry goes back even further than the written history of poetry. But it’s true, I think today people have made more sense of it. But still, sometimes, I get somewhat confused by the distinctions. We do need to also acknowledge, though, that poetry was in the first Olympics!
MartyrLoserKing examines protest in the age of the internet. Do you think that it has been blunted by its digitalisation? No, no. I believe that we use the tools that we have in order to update modes and forms of protest. When I think of the role that television played in the civil rights movement, when people began to see how white southerners were treating African Americans on TV – when they saw those firehoses, when they saw the body of Emmett Till – and when that technology entered households commonly across the country, it shifted the discussion. Technology today, it doesn’t blunt it, it shifts the discussion.
Those that are in power will do anything to maintain that power. They are the ones that will thwart and blunt movements. They’ll use technology to do that. But, when I think of the Arab Spring, all the way up to the #MeToo movement, technology has aided the process. It’s made it easier for people to speak up. Technology, like electricity, is on our side [laughs].
Speaking of which – in America, you’re experiencing your first digital president with Donald Trump. He is the most fucking analogue dude ever!
True. And that’s an interesting juxtaposition! This dude isn’t digital, he’s so fucking analogue! But I know what you mean. Yeah, this country and these people… dude, what can I say that you don’t know? [laughs] This is the sort of stuff that was scaring some of us 20 years ago, when we saw the popularity of the reality show in relation to art – seeing the crazy role that celebrity plays on the mind.
There are so many layers to it, not to mention the pent-up angst and frustrations of people who don’t want anything about white supremacy to change – who don’t want to see progress. They don’t want anything except them and their friends and their family to get rich, or die trying. Or kill trying.
When you look at young people – progressive, political and digital natives – do you feel optimistic about the future? To me, it’s not about optimism or pessimism. I had an album called The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggytardust! The key word was ‘inevitable’. In-ev-it-able. The rise and liberation is inevitable, there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Like, the Saudi Arabian government trying to control the spin of how it is that women are being allowed to drive. I imagine that the government doesn’t want the world or the people there to think that they made these changes because of those women beginning to protest. They don’t want them to think that protest has power. But why are they making those changes? Because protest has power – and you can’t do shit to stop it!
You’ve said that you gravitate towards rebels. Who excites you currently? Recently, I’ve been listening to an artist called serpentwithfeet. I’ve seen him live recently, as well. His music and spirit excites me. I also think of the countless women that are speaking up around the world, calling out sexual predators and rapists and all this shit.
Like you were saying, there are so many young speaking truth to power. I spent time in Ferguson, there are so many young activists. I’m super impressed. I think of someone like Malala, who is crazy in what she’s been able to live through, and live beyond, and speak towards in her youth. There’s people like that in every nation.
Here in this country, we talk a lot about the Parkland survivors from the school shootings. I think of the people that I’ve met in all of the disenfranchised communities. I think of the natives who stood at Standing Rock and who are speaking out. This place is full of rebels right now. Full of them.
Saul Williams - Horn Of The Clock-Bike - YouTube
Let’s change the term to ‘visionary’. You’ve called Kanye West a visionary… …I knew you were going to say that!
I’m sorry. Where do you stand on that now? Well, being a musical visionary does not presume one to be a political one. Even though music is political, it doesn’t mean you’re well versed in the ways of the world. Celebrity, success, all of these things build bubbles – and people live in these bubbles. They lose, they forget themselves. Not enough as has been said about the dangers of celebrity and fame.
So yeah, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not completely surprising. You know, for example, most of the geniuses of history did not necessarily walk around calling themselves geniuses… [laughs] There were plenty of clues, if you were listening.
And there’s also plenty of confused philosophies walking around. It doesn’t stop with Kanye. I remember hearing the Biggie song with the chorus ‘Get Money’ and everybody singing along. I was like, ‘Holy fuck, if this shit’s our relationship to capitalism…’ Jay Z said in a song once, “I couldn’t help the poor if I was one of them.” His confusion is not realising how many freedom fighters stood and helped the poor without having to be rich to do.
There’s a lot of confusion floating around. That confusion is the shit that voted for Trump in the first place. That warped sense of self and identity that tells you that a person like that will protect you, a poor white person who that dude has never given a fuck about. But because of identity politics and a game of belonging, you think, ‘Yes! This is my representative!’ I think it’s Balzac who said, ‘Behind every great fortune is a great crime’.
To come full circle in this conversation, I guess it comes down to the power of language. Yep. But when we speak of the power of language, we’re not just talking about talking. We’re talking about the power of literature, the power of philosophy, the power of thinking, the power of processing information and calculating more than the algorithmic traits of a group, processing the steps that will be necessary to take in order for us to step to the next level.
In that respect, do you ever think about your own personal legacy? Not yet [laughs]. No. I just think of what’s meaningful to me about the world that I want to live in and what I can contribute that world a reality.
Niall is Huck’s Associate Editor. You can follow him on Twitter.
Saul Williams is playing at The Last Word Festival on June 30. For tickets, visit the Roundhouse website.
‘Teen activist.’ What a label. How about, ‘Person who has simply had enough’?
