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[Culture] [California]
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Culture is a Tool to Direct Society

Culture is something we interact with on a daily basis, and it affects everything we do as well as how we think. Yet it's something most people in u.s. society pay no mind to, or do not think deeply and critically about. Culture is a very powerful instrument of the state. Like a gun, culture can be used for bad, destructive purposes, or for good, liberating purposes.

Culture is something learned in a society. We are not born understanding culture. So just as people and a society can change, so can a culture change. When culture is passed from child to child, or from elderly to children, generation to generation, this is called "enculturation." When someone is "enculturated" it means they learn what is funny in society, what is offensive, when to eat, when to sleep, why to get angry and why to be content. All this stuff we learned through "culture." Everything, like how to sleep, what to struggle for, how to sexually satisfy, all of it is determined by culture. We have learned this stuff as a child. We observe and see what is socially acceptable in this society and at times we learn some of this culture in public schools where the teachers "enculturate" us.

In a society, a culture must determine its food, shelter, laws, education and the arts, as well as the production relations. Here in America the culture is a capitalist culture so everything is based around the profit system. Whether the people go without, suffer or are exploited is beside the point. We learn from public school that America is a liberator (which is bullshit), but we do learn this. We learn that all are equal (except those we call terrorists). We learn all this patriotism about BBQing on the 4th of July, making a turkey on thanksgiving, and adding to the economic stimulus every X-mas by making sure we run down to the mall and purchase lots of merchandise for "X-mas presents." All this is part of capitalist culture in the U.S.

It is so saturated by corporations that even the people are corporate billboards, walking advertisements for corporations. Look on any street or in any public school, and you'll see people wearing shirts with the words "nike," "adidas" "tommy hilfiger," and all the corporate sports teams. This is basically millions of flying billboards where the people are used to advertise products without even realizing it themselves. Even the movies we see coming out are patriotic and glorify the dollar and luxurious living. Music is the same and rap music in particular, for the most part is talking about bling bling and everything revolving around that lifestyle. U.S. society is so saturated with capitalist culture that the vast majority can't even comprehend any kind of culture that is based on the peoples' interests. Most of the U.S. population has never studied revolutionary culture or seen how culture is a tool to direct society, so it is completely outside of their comprehension.

Looking at what shapes culture today particularly in the oppressed nations communities in the U.S. is most definitely the hip hop movement. Rap music is a vital element for young people today in shaping their culture. We saw back in the late 70s when hip hop had kids all across the U.S. walking the streets with boombox radios, in sweatsuits, breakdancing and popping and locking. This cultural phenomenon spread from the ghettos to the suburbs. In the 1980s when Eazy E and NWA came out, people across the U.S. started doing drive-by shootings and drinking Old English 40 ouncers. So this too had a big affect on how kids were acting and the things they were doing in society.

The 1990s saw in the beginning years of hip hop a lot of talk of dope and money, pimping, etc. But toward the end of the 90s, 2pac started bringing a slightly different vibe to music. A more revolutionary scant to his music began developing, and then he was assassinated. So the 2000s came and it's more "bling bling or die trying bling bling" type of music in the hip hop arena. And so kids across the U.S. are once more affected by having gold and diamond encrusted mouths, and driving SUVs with tens of thousands of dollars worth of stereo equipment and accessories. This is the current culture of U.S. society when it comes to hip hop today. Of course there are a small handful of rappers who put out a more progressive form of rap like Dead Prez, Paris, The Coup, etc. But most people haven't heard of these groups because they are not getting the Madison Avenue advertisement contracts and are not getting signed to major record labels that are more corporate-friendly. So a progressive or revolutionary rapper may be from California and have been rapping and selling CDs and tapes since the 80s, yet someone living in Detroit never heard of them.

What makes hip hop so powerful is it attracts so many young people, worldwide. It is thus a vehicle for revolutionary culture and building public opinion. But this is something that not only revolutionaries have noticed. The imperialists are also aware of this. Anything that can potentially threaten capitalist society will be monitored and by any means manipulated.

