Five Questions for Activists

Now that Reebok has ended Rick Ross' endorsement deal and the rape lyric has been cut from the song that featured it, it's time for activists to dream big about how to plug all this righteous anger into addressing root causes. As a former online campaign strategist, I've learned the real shifts happen when we take the long view, formulate a plan and work it alongside others who are committed to our goals.

The pressure women's rights group UltraViolet put on Reebok and the canceled appearance in Ottawa last weekend have hurt the rapper's pockets. Now the question is how do we move beyond shaming individual bad actors who bring violent fantasies about women and girls into mainstream rap culture? History has shown that even when a Lil Wayne or 2 Chainz is called out, norms within the industry remain and those artists quickly resume their positions at the top of the charts. How do we build a sustained effort that holds accountable the people who scout the acts, sign the deals, provide the platform and make the even bigger money?

Last year I ran a ColorOfChange campaign in the wake of a Too Short and XXL fiasco that left many of us — including the powerhouse group We are the 44% -- feeling that once again Black and Latina girls and women were put in harm's way by a culture that places our voices and safety second. In the spirit of sharing lessons learned during that and other online campaigns, here are five things hip-hop activists should keep in mind as they work to use this moment toward an even larger victory:

1) Who's your target? What business entity is responsible for the lyric and others like it? Pick a place that prides itself on having a family-friendly brand or claims to be committed to communities of color. Your goal will be to convince the company that it can't afford to be associated with treating sexual assault nonchalantly.

2) What is one thing you want your target to do? That's your ask. Ideally, there should be one ask and one target. The ask is something that could be accomplished within a short amount of time, not a way for you to state your values. Call on your target to do a specific thing that you know — through research — is within their power to make happen.

3) What are your tactics? Say you decide to bird-dog the person at Atlantic Records who manages Ross' distribution deal. You've got a name and you know where he'll be making an appearance. Get a journalist to ask him what he plans to do to avoid future mishaps like this one. Don't know any reporters? Arm a fearless friend with a camera and ask her to corner him in the elevator. Once she has the exec fumbling for an answer, circulate the footage within your networks to spread the word that Ross' bosses are shirking responsibility. In the video, include a phone number that goes straight to the executive's desk. Ask people to call, stay on message with that one ask, and let him know they want answers.

4) Who's got your back and do you have theirs? About those people you're sending videos and phone numbers, do they trust you to give solid information and do you trust them to do what you're asking? Your constituency may be your Twitter following, though often you'll want to avoid broadcasting plans to maintain the element of surprise. Make sure you're prepared to guide your folks through a series of tactics, keep them up to date on developments and engage their feedback. They'll be on the front lines and can help you decide whether to keep up pressure, try something different or escalate to a new tactic.

5) What's your media strategy? You got 500 calls into the bawse's boss' office and the receptionist said they're aware of the problem and considering options? Announce that — to the folks who are part of the effort, but also to press. That shows momentum is there, the opposition is scared and you're still pushing.

These strategic considerations take time, people power and technological infrastructure. In short, they take money. In addition to the important victories that have already been achieved, let's hope this latest controversy can help people with longstanding ties to hip-hop activism make the case that they need support. With it, they can build on criticaldrumbeat journalism  and develop coordinated campaigns that are winnable and put music industry bosses on notice.


Tags: rap, reebok, rick ross, ultraviolet

    • Dani McClain
    • Dani McClain is an Oakland-based journalist covering reproductive rights and sexuality.

      She reported on education while on staff at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and covered breaking news for the Miami Herald's metro desk. Her writing has appeared in outlets including The Root, Loop21, AlterNet, On the Issues, and ...

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