From the school pupils walking out across the US to advocate for gun control and to end horrific massacres, to those fighting homophobia, racism and bigotry in all its forms, we are the ones leading a movement to stamp out poverty, using social media to draw the world’s focus on what has been hidden from view for far too long.
And yes, we’re doing it because we have to, because we’ve been left with no other choice. Ours is a generation that has been truly shafted – by big business and the world’s most powerful elites.
We see the inequality that plagues our communities; we’re in no doubt that a climate change armageddon is inevitable. It’s as if we’re willing to learn the lessons of history and science, while those who’ve reeked havoc – leaving a path of distress and destruction – are somewhat less willing to reflect and change their ways.
But that’s not, by any means, our sole motivation. There’s a deeper driving force – a sense of compassion, respect and determination – that those on the wrong side of history just will not understand. Whereas the language of those who look to ignore us is governed by self-interest, we see the value and potential of humanity in all its forms.
These inspiring activists, and countless others, are laying the foundations for a better world. Maybe you are one of them too. If not, let their stories inspire you to start. There really is no time to waste. Michael Segalov
Photo by Akos Stiller
Karolína Farská – 19, anti-corruption, Slovakia
Last spring, Karolína Farská was getting fed up with Slovakia’s politics. Every time she looked at the news, a corruption scandal seemed to have hit the headlines. “And we’re a really small country,” she says. “I couldn’t see how it was possible for so much corruption to happen here.”
She called a friend to let off steam – moan that no one was doing anything – and he suggested that the pair march through the capital, Bratislava, just to show they, at least, weren’t happy. Before the call had finished, she’d set up a Facebook event. “We thought maybe 20 people would come – our friends, you know – and then we’d go for a beer.” Over 10,000 turned up.
Today, Karolína is one of Europe’s most celebrated activists and one of the few people making the continent’s future look optimistic, persisting even when told to stop. “At first, people thought we were really naïve. They were like, ‘You can’t change anything. Come on, go study.’”
But then she organised a second march, and a third – each one bigger – and the mood in the country changed. “People realised they truly have power,” she says. “It’s not just that they can vote once every four or five years.”
Karolína’s marches were certainly in every Slovak’s mind this February, after an investigative journalist was murdered. He’d uncovered worrying connections between government officials and the mafia. His girlfriend was killed too, shot in the head while on her knees.
“It was like we were standing in front of a question,” Karolína says. “‘Are we going to protect our democracy, our rights, everything we’ve built here? Or are we going to do nothing?’” She co-organised new protests, which this time saw up to 65,000 people march through Bratislava – almost a fifth of its population. Then the prime minister resigned.
Today, she’s got no time to think. There’s meetings to organise (“I’ve one tomorrow, another Sunday,” she says after picking up the phone) and trips abroad to inspire other teens. There’s also dozens of messages to reply to each morning (she ignores the ones demanding to know which foreign power is paying her). A plan to study abroad has been dropped.
Why’s she doing all this when so few people would? “I don’t think I’m unusual,” she says, sounding embarrassed. “I just wanted to show people things aren’t right.” Alex Marshall
Photo by Jason Andrew
Zion Kelly – 17, gun control, Washington DC
Last September – a month before his 17th birthday – Zion Kelly was walking through the park near his home in Washington DC when a strange man asked him for his phone.
Unsettled, Zion bolted and later texted his twin, Zaire, to tell him about the encounter. What Zion couldn’t have known is that the same man – armed with a gun – would kill his brother just two hours later. Eight months on, Zion remembers Zaire as “goofy and always cracking a joke. He was the centre of our friend group.”
A shy kid, Zion often relied on Zaire to make friends for both of them. Growing up in the inner city, gun violence was always in the background. A month before Zaire’s death, the twins attended a vigil for a girl killed close to their house.
“We just accepted it,” says Zion. “Like, we have to be careful. There are guns, but what can we do?”
In February, 17 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida, and 17 others were shot but survived. A few weeks later, a woman named Mary Beth Tinker spoke at Zion’s school about the power of students to change policy.
In 1965, Mary Beth fought her middle school all the way to the US Supreme Court, after she was suspended for wearing an armband to protest the Vietnam War.
Zion felt inspired. He invited Parkland survivors to speak at his school. On 24 March, Zion joined these survivors at March for Our Lives to demand legislative gun control in front of the US Capitol building.
Waiting to speak, Zion trembled. This was Zaire’s thing. His twin had been captain of the track team, a candidate for student council president, the kid who grabbed the mic at a political fair and asked a DC councilman about gentrification.
But when he was introduced, Zion suddenly became confident. “I feel like change can happen, especially with the movement going on,” he says. “I want to step up and honour my brother.”
“Stepping up” means giving up his free time to speak at rallies, at the mayor’s breakfast, in front of congressional representatives and news cameras. It means advocating for a city ordinance, named after his brother, that would expand gun-free zones to create safe passage for students travelling to and from school. It means making sure no one forgets that Zaire was a teenager and a twin, rather than a statistic. Cheree Franco
Photo by Harriet Turney
Legally Black – 17-19, representation, London
“I don’t think a lot of people realised that we’re students,” says Liv Francis-Cornibert. “They were messaging us like, ‘Can we work for you?’ And we were like, ‘We’re literally 18…’”
“I still live with my mum!” quips Shiden Tekle, sat beside her in the gallery space at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. “I had to turn off my Twitter notifications.”