I just finished reading this book called "Malcolm X: The FBI Files." It was basically a chronology of Malcolm X's life, but the most interesting part of the book, after reading about "white devil" this and "white devil" that, was how the feds sought any Black leaders and written in the feds internal memos, would be things like "do not allow a charismatic leader to unite Blacks, use manipulation, disinformation" etc. So basically this applies to all oppressed nations people: should the people begin to unite or organize, the state would target us for the purpose of destroying whatever we have going. In this book it also had a designation term called a "key figure." Once they designated a person as a "key figure" not long later that person was assassinated. In the book the "memos" on Martin Luther King designated him as a key figure, and soon after he was dead. Malcolm X was designated a key figure and soon after that he was dead. When these memos spoke of a key figure and said it was one who could "electrify" his people and unite them; someone who has an overwhelming influence on the community.

Looking at hip hop again in a new light, we can see how hip hop can indeed "electrify" the people and unite different levels of society. We had a 2pac who practically every kid in the U.S. listened to, and who influenced all these people in the U.S. As he began to become more politically conscious in his music, waking up even suburban kids to some of our political prisoners, I could imagine thousands of white suburban kids at the dinner table after listening to Pac ask their parent, who may be in law enforcement, or even a fed, "what's a political prisoner?" We can see how the state can see someone like 2pac as a possible rising figure a vehicle to help build revolution in the U.S. We can also see how if someone in the hip hop community like 2pac took on a real revolutionary stance in his music, it could have made millions conscious of what this country is really about. Public opinion would have received a major thrust forward. This could have changed hip hop culture into revolutionary hip hop where all major rappers began to speak reality, opening up more minds to real struggle. The possibilities are endless. Hip hop plays a major role here in the U.S., as the youth, the oppressed nations, and the lumpen will be the backbone of the revolution in this country.

To get an idea of what revolutionary culture would look like one need only look to China under Mao, 1949-1976. In Chairman Mao's Peoples Republic, China underwent dramatic change from and in all areas of life. China's past was one like most third world countries, where exploitation was considered the norm, peasants were worked to death by the greedy landowners, children were sold to pay off debts, prostitution ran wild, opium was as common as cigarettes are today, women were property, illiteracy was the norm if you weren't wealthy... Basically the majority was ruled and exploited by the few.

When the revolution came, Chinese society was transformed. All areas of life, entertainment (culture), were now in the interest of the people. The peasants no longer toiled the fields for 18 hours, or in some cases 20 hours a day, to pay off a debt to the landlord. Now peasants worked half days in the land they were given, or in the collective farm, and the rest of their day they went to school to learn to read, write and discuss revolutionary theory. Thousands of teachers and doctors from the cities volunteered to go out to the country or the mountains where the peasants had never seen a teacher or a doctor. They did this not for better pay or a nicer neighborhood. Instead they did it to help, or as Maoists say, serve the people. The ballet and opera no longer showed plays of a capitalist nature. Now the ballet and opera showed plays of the people struggling for revolution. In the school children no longer learned poison, as today's U.S. children learn: that murderers, rapists, and genocidal psychotics like Christopher Columbus, Hernan Cortez, or Amerigo Vespucci were American heroes.

Instead, in Mao's China, children learned who the exploiters were and who were the real peoples' heroes, as well as the many revolutionary leaders worldwide, and political theory. Unlike in U.S. prisons where every prison cellblock has 30 bibles in the dayroom or half the prison yard is christian or muslim, and religious chaplains make their rounds door to door, in Mao's China every prison cell had a stack of revolutionary books of leading theoreticians so that prisoners could learn of many struggles taking place all over the world. This was provided by the revolutionary government. Every day prisoners were allowed to participate in a large study group where they would discuss what they were reading and grapple with theory. Even in the factories the workers would take breaks to rest and discuss political theory in groups. Women with children were provided collective childcare in their neighborhood free of charge so they would work half day and partake in study the other half to contribute to the revolution. This was the environment in Mao's China, and this is the revolutionary culture we can look forward to. In revolutionary culture everything is done to advance the revolution. In this type of environment the people will give their all as they know their comrades right beside them are doing the same, not for personal gain or money but for the people.

Today's culture in the U.S. is all about money and everything is done with personal gain as motivation. So a revolutionary culture in this country would reverse all of this and every sphere of society would be contributing to the people. En la lucha.

