The Coup’s Boots Riley Argues for More Radical Movements to Combat Discrimination (Video)

Last month, Boots Riley announced he was releasing a book, one that documents his art, beliefs, thoughts, and personal stories. Also included are lyrics to songs by the Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, two Oakland-based Hip-Hop groups of which he is a member. Now the book has been released, and Riley is busy promoting it on a speaking tour and last week, he visited journalist Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! for an in-depth conversation about his experiences in music and politics.

The topics discussed are varied and far-reaching, and include talking points on his political involvement as a child (“I started out as a youth organizer. I was in an organization called Progressive Labor Party and International Committee Against Racism”), the history of social movements in 2oth century America (“You had the New Deal come. All those reforms came not because they tried to elect the right person, but because there was a fear of a revolutionary movement happening”), champion of Mexican laborer rights Cesar Chavez (“these were folks that were revolutionary in Mexico, left Mexico and came to the Central Valley to continue organizing the revolution”), the nature of elections (“And I don’t think it works. It hasn’t worked, I mean, you know, like if we just want to be logical and look at where we’ve been lacking and where we’ve been focusing. And, you know, you put all these resources into electing somebody, and you’re not going to have a movement afterward. You’re going to have to start over”), N.W.A. (“When we look at hip-hop or any art, we can’t look at it in a vacuum. When people are rapping and sometimes saying really messed-up things, misogynist things, and really even racist things about black folks themselves, while they’re black, but they’re saying—you know, putting out this idea, there’s a reason for that”), Palestine (“And the truth is, is that, you know, for all that Israel is talked about being this democracy, it’s not. Most of the people that live on the land controlled by Israel can’t vote on who rules them”), and the Black Lives Matter movement (“I think that what all of these movements need, and needed, is some sort of leverage power. And a lot of times what happens with organizers is we get burned out. We’re doing demonstration after demonstration, and at some point people are like, “OK, how is this changing anything?” And a lot of us, we don’t have the answer to that, like we’re just keeping going because that’s what we have to do”).

The most extensive, detailed part of the conversation centered around Riley’s views on political organizing, and what the United States needs to truly address systemic issues of inequality that stretch across economic and racial divides. While he supports the current movements attempting to make a concerted effort to bring forth change in this country, he argues that something is missing. “Radicals have to organize a new labor movement, a new radical, militant labor movement that withholds labor and breaks the Taft-Hartley laws in order to do that,” he says, mentioning the 1947 federal law that restricts the activities and powers of labor unions. “The crux of our power under capitalism has to do with our ability to withhold our labor, and it does not have to do with getting a politician to promise to enforce a certain policy,” he says. “I think that politicians are controlled by the folks that have the wealth, and that if you want to control—even for reforms, if you want to control laws, if you want to get things changed, you have to be threatening to profit.”

In a switch to contemporary issues, Riley brings up the idea of police brutality and how it is related to labor. “The reason that there’s so much police murder and police killing has to do with the fact that, under capitalism, there has to be a certain amount of unemployed people. Right? A certain amount of—because you can’t have full employment under capitalism.” When Goodman asks him to extrapolate upon that point, he responds:

If you have a certain amount of unemployment, you have to have—you have unemployed people that want to eat. Unemployed people want to eat, and so they get involved in the employment that’s available, and that’s illegal business. All business, legal or illegal, takes violence to regulate it. If you have a legal business, a supermarket, people can’t just walk out with a cart full of groceries without paying, because someone will meet them with a physical force—the police or the security, the store itself. That’s the physical violence, and that’s the—the legal business has the police. Illegal business doesn’t have that. So there’s, quote-unquote, “crime,” that is really just part of the capitalist system.

Check out the full extended interview with Boots Riley here, and pick up a copy of Boots Riley: Tell Homeland Security – We Are the Bomb at Amazon.