The two activists, along with friends Bel Matos da Costa and Kofi Asante, make up Legally Black: a London-based campaign group fighting misrepresentation of black people in the media.
The collective formed in September 2017, having met at The Advocacy Academy, a social justice fellowship for young people. But they were thrust into the limelight when their first campaign made headline news in March.
The idea was simple: take iconic film and television posters featuring all-white casts (Titanic, Harry Potter, The Inbetweeners) and replace the characters with black faces – those of friends, family and volunteers. Each poster was accompanied with a simple message: “If you’re surprised, it means you don’t see enough black people in major roles.”
“I guess I’ve always seen negative depictions of black people,” explains Shiden. “Over time, I’ve understood that the media is a really powerful agency in trying to influence and change people and condition them to think a certain thing.”
“We don’t talk about race at all – it’s so structural and ingrained that it’s not overt anymore,” adds Liv. “In order to combat something which is under the surface, you have to look at the institutions where it’s being upheld. For me, the main one that we could go for was media.”
In addition to promoting environments in which black people can articulate their own experiences, the four-piece (all aged between 17 and 19) are determined to highlight issues such as underrepresentation and harmful, inaccurate depictions.
“If there are people in the world, then they should see themselves represented,” says Liv. “Now that we’ve had a taste of that, people aren’t gonna be satisfied with just ending the conversation.” Niall Flynn
Photo by Qusay Noor
Muhammad Najem – 15, citizen reporter, Syria
Fifteen-year-old Syrian Muhammad Najem posted his first Tweet on 7 December, promising to convey all the events being committed by the Assad regime in Eastern Ghouta – a part of Syria which has been under siege since 2013. Muhammad’s motivation was simply to make the world see what was happening to children like him.
The teen has since become one of Syria’s most prominent opposition activist-correspondents, giving a voice to otherwise silenced victims of a war that began in March 2011. “The truth was being concealed by misleading information put out by the Syrian regime,” he says. “I felt compelled to show the world what was really happening.”
Known for videos in which he speaks into the camera like a young war correspondent, Muhammad often interviews other kids about their experiences and asks about their hopes for the future, which typically includes an end to airstrikes and simply “to be allowed to live our lives”.
But Muhammad’s activism has put him in danger. He fears being arrested because “the regime shows no mercy to those who expose it,” adding that the Syrian government has routinely targeted those who condemn its actions, accusing them of generating propaganda. “Bashar Assad’s regime understands the effective role of young people in enacting change in Syria; that’s why he repeatedly imprisons them.”
Muhammad has experienced profound loss for someone so young. His father died when a mosque was destroyed and several of his friends were killed after hostilities escalated in November, wiping out whole neighbourhoods – including his school. “Our lives became primitive. We had our water cut off, our fuel, our electricity.”
In late March, Muhammad left Arbin – the town he’d lived in his whole life – and embarked on a harrowing 30-hour journey to the rebel-held town of Maaret Al-Numan in Idlib, northern Syria. He is now trying to cross the border into Turkey with the aid of a humanitarian organisation.
“I want to be able to lead a normal life and finish my studies,” he says, adding that he hopes to be a journalist one day. “It’s not just me; all the kids here have been deprived of their studies and deprived of their childhood. We want to leave behind the warzone that we’ve been in for seven years.” Lily Fletcher
Photo by Ian Bates
Jamie Margolin, Zero Hour – 16, climate crisis, Seattle
Last year, Jamie Margolin became transfixed by news alerts flashing on her phone: mudslides in Colombia, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria and, closer to home, “the thick smog that covered Seattle thanks to stronger-than-usual wildfires in Canada.” Instead of simply swiping them away, Jamie decided to do something about it.
“It was already in the back of my mind to start a youth mobilisation movement,” she says. “I was nervous to go there, especially since I’m so young. But last summer I realised I have to take action, even if it’s going to be a lot of action.”
After messaging friends on Instagram – high-schoolers she’d met at a political summer camp at Princeton – Jamie founded Zero Hour, a youth organisation mobilising around the climate crisis.
“We are not a movement that happened overnight,” says Jamie, who connected with adult mentors from the Women’s March as well as young people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. “It took hours and hours every day of slow but gradual movement building, and it still does.”
This July, Zero Hour will host a weekend of youth action in Washington DC. The core 25 members – who collaborate online from across the States, and are mostly still at school – will lobby representatives to divest from fossil fuels (“Because how are we going to pass meaningful legislation if our governments are owned by fossil fuel corporations?”) and protest in a march.
The goal is to show how youth are affected by climate change. “It’s not about a sad polar bear on an ice cap. It’s about people’s lives and kids and futures. People say ‘Climate change? We’ll deal with that later.’ But it’s urgent: it’s zero hour.”
Jamie calls climate change the “defining issue of our time,” as it will disproportionately affect young people and people of colour. She has relatives in Colombia, where her mother is from, who live near fracking sites and are worried about the drinking water.
