[eDebate] Crunk, MPOWER, and effective social movements

Ede Warner ewarner
Fri Apr 11 08:44:56 CDT 2008

Mr. Brady and followers of the Crunk revolution (I'd like to believe I am one of them),
First, thank you for your post.  It's always important to get re-centered and your post forced me to stop and think about what is central to this discussion.  I love that you are excited and I too, believe that Towson's success and the dialogue that has followed has created unique opportunities for the CEDA/NDT debate organizations to "become" a community, and yes, I believe the Crunk revolution has been an important voice in activating interest in change, just like, the most amazing debate revolution ever, brought by driven and gifted young Black students during the interracial debates of the 1930's and 1940's.  There courage, conviction, and perseverance lead to the end of the Civil Rights Movement.  Your Crunk Movement has generated success just like students on an Ivy League campus, began the pressure created that eventually got America to reverse it's position on Apartheid and choked it out of South America's white minority.  And your Crunk movement has demonstrated the same courage shown by students during the Civil Rights and the Black Power Movements.  Yes, Mr. Brady, I am a fan and a follower of the Crunk movement, but I'm not a leader, you are.
As leader of a Movement, I wonder are you willing to think critically, strategically, and honestly about where you want to take your movement?  As a leader of a Movement, I wonder if you have a purpose or end goal for your Movement?  As a leader of a Movement, I wonder are you willing to dialogue and break bread with Leaders of other Movements? And as a leader of a Movement, I wonder do you have a coalition building strategy to ensure the success of your Movement?  I wonder.
Those are just a few of the considerations that my Blackness teaches me are important when studying the glorious past of struggle and survival of past Black Movements that have continued a Black Humanization Project that frankly, given the backlash to Towson's success, and given the lack of appreciation that exists for the difference and strength that UDL students bring to the table, and given the pain and suffering of students that have come before you Mr. Brady, like: Rashad Evans, Clay Rhodes, Shanara Reid, Daryl Burch, Krsna Tibbs, James Roland, Andre Hylton, Will Griffith, Steve Clemmons, Sandra Webster, Lisa Gonzalez, Shunta Jordan, and Doug Dennis, just to name a few, cuz there are literally hundreds more, over 75 just at Louisville since 2000.  You are a leader of a Crunk Movement that has a long history of struggle, just in this community.  Your ancestors are an important reason that your Crunk Movement exists.
Now, I am not the leader of the Crunk Movement just a follower, but I will take credit for some aspect of social justice in CEDA/NDT debate.  I don't believe that without my leadership, a new population of Black students, trained differently with a different purpose, would have come into the community.  Without that population coming into college debate, who joined with UDL students, and a few traditionally trained students, I don't believe that the exploration of the Black aesthetic in college debate would ever occurred.  I don't believe that Shelton K. Hill would ever have found his way into a CEDA National Championship, and I don't believe that hip hop would have been used in a debate round as a method of the Black aesthetic.  I don't think metaphorical interpretations of the topic would have been created, although it was Burch's idea, I think he would credit me as his "muse".  And I don't think that the speed kritik, would have become the exclusion kritik, that became the revolutionary Black aesthetic.  Before all of that, I don't think that Black arguments, like New Horizons or the Minority Business Counterplan or the race kritik, would have made and won the national scene.  That's the Movement that I led.  I led a group of folks who did those things and they are now a part of the legacy of others.  My students have given our Movement a name too.  It's called the Multicultural Policy Organizing With Emancipatory Rhetoric (MPOWER) Movement.  And unless they kicked me out at the last squad meeting, I think they still acknowledge me as the leader of that movement.
As I sit with you Mr. Brady, the self-appointed leader of the Crunk Movement, and I examine your demands, I struggle to build coalitions with you.  In large part I struggle with the lack of respect that your Movement seems to show for your ancestors.  Taking me and MPOWER out of the equation for a minute, I'm not sure that I understand how your Crunk Movement respects and relates back to the other Black Movements I've cited.  Each of those Movements had elder leadership, each of those Movements had a hierarchy, each of those Movements understood the value of leadership with the experience necessary to achieve particular outcomes.  And when those things broke down, the success of each of the movements identified was destroyed.  Even the history of Blacks in debate was a centralized history. 
I laughed when I listened to critiques by today's debate community about the Great Debaters movie, challenging the way Tolson coached.  I laughed because those criticisms where usually by whites who had little understanding of what the culture was, what the purpose was.  Reading bell hooks account of her teachers at the same Black rural Kentucky school, where they recognized that the purpose of the educational was to train students to fight for Black Liberation, and that purpose was ever present when decisions about curriculum and instruction were made.  No part of today's white aesthetic ignores the role of collective responsibility in a Movement and the consequences that can spin out of control, heaping more oppression on a community when their is not leadership prepared to take responsibility for all aspects of a Social Movement.
White liberalism and the anti-establishment, everyone should do what they want all of the time, and everyone has an equal voice smacks of privilege and whiteness when applied to the Black struggle for liberation.  The student voice is equal to the teachers.  It lacks an understanding of racism in America and the challenges that Blacks faced, and only by understanding how those in the past overcame those hurdles can one truly understand how to win today.  Those beliefs are not grounded in correct readings of Friere or hooks, those beliefs are grounded in whiteness.  
Your demands as a student leader of a movement, history tells us, won't win.  Why?  Because your demands failed to study, respect or understand the strategies that have already been used and failed in the Black struggle, and even in the Black community.
