This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Wake Up Call" by Dre Johnson and Patrick Ohslund

"Wake Up Call"
Co-written by Jackhammer Serenade, the spoken word duet composed of Dre "Duke Bossman" Johnson and Patrick Ohslund

When the student is asked for his homework,
he laughs like I must be joking.
This school is in East Palo Alto
but this substitute teacher has seen these walls
before in Oakland, Detroit,
anywhere else forgotten about by real estate booms.

The student laughs because
he sees desperation leaking out of walls
built in the seventies lit by dim blinking fluorescence.
He laughs because his eyes are open, 
This young boy is no fool
He knows that this desperation
is a learned behavior.

His spine cheers with a shiver
that causes a sun to rise that only he can see.
His personal path of illumination
rises from his rib cage like a hot air balloon,
Fueled by words a teacher told him,
"your mind is a tool
sharpen it on books like they were wet stones,
to cut chords and hover above
desperate patterns to think for yourself."

This student is awake, won't sit down,
shut up, or listen blankly anymore.
But we are seeding our youth
With vines designed to choke out life,

Cafeterias in prison and school train gut as mind to
turn off and swallow the blandness
provided by Sysco Systems.
Blueprints for school buildings
fall from the same architects that churn out prisons.

Both structures clenched around the necks of their inhabitants
Strangling enthusiasm that would grow outside the bricks
Lining student prisoners in cell or desk
accustomed to jumping at the sound of a bell
Off to the next detention center.

IT IS TIME FOR A WAKE UP CALL!
But we are seeding our youth
with vines designed to choke out life.
And are surprised that babies drop out
of teenagers as teenagers drop out of high school.

Surprised at students with numb noses and punctured veins
to punctuate the "I don’t give a fuck" attitude
that drains into classrooms from
Governator’s budget cuts.
Trimming a little future out of our lives.

Education being cut down to the cold efficiency of
a mechanized factory has been an American theme since the days of
Francis Bellamy winding up a sales pitch
In the form of the flag salute, a wholesale
conditioning of government school kids.

American school children performing the original "Bellamy salute"
during the Pledge of Allegiance
I pledge allegiance to the flag
 In 1888 Francis Bellamy worked both as a producer and salesman of American flags.
To the United States of America
 He was obsessed with the efficiency of military and wanted school along with everything else to mirror this cold precision.
And to the republic for which it stands
 His mission was to use the flag salute to ingrain blind obedience into students.
One nation, under god
 In 1888 there was one slight difference in the flag salute,
With liberty and justice for all
students arms were raised to honor the republic, straight from the shoulder.

Francis Bellamy,
the programmed pirate infamous flag dealer
left his mark like the lynch letter,
slangin' the image of the red white and confused.

Francis Bellamy,
sold nationalism to government schools
to create armies of industrial militant minded
Pavlov's lap dogs instead of what should be students.
who are force fed falsified information
 while they sit entranced,
It is time for a wake up call.

Instead of a pledge to empire
how about a pledge to what moves us
Freedom from history books bound by chapters
That speak only of Eurocentric beginnings.

I pledge Allegiance to the light of knowledge
So that it may bounce off people like they were mirrors
transforming any classroom into this one. 


Copyright © Dre Johnson and Patrick Ohslund




One to create a new political slam poem is to examine the background behind a political action or activity, in this case the commercial and political history of the Pledge of Allegiance. 
The Bellamy salute was, and in some places still is, the way students were instructed to salute the flag beginning in 1892.
The pledge became compulsory for students in 1940 after Minersville School District v. Gobitis, opposed by Jehovah's Witnesses. That ruling was overturned in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943, citing issues of free speech under the First Amendment.
The Bellamy salute was later used by the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or Nazi party, and fell out of favor during World War II, although it is still commonly used in the United States.