“People are always asking me to plan for my future,” she says. “[But] my generation is inheriting a totally unliveable, uninhabitable planet. Within the next couple of years, we have to turn this around, or else my generation will really suffer.” Rosalie Chan
Photo by Amanda Mustard
Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal – 21, free speech, Thailand
At 14, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal inadvertently became the face of Thailand’s student activism movement – a daunting role, given the country’s history of draconian lèse-majesté laws, military coups and state violence.
Considered a “disgrace” for his “extreme thinking” by the leader of Thailand’s military junta, the 21-year-old political science student now works with other students at Chulalongkorn University to advocate for educational reform, democracy and free speech.
“We want a free and fair society, to have people be able to speak, to write, to collaborate freely,” says Netiwit, sitting beside a stack of his freshly printed book I Can Love My Country Without Having to be Drafted.
Though Thailand has a long tradition of student activism, past movements – like the 1976 massacre of student protesters by state forces and a royalist mob – are rarely taught in schools.
Their omission from history textbooks, and Netiwit’s own ignorance of them before founding the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance, is what inspired him and his friends to start a press. They publish their own writings and translate foreign texts, like On Tyranny, so that students can take charge of their own educations.
Netiwit became infamous after questioning Thailand’s mandatory haircut styles for students – first in a school paper and then on national TV. Since then, he’s made international headlines as a conscientious objector, faced sedition charges and been removed from his position in student government.
“If the education here is good, why do teachers have to be afraid of students who raise questions? We are afraid of many things in Thailand: afraid of the military junta and getting in trouble,” he explains, admitting that “it can be very dangerous to live like an activist,” which is why so many of his peers keep a low profile.
He believes that older people are less willing to take risks since it isn’t their own future they’re fighting for. Young activists, meanwhile, push for change because they don’t rely on what hasn’t worked so far.
His greatest hope? “That Thai society will be more open and that more people will challenge the power” of the junta. “We can create that change,” he says with a confident nod. “For our future and for our human dignity, we have to fight.” Micaela Marini
Photo by Corinna Kern
Noa Golan – 19, anti-occupation, Israel
For new recruits, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is not only an army but a rite of passage: one that smooths your transition into adult society. Choosing not to serve, therefore, marks you out as an other. It can lead to being labelled a threat and even a traitor.
Noa Golan is one of those people, though she never expected to be. Her parents and two older brothers served in the military, so the plan was that she’d follow suit. “My dream was to become a pilot,” says the soft-spoken 19-year-old, sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe. “It went without saying that you joined the army after school.”
But during a scholarship interview for an international high school, a question about Arab refugees from Israel’s 1948 war caught Noa off-guard. “I thought I was very open-minded, very aware,” she says. “But at the age of 16, I had this realisation that I didn’t know much about the conflict’s history. Even though we studied history at school, it was from a very narrow perspective.”
Noa won that scholarship and, for the first time, started getting to know people from countries she considered enemies. Then, with the 2014 Gaza War as a backdrop, Noa’s new peers questioned her about Israel’s actions. That’s when she realised that serving would feel antithetical to her values. “Even for me, it took a long time to accept that I wouldn’t join.”
Photo by Corinna Kern
What followed was a year-long fight for an exemption. As a conscientious objector, Noa had to defend her principles before a committee of seven male officers. When her claims were rejected (twice), she was sent to military prison and appealed for a new hearing. The process put enormous strain on her family, who endured extensive abuse over the controversy.
“Even though my family disagreed with me, they respected me for being loyal to my truth,” says Noa, who absorbed the brunt of the backlash, even in prison. “One girl came up to me and said, ‘We’re not going to talk, we’re going to fight.’ I replied, ‘No, we’re going to be friends.’”
Today, Noa sees her path as one of advocacy. Now a volunteer community manager at a youth centre, she eventually wants to become a marketing strategist for NGOs. Young people, she says, are often afraid to talk about politics, but if individuals like herself continue to take a stand, others will follow. “[Our generation] have to be optimists,” she says. “We don’t have a choice. We’re not allowed to give up.” Rebecca Greig
Female-founded, independent alternative magazines have been disrupting and adding to UK society for decades. In celebration of this, the likes of Spare Rib, gal-dem, Mushpit, Sabat, Fruitlands, ROMP, Riposte, Hotdog, Ladybeard, Burnt Roti, Orlando, and Beauty Papers are all being celebrated in an upcoming show in London – Print! Tearing it Up – alongside other radical publications that have helped push things forward.
It all began with the seminal Spare Rib, a second wave feminist magazine considered so “dangerous” by the establishment that it was banned from many newsstands in the ’70s. Fo co-founder Marsha Rowe, magazines offered a way out of the secretarial career “box” she found herself in during the era as a young woman.
Rowe moved from Australia to London in 1969, where she began working at the UK arm of satirical magazine Oz. After attending the first UK Women’s Liberation Conference in 1970, she organised a meeting of women in the underground, alternative press.
“What we realised was that we did all the service work – the admin, the typing, looking after men at home,” she remembers. “We weren’t all mothers or housewives, but we were all kept in secondary positions. It all splurged out at that meeting.”
