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All My Hats At Once
It isn't easy to write a real book—a book that's all that I am. I'm an artist daring to be original and I'm a journalist trying to be an honest man. But most of what's original is fiction, and most of what's true is old news. I'm a comedian and damn I be trippin', but I'm serious about what I say. I'm an entrepreneur trying to make money, but I'm a philanthropist giving it all away. I'm an organizer, fighting for everyone's fair share. But I'm also an environmentalist, and if everyone gets what we think is our fair share, there ain't gonna be shit but the flies. I have values I'm trying not to push on you, but I'm afraid that we're all going to die. So forgive me if I somehow offend you. My mother told me never to lie.
I'm pro-black but I laugh at racist jokes. I'm feminist but I'm a pig. I rarely tell people I'm a Jew. And I'm down with queers but if someone calls me "gay" I'll say, "Fuck you." And I'm a friend who'll be here for you. And you and you and you, now I'm spread thin. And I'm a person who loves unconditionally, but I have high-tech defenses the Pentagon couldn't get in. I'm blunt and I see through your bullshit, but I'm your cheerleader cheering you on. It's not easy to balance these hats on my head, they fall over my face like a dunce, but to me, that's what it means to be human, wearing all your hats at once.
And whether you like me or hate me, you can see what I'm saying is true. I'm giving you everything I have to give. Why shouldn't I expect the same from you?
Did you like that voice?
It sounds like something I would have written when I was 18.Or 13. I'm 25 now. And I still want 18-year-olds and 13-year-olds to read me. But I've changed a lot in the past 7 to 12 years. How about you?
A lot of people who remember me as a shit-talking graffiti writer may be disappointed with my evolution. I don't talk much about graffiti here. I'm more solution-oriented. And I don't talk as much shit. So if you're one of the people who liked how I was before, I hope you'll see that everything I'm doing now is a natural progression from what I was doing when I was 13 or 18 or 21.
When I was 13, I was break-dancing and doing graffiti and cutting school but unaware that I could quit. I was kicking it with people from the other side of the tracks, and interested in neighborhoods, but barely aware of urban planning, back room politics, or the legacy of historical change movements.
When I was 18, I was writing about hip-hop for magazines and newspapers. I took time off of college, but I didn't have a self-education plan. I read a lot about race, class, cities, social change, activism and community service. I got my first taste of the activist and do-gooder worlds. I was still barely aware of foundations or philanthropy
When I was 21, I had published Bomb the Suburbs, a book on hip-hop, adventure, race, cities and social change. And I had a program: To put the money from the book into running a hip-hop community center, to find and publish young writers from the ghetto, and to hitchhike around the country trying to convince middle-class white people to overcome their "suburban mentality." It was my greatest triumph and my greatest disappointment. Triumph because the book sold 23,000 copies which is unheard of for a self-published book on a shoestring budget. It was critically acclaimed, changed a lot of people's lives a little and a few people's lives a lot. A lot of people read it who don't usually read books. Disappointment because it should have sold 230,000 copies but I knew nothing about book distribution or the basics of running a business. The community center died because we ran out of money and we weren't organized enough. It takes a lot more resources than we had to nurture and publish young writers from the ghetto. And it takes a lot more to change lives and institutions than speaking passionately, telling stories and asking tough questions.
So now that I'm 25, I'm studying all the powerful institutions and figuring out—in clever and ordinary ways—how to build institutions to seriously challenge them. That's how I went from running around the city to urban planning and politics. From writing on walls to real estate. From chillin' with cool kids in the ghetto to making appointments in suburban office parks with not-so-cool adults. From cutting class to the Self-Education Foundation. From helping broke friends to the Active Element Foundation. From hawking my book on the subway to "sales and marketing." From hand-me-down clothes to...now I own three suits. From breaking the law to studying the history of strategic social change.
From denying my privilege as a well-to-do white person to taking responsibility for it. I see my growth as a natural progression. I want to help other young people in their evolution—from juvenile delinquency or prep school to public art and activism to becoming strategic, life-long agents for creative historical change.
No More Prisons is a quick and dirty look at a handful of tiny emerging movements in five key areas that I'm excited about. I'm sure there are many other areas that are at least as worthy: Campaign Finance Reform comes to mind. Fair wages, good unions. Boycotting sweatshops. Rainforest soil erosion. The extinction of endangered species. The mass torture of animals. The greenhouse effect and destruction of the ozone layer. The military-industrial complex, how it eats up our tax dollars and forces us to sell weapons to asshole dictators committing genocide against their own people. The mistreatment of women. Discrimination against disabled folks. Fear of queers. The brave new worlds of space, biotechnology, global capitalism...and other really important issues that I don't have any original insights about. If one of these is your issue, I'm sorry. I didn't have anything new to say about it. I want to write about everything that matters and be all things to all people, but I can't. So I try to limit myself to writing from personal experience and creating combinations I haven't heard anyone say before.
That way I get to feel like I'm being original.
And you get to feel like you're reading a one-of-a-kind book.
The five areas I chose are just five areas I happen to know about from my limited experience on Earth. Five small glimmers of something bigger, five small windows of opportunity to act: Urban Life, because it reminds us of community and the race and class divides, and the history of fucked up social policy which makes it difficult for us to know and love each other. Homeschooling and Self-Education because we must all find our own educations, our own destinies, in a system that tells us we can't educate ourselves because it—the curriculum, the teacher, our parents—knows best. Hip-Hop Leadership because I grew up in hip-hop. It is my second family and I love it and hate it and know it needs leadership. The Cool Rich Kids movement not only for the obvious reason that you need cool people with money to do anything large scale, but also to symbolize how powerful all of us are. We are all rich kids. Most of the time, we do not comprehend how rich we are. A Hitchhikers Guide to Community Organizing symbolizes the marriage between fun and serious, adventure and commitment, the spontaneous and the strategic, doing for Self, and doing for the Whole. Why Philanthropy Is The Greatest Art form Of The Twenty First Century? Shit, it better be or the Twentieth might be the last century. Also, I want to reclaim the much abused word "philanthropy"—which means love of humanity—but you wouldn't know it by the narrow and ugly and deadening way most of it is done.
No More Prisons is a collection of snapshots swirling toward a synthesis. A lot of the stuff in here sounds young to me now. Many of the essays and interviews are four or five years old now. Everything in here is connected to everything else, but not all the connections are spelled out. Some you have to figure out for yourself. I am an author who writes to my audience. The problem is, I have so many specific and separate audiences that to write for one is to alienate the rest. This book is where I get caught playing chameleon. For example, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Community Organizing is a synthesis of four versions of the same story written for four different audiences: One for a political magazine. One for a weekly newspaper. One for a literary magazine. One for a hip-hop graffiti magazine. The version printed here is a combination of all four. Sound schizophrenic?
That's how I experience life in this segregated society. Welcome to my life.