Otep – Courage and Hope

Tuesday, 17th July 2018

Dead Rhetoric: One of the things you were mentioning, about the removal of civics classes. Being a teacher that works in a middle school, I teach science, which is only slightly above social studies in terms of perceived importance. Social studies, over even the last ten years, has been diminished and diminished to the point where no one takes it seriously. We are going to see a lot more of us repeating our past because no one wants to take the time to take social studies, and our history, seriously.

Shamaya: No, and honestly, even just looking at what I think we are seeing with the young activists in the March For Our Lives movement – those young activists were all raised under the Obama administration. Guess what he was, if they like to make fun of him, but before he became a Senator and President for 8 years? He was a community organizer. When you have someone that seems like his past was organizing communities for the better, it tends to pollinate the country for the better. The idea that together, we can do things better.

I think these kids understand more about how the government is run and our history than many of our politicians. I’d like to see them take a test against each other. To see if the students gauge against these guys that got elected due to a slogan, or whatever. I also think that they should have a civics class – at least have the same test that all immigrants have to take in order to become Americans – have that same test or something similar, if you are going to be a member of Congress or run for office at all. But now, especially after we have this bloated colostomy bag spewing garbage across the nation. For President, if you win your Party’s nomination, the first thing you should have to do is take that test. If you don’t pass, it goes to the person in second. Or maybe it should be the litmus test about who gets to run for President.

I know we are supposed to be a country based on ‘anyone running for President,’ but we have seen what happens now when anybody runs for President. It’s blatant that this guy is in Putin’s pocket. It’s blatant that he attacks all of our allies who are enemies of Russia, and he coddles Russians in no matter what they do. One of their journalists, or one of their main opposition leaders is shot up dead or poisoned, Trump never says anything about it. In fact, Trump never says much about anything. When the NRA says that the only way to take a bad guy down is a good guy with a gun – there’s a young fellow who is a hero to many by wrestling this gun out of a guy’s hand after he killed a bunch of people…I think it was at Chik Fil’A. He didn’t want anything, he was just happy to be alive and thought he did what anyone would do. But I don’t think a lot of people would have done that. Trump never said a thing about him.

But as far as what they are doing in the schools in regards to social studies and civics, it’s important! That’s how autocracies take control – you remove the history, like I said before. We suffer from historical amnesia in this country. It’s like we already forgot we had 8 years of Obama. When Obama came in and everyone was complaining about him, we forgot we had this ‘idiot’ George W. Bush. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll take back George W. Bush back any day of the week and twice on Sundays compared to this orange bozo. I think it’s a system that’s deliberate to make our country not understand. How much Black history do schools teach anymore? What about Native American history? When they say Columbus discovered America, there was about 500,000 or millions or so Native Americans living on this land going “Hello, we discovered this about 14,000 years ago and we already have got nations here. We are going to help you guys live on this land because you are coming over from Europe, which is a completely different ecosystem but why don’t you just steal everything from us and put us on reservation land where we can’t grow, raise animals, but just sit in the desert.”

A lot of people talk about Flint [Michigan] with their drinking water. Every time we go on tour, I speak to a lot of the local reservation activists who say that they have had lead and lead pipes since the ‘40s/’50s since they were installed and no one has done anything about it. How many times did we learn, from like first grade on, that George Washington was our first President? How quickly do they quick over Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy? How quickly do we skip over what we did to other countries that we thought were a threat to us? When an idiot like Kayne West comes on and goes, “Slavery was a choice for 400 years,” that’s a clear lacking of any sort of intelligence of knowing American history and knowing what they did in the slave trade or when slaves tried to run away – there were slave revolts and they were put down quite quickly. There was actually a slave revolt on a ship, where they took control of the boat, and I don’t know if they even teach that anymore.

They should be teaching about these great heroes that made steps for all people in this country, and remind them of things like the White House being built by slaves. That doesn’t take away from who we are now as a great people, or what we do now in the world for other people, before Traitor Trump came along and Putin installed him. But before that, we were trying to get past our sins. All nations have sins. I think that by minimizing history, especially American history, and the crimes that we committed when we were stupid, and we were racist or whatever – by minimizing those things, it takes away from other people’s experiences that come from those communities. They don’t teach any gay/lesbian history at all. You might hear about Harvey Milk, maybe. But what happened to Harvey? He was murdered. There are other gay activists and gay people who have contributed to the progress of civilization, especially in America. Alan Turing created a computer which helped to defeat the Nazis. Tim Cook is gay, and he runs Apple. Every homophobe I run into, I ask “Is that a smartphone? You should probably throw that in the trash. You don’t believe in immigrants either? You should throw it in the trash. Some immigrant probably coded it and some gay guy invented the computer, so you are all hypocrites.” But again, they take that out of history on purpose.