Can demands win debates?  If they are well thought out and strategic, sure.  MPOWER won quite a few debates using demands last season at CEDA Nationals.  But the Black Power demands of the sixties, the most successful set of demands I can remember of recent social movements didn't succeed because whites dropped to the floor and gave in, they merely set the agenda for the work that the Panthers did.  They were organizing principles around which the Panthers made choices for their work.  Your demands lack a strategy, relying on the good will of the debate community, or the guilt, or the pressure created by Towson's win, as a justification to just abandon the entire structure.  I beg you to show me where that strategy has been effective at any point in the history of Black struggle.  The question you might choose to ask is can demands create a broad based coalition willing to make change?  I think the answer is probably not.  Why?  Your "demands" don't take into consideration the persuasive value of inclusion.
Derek Bell once wrote, "The only way Black folks will get reparations if they can persuade whites that the move is in their own self-interest."  Up until now, the listserv discussion has worked very hard to take the Black experiences being shared, and move them into a direction that does just what Bell asks for.  I just don't think that means "give in to whites", although some in your movement might.  I think that means create a structure that works for whites too, using our knowledge of the Black experience to make things better for everyone.  That's what the Wiley debaters had to do throughout the movie, and that was good for society.
I'm just not sure your "demands" make enough of an effort to do that.  Your demands as I understood them:  1) top should get out of the way and facilitate discussions of what debate should be; 2) a topic that Black people want to debate; 3) Debate programs should look at urban debaters.  I think you've got to think differently how to word or justify these in ways that do more of what Bell is asking or it will be difficult to sustain a political coalition to accept them.  I hope you recognize that all of this list serv discussion stems from the fact that while white people "voted" for the arguments, there is a community undertone of disagreement which must be dealt with and bridged before people take the large step from a ballot to a commitment of a changed direction.  Is it possible?  I believe yes.  Will your demands get us there?  Probably not.
Let me for a second take particular issue with the first demand.  It ignores human nature, and it ignores the strengths and weakness that I, a member of the "top", and you a member of the "grassroots" movement for change bring to the table.  Again, looking at the past:  students bring the fire, the energy, the commitment, the dedication, and do most of the work in a social movement.  Much like the military, the ground soldiers that do the fighting are youth.  However, experience brings wisdom, brings perspective, brings political sophistication, brings balance, brings good decision making. Colin Powell was a military elder who created the strategies for the soldiers.  The most effective social movements, especially Black ones, understand and utilize this the strengths of both.
My wisdom tells me that part of the whiteness of today's debate is the over delegation of the responsibility of entrusting the education mission of debate to young adults interested more in competition than creating a progressive educational agenda to balance that competitive drive.  And for me to "get out of the way" and delegate that responsibility to the students is not only irresponsible for me as a faculty member, but also irresponsible for me as leader of a social movement.  My comparison: I, nor bell hooks, nor Friere, nor any effective teacher I ever met, would completely delegate the education mission of her or his classroom to the students.  I mean, that sounds crazy.  Does that mean a teacher shouldn't reflect on his student's interests?  Of course a good one would.  But that's a lot different than completely abrogating the responsibility.  To me, that has been the evolution of competitive debate, and the reason your minority interests get crowded out, because majority rules right now in debate.  And until an educational perspective steps in to balance that direction, your demands will fall on deaf ears.
For what it's worth, I try to learn as I go, living by the principles that I read about or experience.  Deven is right that my debate team went through an identity crisis and at times my leadership is more top down and fragmented and alienating. I can own that.  
I choose to accept my responsibility and evolve.  I create processes to create assessment measures for my actions and I make changes as I see fit.  Next season, the Louisville debaters have been charged to create a curriculum in conjunction with their new leader, Tiffany Dillard.  I've watched and learned how she is able to keep her hierarchy in place, allow for sufficient student input, without the levels of alienation and backlash that my methods sometimes invoked.  So I learn and I grow.  I also know that my wisdom helps define her strategic choices which assists her in being able to teach.  We have spent the last two years understanding the differences and similarities between being a debate team and a social movement, and I believe God has prepared me to be a part of this moment, this window of opportunity that you accurately describe.  My leadership is about learning methods that help me to obtain objectives, and that's got to be an evolutionary process, doesn't it.  Let me share a final example.
Mr. Brady, every night my prayer starts the same: I begin by thanking God for my Blessings.  Then I acknowledge that I have certain responsibilities that grow out of those Blessings. And I acknowledge that my life must make sacrifices in order to improve the condition of others.  Then I pray for forgiveness because I know that no matter how hard I try, as a human being I'm incapable of fully giving God back as has been given to me. Then I pray. I give thanks for the people in my life and ask God to look over them.  I have a list in an order.  It begins with my ancestors, those who made sacrifices that allow me to exist today in the way I exist today.  Then I move to my Mom, who I lost in 2000, and I recognize know that her unconditional love protected me in ways that I couldn't ever understand when she was alive.  Then I move to my father, my brother, my sisters, other relatives, friends, my debate team, and my oldest son's baseball community.  I stop when reaching each category and talk about what's going on in their lives and whether or not I can help them, even if it's just thinking about them. I then recite my version of the Serenity prayer.  I also start with the courage to change the things I can line because I want my agency to always come first, never leaving to others what I think I should be doing.
I look forward to the evolution of your demands.  I look forward to the opportunity to build coalitions with you.  And I respect and appreciate the last words of your post, the importance of recognizing baby steps.  Thanks for posting and thanks for leading the Crunk revolution.
Ede Warner, Jr.
Director of Debate Society/Associate Professor of Communication
University of Louisville
308E Strickler Hall
ewarner at louisville.edu 