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[Organizing] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 11]
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Exposing repression, working to effect change

Your May 2009 issue of Under Lock & Key is probably one of MIM's best work to date. This is a classic publication. The exposure of the repressive agent's oppressive systematic slave labor prison camps here in imperialist united states of Amerika is mind boggling, to say the least! Others and myself are very in tune to this information, as we are directly victimized by it.

There has been much discussion on this subject amongst a selective few prisoners who want to effect a change but don't quite know how to incorporate the masses within our confinement. I, and others, have elected to stop coming out of the cells to work, yard, showers, etc., for 120 days. We suggest that others participate and we want to discuss what demands should be put on it.

MIM(Prisons) responds: We support the movement towards collective action by prisoners to effect change in repressive conditions. However we must think carefully about refusing to leave cells. The access to other prisoners in the yard is a key way in which our comrades organize behind bars. An upcoming issue of ULK will be focused on organizing strategy and tactics, so we welcome comrades' responses to this letter.

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[Organizing] [National Oppression] [Wisconsin] [ULK Issue 10]
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An open letter to my fellow prisoners of war

Greetings to my brothers in this universal struggle for freedom against the imperialist power structure that warehouses human beings like livestock in grossly overcrowded penitentiaries, where prisoners are forced to live one on top of the other, like new age slave ships. This predominately affects New Africans and Latinos. Being consciously aware of the fact that the injustice system, the United $tates BOP and the various state DOCs are being used as one of the most effective and detrimental reactionary weapons against the political, economic, and social growth of both the New African and Latino communities.

I was deeply disappointed to hear of the recent infighting between Blacks and Latinos within the Chino plantation. For years now I've heard of the "great Black/Brown divide" amongst New Africans and Latinos in general (Mexicans specifically). I've never fully understood why. As two groups of oppressed people we have a shared history of revolutionary collaboration, from the brave Che Guevara fighting to liberate the brothers and sisters of Angola and Mozambique all the way back to the great General Toussaint of Haiti who led a revolution to free the island of Hispaniola from its colonial oppressors.

Also as an oppressed people we all suffer from the same by-products of American racism. Both our communities share the same poverty stricken ghettos, we're all subjected to the same sub-par educational system from neglected and grossly underfunded schools. And we're both suffering from years of economic suppression, political disenfranchisement, and complete apathy by the racist/classist oligarchy power structure of america towards the daily plight of our people.

And so with a clearly defined and established common enemy and a shared struggle for improved economic, education and social equality, they're a hindrance to our unity and dangerous to the struggle. And if we are to ever get beyond our current turbulent and intransigent relationship we must not focus on our petty differences but unite and rally around our shared interests and common goals. Until there is unity there can be no victory. So until there is victory, the struggle continues.

MIM(Prisons) adds: We share this comrades sentiments regarding recent events in Chino. For years, leaders in California have been working to develop a Peace Summit in the prison system, but these efforts have been thwarted by the administration while the lumpen continue to attack each other. Once a strong example of an organized front for humyn rights, the California prison system now shows how bad it can really get when the state is able to manipulate the oppressed to do their bidding.

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[Organizing] [Abuse] [Michael Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 10]
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Unity fighting for humane living conditions

On behalf of my brothers here at the Michael Unit, Latinos, whites and Blacks have put our differences to the side and come together to speak out at the administration about our living condition here in segregation.

There's no air circulation in the cells. Officers have come to verify this problem, yet administration has yet to respond to our situation. During rainy days our cells flood due to cracks in the walls. This has been written up yet no response. There's no shower crew, and the showers are rat, spider and roach infested. Due to these conditions a lot of us have broken out in rashes and have been bit by spiders. The only thing we are being treated with is hydrocotisone 10% cream and anti-fungal cream.

We are now putting together a file for our verification. We get no response. this task is not easy because we are shaken down every 3 days in the day or night.