Soon after, Rowe founded Spare Rib along with Rosie Boycott. It was a ‘women’s magazine’ – but with stories told from an entirely new angle. “The women’s movement was just beginning to grow,” she says. “We weren’t even seen as part of it at first – we’d come out of the underground press and we were still wearing makeup and platform shoes! – but gradually [Spare Rib] became the voice of the women’s movement on the newsstands.”
“My aim was so much to reach out to women who were not in the women’s movement, and have a dialogue, just how I’d found a way to escape through magazines.”
Spare Rib was radical not just in its actual content but its unique, surprising combination of content: usual women’s mag features (fashion, fiction, interviews) alongside hard news – something unheard of at the time. “Everything was from a completely alternative angle,” says Rowe. “Slightly anti-consumerist, ‘do it yourself’, even featuring jeans was seen as rebellious.”
The magazine helped shape the national media, putting subjects like sexuality, work, motherhood, and feminism, intersectionality, racism and violence against women (and the mere fact that women want to read news) into the mainstream conversation, and towards women outside of the academic debate.
“We were in the middle of transforming ourselves while we were doing it, it was really idealistic and hopeful,” Rowe adds. “All the men we knew were threatened – we wanted to talk to ourselves, we weren’t their audience anymore.”
THIIIRD magazine – now on its third issue – also pushes forward topics often overlooked by mainstream, society: celebrating intersectionality, cultural heritage and diversity in fashion, arts and society. The publication was founded by what they call ‘third culture children’ – Nigerian/British; Iranian/Brazilians, Italian/American, Cape Verdean/Portuguese, St Lucian/Jamaican/Ghanian, Swiss and English – with an aim to create a magazine offering more on shared cultures, voices and sexualities.
The desire to create this came partly from lack of authentic people telling those stories from a place of first-hand experience. “That is the spirit of THIIIRD, championing the underdog or those marginalised by the mainstream, celebrating stories missing or not treated in the right way,” says Editor-In-Chief Rhona Ezuma.
Ezuma thinks that THIIIRD is uniquely placed to talk about the topics it covers, in part due to being led by a woman of colour. “I think there’s something about when the underdog has control, publications are run a certain way,” she says. “I’m a woman, but I’m also a black woman, so we can relate to a lot of communities.”
“We’re touching base with the LGBTQ community. We’re not directed purely to women – we’re for non-binary people, and for men as well. I think sometimes being a woman, and a black woman, I’m given access and trust that I might not get otherwise. People feel safe with us and I think that’s quite special.”
Ezuma gives the example of their Femme issue, directed at femininity but without being directed simply at women. She also cites publications like gal-dem and Riposte as connecting to THIIIRD’s ethos.
gal-dem – written by women of colour, for all – definitely shares plenty of THIIIRD’s values, not least in the way it celebrates underrepresented voices. The magazine has gained national attention – its writers appearing on shows like Newsnight, curating and featuring in events at institutions like the V&A and Tate Modern, and featuring in mainstream publications like the Guardian and Vogue – which means its message is gaining a wide audience.
Deputy Editor Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff says: “I now know that there were plenty of feminist zines and publications like Spare Rib which came before us, but while gal-dem‘s creation was obviously influenced by society and culture at large, we didn’t take any specific inspiration when it came to how we presented ourselves as a magazine.”
“We were doing something which felt right and natural as women of colour and non-binary people of colour who hadn’t seen themselves represented in the media. I’m still learning about the history of radical magazines made by women but I do believe that gal-dem will be in the history books one day.”
Burnt Roti is another women-led magazine pushing forward untold stories from an underrepresented community: it is created by South Asians, with a mission to celebrate South Asian talent.
Editor-in-Chief Sharan Dhaliwal founded the magazine after having a nose job a few years ago and conversations following on from that about body hair and the kind of plastic surgery that potentially wipes out a person’s visible ethnicity. “When I started opening up about these aspects of my life, I found people who followed me would reach out to me, thanking me, telling me how desperately they needed to hear it from someone else,” she remembers.
Burnt Roti gives readers a space in which to connect and discuss the issues that are specific to them. “How weird it was we initially disliked our mother’s smelly Indian food and now ask them for the recipe,” Dhaliwal gives as an example. “We connect through stories and our mission now is to connect more in person. We hold more events and after our exhibition [The Beauty of Being British Asian] we noticed how important it is to connect people. We had queues going around the block, lasting for two hours and people didn’t complain. In fact, I heard them say, ‘We’re not leaving, there’s nowhere else for us to go to experience this’.”
Burnt Roti also reaches out to wider society, and resonates especially with people from other immigrant communities. Dhaliwal (who also works in video production, graphic design and illustration) also feels that it’s important magazines like hers help address the underrepresentation of women – especially women of colour – at the top of creative organisations and careers.
“Female-led organisations can address this with high-level decisions on equality and pay,” she says. “Decision-making is important here, because the male-led industry makes decisions on privileged authority, whereas women tend to be aware and therefore work on problem-solving these areas.”
Another female-led publication filling a void in the magazine world is Ladybeard. The team (made up of seven) speak as a collective rather than one individual, which goes some way to demonstrate its alternative take on issues.