From: "nicholas brady" <nicholas.brady89 at gmail.com>
To:<edebate at www.ndtceda.com>
Date: 4/10/2008 11:55 PM
Subject: [eDebate] Future of Debate
Dear Debate Community,

This would be my first message on edebate but to some of ya'll i might be familiar. I debated in high school and a freshman in Johns Hopkins now, looking to get back into debate. I have watched closely what has been said about Towson's recently and first would like to extend my congratulations to this school. There has been a long struggle for acceptance of minorities in debate and i congratulate on perhaps completing the first part of this struggle: winning a championship. 

I repeat this is merely the first part of the struggle... this does not prove the community has gotten to the promise land, but merely affirms the truth that serves as the foundation for all "project" teams: that debate has the potential to be a liberating, self-critical, and accepting apace. Now that this foundation has been proven, now we must move forward so that we may achieve true diversity in this community. 

So not wishing to get into the nitty gritty of this very heated debate, i hope to cut directly to the chase: WHAT NOW? I talk to a lot of teams that run performance project arguments, and most of us accept that we won't win a debate championship but do it mostly to make a point and open up dialogue. Well dammit, we in the building to put it bluntly. A championship has been won and I think that Towson CL has proven that this issue of the White Aesthetic versus Revolutionary/Black Aesthetic needs to be addressed. So lets address it and fuck the fault lines.... lets work to address this issue. 

Nothing of substance in the debate community has been done from the top.... that is against the very idea of debate. Developments happen on the ground... by debaters and the arguments we make. So now that we are in the "off-season" i think the only duty of those at the top should be to allow these discussions to happen and to help facilitate them. How can we make this happen? Well we have Many great topics this year that would breed excellent debate on the nature of racism, classism, sexism, education, and urban politics that also allows great self-reflection into our own history of exclusionary practices. There is a topic choice regarding urban education, a topic regarding prison reform, i believe Andy Ellis is writing a reparations topic paper, and there are other urban topics being written. We are fresh off of a foreign policy topic.... i say lets take this great oppurtunity to actually take Towson CL on their offer to debate something close to a Black Aesthetic. Lets debate something close to home and issues that affect us personally (more personally than the fate of russia and that country's effect on global markets and shit.... i mean something in our OWN back yard). 

Also I demand that top tier debate programs begin looking at urban debaters... stereotypes about quality are not necessarily true. There are soooo many bright and talented debaters that with coaching could be the next crop of great debaters to take this league by storm. Again, let us take up Towson CL on their argument to be more inclusive of a Black/Revolutionary Aesthetic. 

All i'm saying is that the least we could to celebrate the win of a team that has done much to uncover the hidden racial bias of this community is to at least create the debate structure upon which US debaters can then take the ball and begin to roll with it. Either this could just be another season or this could be seen as a turning point in debate history.Let us not blindly and apathetically live out history, let us take it into our hands as agents for change and justice. Let us all become the change we want to see. Let us get past the old divisions, take up arms together, and make a road towards a better tomorrrow. Well past hippy shit :-), let us at least take baby steps to allow for real change to come about. 

Nicholas Brady
Leader of a Crunk Revolution

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