Even what women have contributed to this country. The woman who coded what would later become the code to help launch us into space – she hand coded it. There’s pictures of her standing next to a stack of paper as tall as she was, and she handwrote everything. There’s a lot that we need to know. If anyone wants to read, it’s a little old and probably needs to be updated, but Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, it will tell you the history of the US from a non-European, non-triumphant mentality, and basically tells the truth of how America came to be. Some of these are hard truths and I think it’s good to know. Like, “Whoa, we did that, better not do it again!” It’s like you said, history is being beckoned to repeat itself. I believe Traitor Trump wants to take us back to like 1952, when his dad was cool and being in the Klan was cool. Other minorities and marginalized communities knew their place. Gay people hid in the closet and women were silent and wore skirts, and you could slap them on the ass and it would be okay… or grab them by the whatever. Hey, they let you do it if you are a star.

Let me correct that really quickly. I spent a lot of my life in Los Angeles, California. We never, never considered Trump a star. There was never a person in this town, that wasn’t a tourist, that thought Trump was a star. He was a reality TV guy, I don’t know where his ratings were against other TV shows, but that’s also a part of my confusion with those who voted for him. I know they watched the show, but as a guy who got famous for saying “You’re Fired,” how would he become a job creator? That’s what he has been doing. The thing with the steel workers, and telling them he would bring jobs back to America. He gave the first steel commission to Russia. There’s been some think-tanks that are saying that the reason that he pulled out of the Iran deal was to cause more drama in that area, so Russia could become the dominate oil supplier. Now they are, and because it’s a national oil company, Putin is making trillions of dollars.

I’m a history buff, that’s why my name’s Otep. My mother was an archeological scholar for a while. History to me is extremely important, because since what I have studied, which my main study was in Ancient Egypt, and watching how those rulers ruled and how people finally got their freedom…we haven’t changed much. The things that we want and the things that we will do – the tyrants and despots, what they will do too, to get that power. We are seeing it now, we are just lucky enough that we are in this country, with the kind of stops and laws and rules that can take down a President like Trump.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t want to look back on my life, in this time when our civil liberties are being trampled, when children are being separated from their families and coming up missing, when he’s using the Constitution as toilet paper – he’s violating everything, he’s allowing his kids and himself to make money off his Presidency, by violating everything our country is supposed to be standing for, I don’t want to look back at my life and not know that I used every platform I could, did everything I could, to hopefully have this man held accountable for his crimes and hopefully get rid of him so we can start to repair the damage that he does every minute of every day to our standing in the world, and to working people in this country.

Dead Rhetoric: So we may have touched upon this already, but where do you draw your strength to say what it is you feel around the world, in a time where many people back away because they are afraid of the pushback they will get?

Shamaya: I suppose I’ve always thought that discourse is important, whether or not you agree with someone or not. As long as it’s respectful. Talking about Trump, things can get heated and I think I was going to say this earlier. I used to be able to have civil and political discourse and debate with conservatives. Whether they were Ronald Reagan or George Bush conservatives, you could still talk to them on a certain level logically. But as Voltaire has quoted, “Common sense is not so common.” Now, under Trump, there’s no common sense that exists or that you can get past. There’s this level of invincible ignorance that you cannot get past. There’s a level of eager stupidity that you can’t get past.

When I’ve talked to other people in the past with questions about how I don’t let it bother me or where I get the courage to stand up for myself, it’s that one, I know as much as I can understand about the topic I’m going to talk/fight/debate about. The second thing, because most of the time, what I believe, since it’s about protecting marginalized communities or protecting the working class/poor – it seems to be common human decency. That’s the ocean man – they are puddles, just left after the rain. You don’t have to defend your position. It takes too long to go all the way down to where the giant squid are swimming. We need to make them defend themselves. Whenever someone comes at you with a question, you don’t have to answer it, you ask them about their beliefs until they run out of answers. Then a small percentage will say that you are right, or they say that we disagree and have come to a standstill, but I still like your music and you are a cool person. Or you get the, “Yeah, that’s all you know because you are a woman” or they start throwing some homophobic slur at me. That’s usually when they get their back against the wall, when they have nothing left to say.

But I think it’s important, what we were talking about earlier – getting people to know what is right and wrong, what’s allowed and not allowed, and why it’s so important to be involved as a citizen of this country. All the politicians, they work for us. They take dollars out of our hard-earned paychecks and that’s where their salaries come from. It’s important for people to know all of those things, so they can be aware, when you see something that’s so obviously against the law, our values, or against the Constitution, like Trump is doing every day, it’s something that stands out. It’s like if you see a purple elephant, you are like, “Hey, that’s not right!” I love elephants by the way.