“We started the magazine to challenge the problematic messages peddled by mainstream glossies,” the team says. “We loved the feel and weight of these magazines but hated the way they made us feel. We wanted to create something that was covetable and beautiful but that opens up questions and offers a range of perspectives.”
“We want it to be a place of play rather than a bible that tells you how to live, what to wear, how to look. We take big, over-represented topics like sex and beauty, and open them up to fresh feminist perspectives.”
Borne from a similar, more mainstream vein, The Mushpit – with its young, very female voice and striking DIY aesthetic – creates something that had a familiar tone of voice to the founders’ specific community (young women, in London) but also useful.
Bertie Brandes, one of the editors, says: “We grew up reading Mizz and J17 but also loved Private Eye and the Onion. There didn’t seem to be an in-between, to be relevant in the same way that those teen girls magazines had been but also funny, smart and satirical, even political, like those other magazines.”
They consciously positioned their magazine between those two groups, covering topics like advice on attending the local sexual health clinic alongside helping to organise fun beauty sessions for the girls and women of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. “A voice of irreverent femininity. Kind of ‘take no shit’ but also super vulnerable and complex,” says Brandes. “I hope that’s something that comes through.”
The charming naivety of Mushpit’s design echoes the Xeroxed DIY zines of the ’70s-’90s. “We took the tools we had available to us – a cracked InDesign – and put it together in the quickest, most spontaneous way,” adds Brandes. “We had no design training or experience.”
Brandes talks about community – everything Mushpit does is “infused” with the voice of this group, the in-jokes and knowledge and experiences of what it is like to be part of that community – and that’s what shines through each the stories of these radical, women-led magazines. It’s all about community.
Since the days of Spare Rib the fight to push forward the voices of women, women of colour, LGBTQ women and non-binary people, has been fought by those in the independent, radical press. This summer’s show at Somerset House demonstrates how the fight is far from over: in fact, it’s just getting started.
On October 15, 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton – two students at Laney College in Oakland, California – founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) to protect the citizens of their hometown from abuses of the state.
Under the protection of the Second Amendment, they created armed citizens’ patrols to monitor an almost all white police force that regularly brutalised African Americans citizens with impunity. From their grassroots efforts, a nationwide movement was born – one that radicalised a new generation of youth to fight for their Constitutional rights.
The BPP set up chapters in 68 cities in order to implement the Ten Point Platform and Program, which called for freedom, full employment, reparations, housing, education, military exemption, an end to police brutality and murder, freedom for the incarcerated, Constitutional rights during trial, and full self-determination.
The leaders of the BPP had mastered the law, and knew exactly how to exact the rights granted by the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This – combined with their ability to build coalitions with other political groups including the Young Lords, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the American Indian Movement, and the Chicano Workers Movement – created a very real threat to the systemic racism that had kept these groups vulnerable, marginalised, and living under constant threat.
Robert Wade, Connie Matthews, Copenhagen, Denmark 1969, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the BPP “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Unable to fight the Party legally, Hoover organized COINTELPRO, an illegal operation of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and ultimately murder, in order to destabilise, discredit, and criminalise the Party – killing and imprisoning countless members while driving others out of the country.
Yet, despite the systemic decimation of the BPP by the government, their legacy has inspired countless activists, artists, writers, and community organisers to pick up the pieces of what remains. In 2016, Michelle Dunn, the Executive Director of the Photographic Centre Northwest, was invited to edit the book All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party (Minor Matters) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BPP.
Dunn realized that the majority of projects about the Party were created by Caucasian photographers, and realised what she really wanted to see. “I contacted 30 artists who were Black or part of the African diaspora and asked, ‘Do you feel any connection between your work and the Black Panther Party?’” she reveals.
Lewis Watts, Graffiti, West Oakland, 1993, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
16 artists responded positively. From here, Dunn and her colleague Megarra A. Kudumu began to edit the book, which includes submissions from Hank Willis Thomas, Derrick Adams, Ayana v. Jackson, Carrie Mae Weems, and Mickalene Thomas.
“The Panthers were a youth movement, and that is really important right now,” she explains. “More than three-quarters of the artists are under 40. The majority of the artists represented are young. This is not about the past, it’s very much about the present and the future.”
“In 2016, the project was about reminding people of the importance of the Party and what it stood for. In 2018 I have come to a greater, more nuanced understanding of the importance of the narrative as part of American history.”
Endia Beal, Sabrina and Katrina, 2015, from “Am I What You’re Looking For?”, courtesy of the artist, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
The BPP’s impact, which serves as a conscious model as well as an invisible thread between generations, is being further honoured with an exhibition of that same name now on view at the Photographic Centre Northwest, Seattle, through June 10, 2018.
The exhibition reveals the ways in which conversations can further advance our understanding of the issues at the heart of the Ten Point Platform and Program. “When we were making the book, Endia Beale didn’t see the connection between the Am I What You are Looking For? series and the subject of full employment in the communities,” Dunn notes.
“But we had a lot of conversations, so when it came to the exhibition, I asked her again to include the series because I think she visualised something difficult to show: discrimination and access to employment. It’s a very abstract idea to illustrate in a photograph and she has done so in a very powerful way… This exhibition is not a celebration of the past: this is looking to the future.”