From "Face the Flag: The surprising history of the Pledge of Allegiance":
Francis Bellamy
The Pledge’s genesis had a strong commercial component of its own. [Francis] Bellamy worked for a magazine, Youth’s Companion, that had boosted its circulation by offering American flags as premiums to schoolchildren peddling subscriptions. One hundred sales equaled one flag, and over the course 
of a few years, the magazine’s Flag Over the Schoolhouse Program put the Old Glory in tens of thousands of public schools around the country.
To expand on such efforts, Bellamy’s boss in the Premiums Department at Youth’s Companion, James B. Upham, concocted the idea of partnering with the World’s Columbian Exposition, a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair, to promote a nationwide celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day (which wasn’t yet an official national holiday). The proposed ceremonies would take place in schoolrooms and feature lots of flags. It would honor the spirit of enlightenment and progress Columbus embodied, and acknowledge the public school system as an uplifting, democratizing force in American life. “Our public school system is what makes this Nation superior to all other Nations—not the Army or the Navy system,” Congressman Sherman Hoar (D-Mass.) insisted when discussing the coming celebration with Bellamy. “Military display…does not belong here.”
To lend gravitas to the occasion, Bellamy felt a more dignified salute to the flag than those that already existed at the time was in order. As The Pledge recounts, Bellamy penned the Pledge “at a time when anxieties over the impact of mass immigration coexisted with expansive optimism about the nation’s future.” The entire Columbus Day celebration was calculated, as Theodore Roosevelt approvingly observed, to inculcate a “fervent loyalty to the flag,” and Bellamy himself viewed his Pledge as an “inoculation” that would protect immigrants and native-born but insufficiently patriotic Americans from the “virus” of radicalism and subversion. A few years after writing the Pledge, The Pledge recounts, Bellamy would eventually write a less inspiring ode to indivisibility: “A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another.”

Dre Johnson, right, and Patrick Ohslund
Dre Johnson and Patrick Ohslund are the co-founders of the 501(c)(3) non profit, Voice of a Generation presents: Digital Storytellers.

This organization serves to provide spoken word workshops, hands on education in the production of poetry based documentary films and to forge connections between students and Community-Based Organizations.


Voice of a Generation Presents:
The Digital Storytelling Project

Our mission is to engage a new generation of informed, skilled and creative leaders capable of harnessing the power of media to preserve their community’s voice, share heritage and culture through the development of spoken word based documentaries.


Dre "Duke Bossman" Johnson, longtime Oakland, Calif., poet.
Photo by Big Poppa E.

This is a call for financial support to provide in-class spoken word workshops and hands on education for the production of digital documentaries at Sky Line Public High School in Oakland, Calif. The end results will be youth poetry and film projects used in the media of community based organizations, a culminating spoken word performance and satisfaction of senior project graduation requirements.


Digital Storytellers has 501(c)(3) nonprofit status through fiscal sponsorship by the Community Life Network. Donations are tax-deductible. We currently have a philanthropic organization providing a 50% match of funds, you can contribute through our Kick Starter fundraising campaign.
In this campaign we will secure funding to run a customized pilot program at Sky Line Public High School. Our goal is to reach $8,000. 

These funds will pay for workshop facilitators, grant writers, film and editing equipment, as well as our quarterly performance.
For more information check out our website: Digitalstorytellers.org
 
Digital Storytellers is a participatory media program that trains young people to become fluent in the arts of spoken word poetry and digital documentation. Through these art forms youth improve their ability to articulate thus creating personally empowered voices that are infused into digital media thereby creating a means to engage in public dialog. We are building a reputation as innovators of service-learning and media technology education by facilitating in-class writing workshops where we also provide hands on instruction in the production of community strengthening and poetry themed documentary films.
Our goals are to produce demonstrable results in the following capacities:
    * Youth written spoken word poems
    * Student produced spoken word based documentaries
    * Inclusion of youth poetry and film within the literature and media of
      community based organizations 
    * Students becoming involved with CBO's
    * Satisfaction of community service and senior project High School graduation requirements through student interview, documentation and involvement with CBO's
    * Increased abilities of articulation
    * A quarterly Multi-Generational Spoken Word Showcase where students and
      professional performers will share the stage with leaders of CBO's


For more information, contact Patrick Ohslund, Workshop Coordinator, at patrick@digitalstorytellers.org, (949) 285-9086.

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