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[Organizing] [National Oppression] [North Carolina] [ULK Issue 10]
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Organizing LOs for revolution

I'm not presently a member of MIM's USW movement but as a younger Black male growing up in the system with a 23 year prison sentence I've come to feel that prisoners and society as a whole have somehow managed to find tranquility in triviality and ignorance. So the USW is something I'm promoting throughout NC prisons using my gang affiliation as a Hoover Crip to represent the need for reform and unity among the rival street gangs. Hopefully I'm successful in building an understanding with the United Blood Nation and Gangster Disciples who are far more numerous in NC State prisons.

Those of you who are still affiliated with your LOs need to step up and speak to help build others' understanding. Speak by directing your comments to us independently of everything else. You have many of us who are in the closet about our growing desire to represent our LOs while also truly standing up for revolution, anti-capitalism, anti-racism and anti-sexism, but without the encouragement to do so. It's not out of fear but let's be honest with ourselves, many of us aspire for growth but have found it hard in the beginning, and even now harder to maintain the goals we're striving for.

I'd like to know from ULK readers who are active LO how they define revolution and what makes them revolutionaries, what are the actions they've taken to enlighten other LOs that could possibly be continued in other prisons throughout the u.s.

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[Abuse] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 10]
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Abuse in wimmin's prison

This wimmin's prison has a lot of corrupt pigs. I was physically and sexually assaulted here. I was put in restraint chairs, strapped in over my shoulders, around my waist, my wrists and ankles as well. I was made to stay in it 18 hours straight. And a few hours later I was put back in and left in it for another 16 hours. I was starved for 17 days straight here.

There are a lot of other abuses here too. My water was shut off for a week. My physical and mental health has declined significantly. I'm refused hygiene. They refused to let me brush my teeth for 10 days. They stole my property, including my children's and family's photos, they stole my incoming and outgoing mail, they denied me my sentence appeal hearing, stopped me from seeing parole, they refuse to transfer me to a out of state prison, they refuse me visits and calls to my family and I have not seen them in over 3 years. They stole my legal work as well.

This place is worse than Iraq. I think I'd rather be there. I rebel. I get them back every chance I get. I put forth lawsuits on them. I have 8 lawsuits against this prison. This is not rehabilitation what so ever. Tax payers pay for their lawyers while I have no one to represent me. I do it all by myself and that's why a lot of prisoners lawsuits get dismissed and they get away with violating us. We should be afforded attorneys as well.

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[Medical Care] [Texas] [ULK Issue 10]
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Brutality leads to death

I would like to reach out to my fellow prisoners, by this true and law breaking story. This happened in the wee hours in the morning.

I lived just on the opposite side and above and several doors down from a man who you might call a mentally challenged prisoner. He was heavily medicated since first coming to this wing. Over periods of time, he would have his outbursts, beating, banging on the walls, door, etc. Even at times rubbing feces on and around inside his cell. At times not eating meals.

Late last night this prisoner was brought to a stand up cage made out of fence. It's a 3x3 cage, 7 feet tall. He was brought to this cage because he took abundant amounts of pills. So then a nurse came to speak with him and he was given a cup of charcoal to drink. It coats the stomach and intestines. Several hours later he was moved to a cell unknown exactly to us, but he died.

You must keep in mind that we live on a super-seg prison in TX. One of the most high secured. This is a 24 hour lock-down unit. How did this challenged prisoner get or accumulate these pills that were so detrimental to him? The nursees pass out AM and PM meds. They are supposed to watch each prisoner swallow their meds. They fail doing this, only because they think it's a burden of time on their hands.

Why weren't his vitals taken every 15 minutes to watch for elevating blood pressure? Instead, they stuck him back in a cell and allowed him to slip away into total darkness. Why wasn't he taken to a hospital?

His stay to the guards was only a joke, and in fact a way for them to retaliate and finally get their revenge. They blame him for his mistakes. But really, they are pointing their bloody fingers the wrong way. They knew he was a challenged prisoner. So why allow him to accumulate pills to a detrimental level? Where did these pills come from? Only the inside could let this happen.

When the free world investigator showed up to check his cell, he ignored our calls for help. As we screamed desperately for his help about the murder, he shrugged his shoulders and took a few pictures and was gone in a few moments.

Someone is always dying, being an overdose or suicide. How are these things ongoing? They allow us no rights! Here there are days some prisoners don't get food. My mail is on a constant watch. I will speak out about these criminals.