Robert Wade, California, 1969-1970, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Wait! Wait! Don’t Shoot! (An Incantation for Trayvon and Jazz), 2013–14, courtesy of the artist, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Ayana Jackson, Leapfrog series: Martha, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Seattle, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Bruce Bennett, Center 4, Bronzeville, Chicago, 2013, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Endia Beal, Kennedy, 2016, from “Am I What You’re Looking For?”, courtesy of the artist, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 201
Ayana Jackson, Leapfrog series: Sentinel, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Seattle, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Bruce Bennett, Center 2, Bronzeville, Chicago, 2013, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
At the crack of dawn three times a week, Craig Mitchell leads a group of 30 or so runners – many of them homeless and recovering from addiction – past the tents, sleeping bags and shopping carts that make up Skid Row, the infamous 50-block area of Los Angeles that harbours 57,000 of the city’s homeless population.
The route starts and ends at the city’s Midnight Mission, a shelter with a focus on recovery and self-sufficiency, which currently houses hundreds eager to start anew (many of them recent parolees). Once the run ends, Mitchell heads to court, where he slips on a black robe for his role as a Superior Court Judge for Los Angeles County.
“It is obviously unusual,” Mitchell tells me. “Some of my colleagues look at me and sort of scratch their head. A lot of judges like to keep a very distinct distance between themselves and the people they deal with in a professional capacity. But that’s not who I am.”
Aged 62, and the founder of the Skid Row Running Club, Mitchell bears the heavy stoop of a runner of two decades, but the lean physique of a man half his age. His fitness came relatively late in life, having taken up running in his forties following years of bouncing between careers (limo driving, security and a brief dalliance with priesthood are among the colourful occupations on his CV).
Skid Row Marathon Official Trailer (In cinemas 9th May) - YouTube
After 17 years of teaching at a Catholic high school in Los Angeles, Mitchell enrolled in night classes at a local law school. He flexed his legal muscles as a criminal prosecutor in the 1990’s, before being elected to serve as a judge in 2005. He quickly became known locally as a judge with surprising amounts of empathy for those in his court, staying in contact with many of the men and women he sentenced to jail.
Spotting Mitchell’s empathy was Roderick Brown, a parolee who Mitchell had sentenced in the late 2000’s, who came to him shortly after he was released. Paroled into the care of the Mission, Brown invited Mitchell to one of his sobriety classes to participate in his recovery. While there, Mitchell was asked to contribute ideas for aiding the recovery of more of the Mission’s residents. That’s when the running club was born.
What began as an early-morning ritual for five or six of the residents quickly blossomed into a recovery programme in and of itself. In its seven years of existence, the Skid Row Running Club has assisted in helping hundreds of men and women improve their mental and physical health and re-enter society after years of addiction and incarceration.
Mitchell describes running as “cheap therapy” and a major asset to his own physical and psychological well-being – something that he believed would be helpful to others in search of purpose back in 2011.
“People who are addicts, who are homeless, who have criminal histories – they’re not proud of where their life has gone,” he explains. “They’ve often been rejected by family, relationships have collapsed, employers don’t want anything to do with them – so they don’t feel too good about themselves. And in order to venture out there, and take the risks that are necessary to succeed professionally and to succeed in relationships, you need some level of self-esteem, or self-confidence, and that’s critical.”
“For so many of the people who are on Skid Row, it’s been a long time since they’ve had some significant successes in their life. So then to work in a programme that trains them to get ready to run 26.2 miles and then to do that as a collective, where you’ve got a lot of people who care about you or are rooting you on – that is a phenomenal feeling.”
Mitchell and his running club are now the subjects of a new documentary, Skid Row Marathon, which follows the journeys of several of the Mission’s residents, along with Mitchell’s own work alongside it.
In the film, Mitchell’s wife Juliet, with whom he has three children, suggests that her husband’s involvement with the club works as a “counterweight” to his work on the bench – an occupation largely guided by federal sentencing guidelines that he often struggles with. Mitchell says that he agrees with his wife’s assessment.
“Much of what I have to do in the courtroom setting is punitive in nature,” he explains. “And what I do in the running club is restorative. It’s encouragement, it’s constructive.”
He’s not motivated by guilt, he says, but adds: “There is a weightiness, or an acknowledgement that your decisions play out and define a person’s life in a way that you or I wouldn’t want our lives to play out. Obviously, if someone murders somebody or someone rapes or sexually assaults another person, I understand what I do is necessary, that that person for at least a period of time needs to be removed from the larger community. But I also have no delusions. I have been and continue to visit some of the worst prisons in our state, and I know where I’m sending the folks that I sentence.”
Mitchell credits his empathy to his late mother, a politically-minded woman who succumbed to a terminal illness when Mitchell was 10 years old. Told by doctors that she would have just six months to live, Mitchell’s mother ended up living for six years longer than anybody expected, determined to use the time she had left to instil a strong social consciousness in her children.
“We came essentially from a Roman Catholic and Presbyterian combination [family], but she made sure we went to Mosques, we went to Jewish Synagogues,” he remembers. “We tried to experience the diversity of Los Angeles. It was all part of her plan, to condense what normally would have been 18/20 years of parenting into a very brief period of time.”