But for me, it’s about fighting for my family and the ones that are still working class and build homes every day, and they are proud of that. They laid the brick for that house, they built the roof for that house, and now a family is going to live there and send their kids to college one day. There’s pride in that – that’s working class. Before reality TV came around and destroyed it, the working class were the heroes of this country. The backbone, the spine of this nation. We can’t lose that! It used to be a thing when you had put in a hard day’s work and you were proud of it. Even if it was a shit job, you did your best. There was pride in that. Nowadays, everyone just wants to put out a sex tape and marry a rapper and get a reality TV show with the family [laughs]. I often wonder what Kim Kardashian is going to tell her kids when they ask how she became famous. What will she say?

Legitimately, we have to remind people that the working class folks that build the bridges, haul the cement, and work every single day to make our meals, give us our meals, teach our kids – all of that. They are the backbone of this society and they are the true heroes of our society. The police – I may not always agree with what looks like systemic racism in the police force…again I come from a law enforcement family so I’ve heard a lot of what goes on behind the scenes in those days when they were active duty…same thing goes with military folks. I hear how they treated women, and what they did to them. It’s hard, so you try your best to educate people in a way that shows them how it affects you directly or someone you love, indirectly. It’s worth fighting for.

The First Amendment is the first amendment, and that is freedom of speech, and its before the Second Amendment, which is the right to bear arms. So freedom of speech is always going to be triumphant over the Second, and all the rest, in some regards. I mean, look, we are still trying to get the ERA passed in this country and they have been trying to do that since the ‘70s. We need one more state to ratify it and then it becomes law – that women have equal rights in this country. It was just Barack Obama that signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act right before he left office. We had to make it a law that women got paid the same! And people still aren’t doing it. But we had to do that in the 21st century, to get women paid the same. So there’s a lot to fight for, and there’s good reasons. I’m sure there’s good working husbands who want their wives to be paid the same as the jackass in the next cubicle that gets more money than her just because he’s a guy and she’s a girl – even if she has a better education or works longer hours.

There’s real things to fight for. For you guys as teachers – I don’t want to get too morbid here, but if something terrible happened and a teacher is shot down in a school massacre. As far as I know, in the school districts I’m familiar with, there’s no crisis pay for that. There’s no emergency pay that is going to take the place of that person’s salary. Now it’s just gone, because the NRA has brainwashed a lot of people and pays Congress, and now it looks like Russia has funneled a lot of money to the NRA, and they dumped that into the Republican Party and the GOP so that they can get more influence. That just emboldens those folks. We are living in a time where more students have been killed in schools than soldiers in combat.

People say not to talk about politics or religion, but right now we kind of have to. Especially since we have a guy like Trump, who has been married three times, has five kids from three wives. What about Barack Obama? Would he have even gotten elected dogcatcher if he had five kids by three different wives? What about Hillary Clinton, if she had five kids by three different husbands. There is this double standard, and when the evangelicals came out against Barack Obama because he wore a tan suit, they are saying Donald Trump a mulligan – where is that in the scriptures? Where is that in Christ’s teachings? Most of them won’t have an answer, because they are more Old Testament than Christian.

So the fight begins. What I suggest to the people is that we are like Sisyphus, and you are an activist – you roll this one boulder to the top of the hill and it was hard but it falls down to the next so we have to push it up another hill. But that’s part of what makes being a citizen in this country great, is that we actually have that power. We can get the boulder and start pushing it up the hill again. So when some people feel exhausted, and there are a lot of things that they are upset about, my usual answer is to put it in a hierarchy. That’s what the resistance is. It’s all inclusive, except the obvious enemies to the resistance. Black Lives Matter is a part of the resistance. LGBTQ protections are part of the resistance. Woman’s Rights are part of the resistance. #nobannowall – we are supposed to be brothers and sisters in this country taking care of each other. Hierarchy it in a way that best fits you, but make sure you are there to support all of the other causes.

If there’s one particular cause that benefits your family the most, then fight for that. But after that, don’t forget the other ones that also need your help, because those same people will probably be there with you when it doesn’t affect them. They will need you to be there when it doesn’t affect you. That’s really, again, when we are driving down the freeway and see an accident, people stop and people help. Deep down we are good, we just have to get past the tribalism out of our species.

Dead Rhetoric: We have been talking about a lot of pertinent issues at this point, and not so much about the new album, Kult 45, so the last question I have is to wrap everything into that. Knowing that these issues make their way onto the album, what do you hope that the listener takes away when they hear the album?

Shamaya: Courage and hope. Knowing that they are not alone out there. Knowing that they can make a difference. I think it’s Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” But I hope the listener, aside from just listening some power grooves and some of the puns and fun stuff that we do with the lyrics…aside from enjoying the album as a good, musical album, lyrically I hope they feel empowered and I hope they feel like they got some hope, and gives them some courage that they know they have a right to stand up for their beliefs and it exists within them with or without the record. Sometimes art is a great catalyst. Art has always been one of the great catalysts for change throughout history.

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