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[Organizing] [National Oppression] [Florida] [ULK Issue 11]
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Unity Only Possible Among Friends

Your opening statements in the issue I received are true with regards to the need for unity among the masses in the concentration camps nationwide. I've been in the system 13 years now and I've felt helpless and hopeless for a lot of years because it seems impossible to accomplish.

This is a very complex issue to approach because the division that separates us is multi-faceted. Never mind the different gangs that believe in their individual causes to be against another gang, but you have Blacks can't unite, whites can't unite, Latinos can't unite. And then you have the younger generation of prisoners that are divided from the older generation. Then you have the short-times with little time left to serve on their sentence who are unwilling to stand for a cause that a lifer will stand for because of fear of getting more time.

You have the haves and the have-nots in prison who separate and create yet another division because those with no money or regular source of income will not stand with those with money when it comes time to start a protest by refusing to go to food service for the lack of sufficient amounts, to the spoiled and rotten food regularly served.

The divisions between prisoners is equivalent to blind people trying to put together a 2 million piece jigsaw puzzle. Right next to quite impossible. Having said this, I still believe some effort at the attempt, no matter how futile, is much much better than quiet and docile acquiescence.

Under Lock & Key is an intelligent yet small step in the right direction. I say "small" step because it may be that several generations will come and go before universal consensus is reached that we need to stop fighting each other and start helping each other. Nevertheless, I accept my responsibility in this cause and become educated in the ways of the brothers and sisters that came before me like Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, Malcolm X and others.

I believe when no one will listen to words the only way to lead is by example of personal actions. If various states ban, censor, or put restrictions on ULK those of us have a vested responsibility to live the ideology as best we can under the circumstances.

While living the cause each day we should try to come up with solutions to the various levels of our division. For example, Amerikan tax-payers work each week and taxes are deducted from their paychecks to fund the prison system in each individual state, yet very few tax payers question the use of those collective funds. Paying taxes is an established institution in the U.S. so hardly any question the use when the challenges of making ends meet are more pressing. But if public safety is the justification for taking more and more taxes each year then why is crime not being eliminated? Simple, because crime creates jobs, jobs generate revenue and revenue funds the elitists who own the corporations that ULK works hard to educate us about.

So one way we all can help is by not only focusing on our divisions, but instead trying to educate the masses with information about the abuses of tax-payers' funds on some of the things inside the system. For example, here in Florida the taxes run the prison system yet still each day thousands of prisoner receive money orders from family and friends to help us keep our hygiene and other necessities, only for the Florida Dept of Corrections central office to tax each money order, twice. They take 50 cents from each prisoner deposit, and they take 10 percent of the total amount each prisoner spends for the week. So for example, if a prisoner spends the entire $75 weekly limit, they take $7.50. This is already on top of the money our loved ones pay in taxes each week, month and year.

It takes money to right money so the dissemination of information on the abuses we endure with the criminal injustice system must be only the foundation to which this movement is built upon. We must create think-tanks out of the cells they use to confine us. We must be educated on the knowledge of social engineering.

The anti-imperialist movement hinges on a backbone of resistance to the direction in which the elitist is taking the world. We are the corrosive element in their motor. We must come together ideologically, socially, personally and even financially to gain strength in this movement.

MIM(Prisons) responds: We support this prisoner's call for unity and the hard work of educating and organizing people to fight the criminal injustice system. However, we do not think the strategy of organizing taxpayers for their own financial interest is correct at this time in Amerika. The vast majority of Amerikan workers have a financial interest in imperialism. And the Criminal Injustice System is a prop used to keep imperialism running strong. Amerikans recognize this and strongly back the police and locking up more people. Frankly, if you brought these issues to their attention they'd probably cut the funding for food and toiletries more. Families with loved ones in prison would be the exception.

As we think about our organizing strategies, we must first have a clear idea of who are our friends and who are our enemies. This does not mean we cannot influence or even ally with enemy classes at times, but we must not treat them as friends and allies in our struggle. MIM(Prisons) focuses on organizing prisoners, and we know that without organized prisoners there is no real prison movement. Prisoners should be looking to each other (as this comrade suggests with think tanks), as well as their families and communities that are affected negatively by the injustice system for solutions.