Today, both Mitchell and the Mission help finance the running club, paying for kit and overseas trips themselves. They’re joined by public donations and investment from Los Angeles professionals, including business owners, lawyers and executives, who also join in with the runs. The Mission assists further with helping find employment, housing and educational opportunities for those recovering within their walls.
Among the recovering individuals featured in Skid Row Marathon are Ben Shirley; a former bassist for the punk band U.P.O., who dreams of studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Mody Diop; a Senegalese former academic attempting to remain sober while managing a luggage store, a venture enabled by a mentor from the running club.
“We’re a running club, and that is sort of the hook and what we do together, but on a much more important level it is a community,” Mitchell says. “It’s a group of folks that on any given day can break off into smaller groups. Friendships form – it’s the network that collapses often times when a person becomes a captive of their addiction. So to rekindle that and rebuild that structure within a person’s life is necessary if one is going to get off the street.”
Thanks in part to the documentary, Mitchell says that he now regularly receives calls from charities and 12-step programmes in other US states enquiring about setting up their own running clubs. He also speaks highly of the Manchester and London-based organisation The Running Charity, which provides fitness programmes and kit for homeless and disadvantaged youth between the ages of 16 and 24.
As for his group’s own work, they’re about to hold a meeting to decide what country they want to travel to next. Since 2013, the Skid Row Running Club has participated in several overseas marathons, from Ghana to Rome to Vietnam. Their last marathon, held in Jerusalem, saw 44 runners from the Mission taking part, and Mitchell hopes the next journey will involve even more.
“As soon as we got back from Jerusalem, [everyone was asking] ‘Where are we going next year?’” he says. “It’s a powerful incentive to keep these guys on the straight and narrow. A good number of our runners have never been on an aeroplane before, so it’s like watching kids on Christmas morning, them entering the airport with their luggage, ‘Oh my god, this is really happening!’”
But that’s next week’s agenda. Right now, Mitchell’s mind is elsewhere. The morning of our phone call, Mitchell met a young man named Joshua while at the Mission, and knows exactly how to help him.
“He wants to join the running club, so I’m gonna get him a pair of shoes and I’m going to have those shoes ready for him on Monday.”
A new magazine is raising money to support people affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy by talking about and celebrating London’s diverse young creative community.
Off The Block – a print magazine – features opinion, music, fashion, poetry from London firefighters, photography, art, and even diary entries from Londoners written the night of the disaster. The first issue includes interviews with young London artists like Cosmo Pyke and Kojey Radical, as well a host of other creatives.
The magazine has two aims. One is to keep the Grenfell tragedy at the forefront of Londoners’ minds: why it happened, the government’s response to it, and the impact on local community, as well as community action. The other is to give a platform to young creative Londoners who they feel are doing important things, while showcasing the city’s creative innovation and diversity.
100 per cent of profits from the magazine will go to those affected by Grenfell. Its founder – Francesco Loy Bell, 21-years-old, from West London – was struck by the pulling-together of the community in the aftermath of the tragedy, and the positive work of charities like the Rugby Portobello Trust and projects like Grenfell Voices. He felt a print magazine with Grenfell at its heart could be another part of the healing process, as well as a way of raising much-needed funds.
“This sounds clichéd, but I think it is absolutely vital that conversations like these are had on as many platforms as possible,” says Francesco.
“In the first issue, many of our interviews cover Grenfell, among other social issues, and having our readers see these young, creative people actually taking an interest and voicing their opinion on these matters will hopefully help inspire wider consideration, and ultimately change.”
Some of the most powerful features in Off The Block #1 include diary entries from Caleb Femi, a poet who grew up on the North Peckham Estate, infamous for its own tragedy – the murder of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor in 2000. Up until recently, Caleb was the Young People’s Laureate for London; he submitted diary passages from the night of the fire, and at two subsequent points in the months following it. “They are incredibly moving,” says Francesco. “So raw, and his writing is haunting but unbelievably beautiful.”
Another feature demonstrating the emotion of Londoners in response to the tragedy is a poem by Ricky Nuttall – a firefighter who was at Grenfell. He speaks to the sorrow and emptiness felt by many affected by the fire, as well as the pain of knowing there were people he couldn’t save.
Off The Block is fun, hopeful and forward-looking too. With Stüssy and Nike shoots, it reflects a streetwear aesthetic embraced by many young Londoners – of all backgrounds – and is mindful to be fully representative of the community it is trying to reflect. Photography editor Meara Kallista Morse, 25 – who’s worked with Nike, New Balance, Wonderland and Clash magazine – says the magazine is “more than a publication” – she believes it’s a “catalyst for creativity” and “a voice for social issues and change”.
“London’s creatives are some of the best in the world,” says Meara. “I’m really honoured to be able to meet them and use the voice I have to create imagery that’s also helping people. I’ve always been taught to give back whenever possible.”
With a second issue in the pipeline – which will focus on social issues here as well as beyond the UK – Off The Block is set to give back plenty.
Learn more about Off The Block, and buy your copy, on the zine’s official website.