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[Medical Care] [Connally Unit] [Texas]
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Fighting for Sanitary Conditions in Texas

Since being at Connally Unit, going on a year since I was released from administrative segregation, I can honestly say that conditions are at their worst. I've submitted grievances and nothing has been done about it. For one, we have five showers to each pod, each pod holds 48 prisoners, each shower has only one shower head, and we are limited by the time we receive during day room, which is less than 2 hours a day. These showers are only opened during that time. If you go out to recreation before or after day room, you are not allowed to shower. These showers are locked most of the time during and after recreation. And to finish that off, the temperature of the water can cook a soup.

I am also concerned about our health and the drinking water in the day room that we don't have, with this hot weather, the hottest in South Texas record. Our water fountain has not produced water since the beginning of the summer. Prisoners here have passed out, dehydrated, and have had bad chest and headaches since this started.

We get our mail stolen from time to time, racist staff employees harass and abuse their power and authority as if they have something to prove to the white man (most employees here on Connally Unit are Latinos and Blacks). They like to see us divided, fighting our own oppressed brothers, they want us blind and confused and then on top of that you have these puppets who cater to their masters, by snitching and who help keep us down.

Our food is not properly washed and cleaned such as our beans and greens. Sometimes I find pieces of rock and dirt mixed in there. Our greens are spoiled and have been for the past six months, our bread most of the time is baked with mildew.

Exterminators for mice and ants and other insects have not done their job. Mice get into our lockers and eat our food, the ant eats what's left from that food. Our hygiene is not properly attended to, such as tooth brushes, toothpaste, deodorant, shower slides, etc. Speaking about shower shoes, all this is sold to us through the commissary store, and if you don't receive money from your family, you can't afford to purchase these items because here in Texas you don't get payed for working in prison. In our cell rooms we don't get any kind of chemicals to clean our toilets, sink, floor, walls, bunks, and lockers from germs.

Our showers have fungus on the floor and walls. Just recently they (prisoners working for the system) came with their boss (state employee) and laid down a layer of sand glue to cover up the fungus under it. Just imagine if you have no shower shoes: that causes one to see medical due to foot fungus.

You only have 10 people you can put on your visitation list, and if you receive money from anyone, no matter who that person is, if that person is not on your visitation list and you receive money unauthorized by administration, you can receive, such as I did, a 15.0 trafficking and trading case, which is a major case.

So let us unite our strengths and fight for the oppressed masses, which are many, and not our personal gains and recognition. Let us stand side by side and demonstrate, for a better way of life.

As Mao told us that an army "is powerful because all of its members have a conscious discipline; they...come together and they fight not for the private interests of a few individuals or a narrow clique, but for the interests of the broad masses and of the whole nation."

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[Culture] [California]
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What is Culture

A people's culture is as important to their survival as food is. Without the guide-posts and direction signs that a culture offers to its adherents, they can soon become disillusioned, confused and easily led into self-detrimental paths. That "lostness" is what is being demonstrated by the hip hop culture of today. Obviously, hip hop has taken on the 'look' of a culture, but what kind of culture is it? From this writer's perspective, it is for the most part, a very negative and rebellious way of life. Make no mistake, the dominant culture that we live in here in Amerikkka is definitely not the way that we are supposed to and should live, but with that clearly understood, to put in it's place the glorification of violence and the degradation of your women, is just as bad!

As far as hip hop having a revolutionary value that can generate a positive environment that is conducive to rearing a nation that is capable of taking control and making manifest Justice and Equality for all, this has yet to be demonstrated. This culture-of-death that we operate in today has taken complete control of the hip hop movement and any signs of life; any signs that hip hop may have some redeeming values is quickly put to death through this culture's use of materialism and ruthless violence!

The awakening to our true culture is going to happen and a Hip-Hop culture that is dominated by artists such as: KRS ONE, DEAD PREZ, ASKARI X, etc., will play an important role in that culture!

MIM(Prisons) responds: We agree with this comrade's critique of hip hop today as needing to take up more revolutionary politics and disavow glorification of violence and degradation of wimmin. See our article on hip hop for a more complete critique.

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