Love doesn’t follow a straight line.
On this Inauguration Day, it stands that my interpretation of being an American is one who holds its leaders accountable, recognizes that dissent is not disloyalty, and takes its government to task for any self-serving corruption. At some point in their terms, I’ve protested every single President since I was a teenager. Although I voted for Barack Obama, I was one of many who marched against his administration’s immigration policies (I shot this photograph in 2012), spoke out against his signing of the NDAA in 2011, and drew red circles around his drone killings. Now that Joe Biden is in office, we must continue to do our part. We, the people. We, the largest and most powerful branch of government. Just because Trump’s left office, doesn’t mean that these antiquated systems are fixed, that white supremacy is erased, or that politicians uncoil themselves. Today has been a breath of fresh air and there’s much to celebrate. Exhale. Tomorrow, we march on.
Your prejudiced ways – are so fucked up
Your mind’s so dense – look inside yourself
You’ve closed your mind
I can’t get in
Look at color – not within
How many must die
In front of your eyes
Use your brain – help to stop
War Between Races
Gun to my head
Knife to your back
Nowhere to run
I wonder how – it all started
Time is now to stop and think
You might be next, watch your back
You’ve got a choice – tie to act
War Between Races
Gun to my head
Knife to your back
Nowhere to run
Your prejudiced ways – are so fucked up
Your mind’s so dense – look inside yourself
– Warzone, 1995
Yesterday, during the insurrection, somebody left a comment on my IG along the lines of, “How come you’re not saying anything about what’s happening?”
For one, Instagram, while an ideal venue to shop and market product, is not the most efficient platform to host political debates or share information (I’d prefer to use Twitter or my Blog for that). But two, I just didn’t have anything to say. I was speechless. I was crippled with anxiety, horror, and sadness, as we watched our President incite treasonists to storm our nation’s capitol.
Yesterday was akin to 9/11, witnessing terrorists defile our democracy, uncorking a seal that will never quite be restored. That, of the sanctity of our republic and our precious institutions. Of the countless, chilling images, the one that broke my heart was of the man shamelessly brandishing the confederate flag down the halls. If you’ve ever been robbed or burglarized, if you’ve ever been physically violated, you know the feeling. Except this time, the assault was happening to your country. It was like watching thieves roam in your house from a home security camera. I will never forget that helplessness.
Some responses are best served immediately and scorching with emotion. Fuck everyone, I felt in the moment. Fuck Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. All my homies hate Hawley and Cruz. Fuck Pence and Mitch for speaking up at the twelfth hour. Fuck the cops who didn’t try hard enough, fuck the terrorists who killed the cop. Fuck the racism. Fuck the system. Fear steeped in anger, the hate churned and churned…
However, the most useful responses are those that are seasoned with time and reflection. My thoughts will mature and evolve as the weeks, months, and years go by, and I will share with you what I learn along the way. But, just one day later, what I can say is this:
There is a time and place for reaching across the aisle and establishing common ground. Yesterday, in DC, was not that time or place. I believe in political discourse and shared communication. But, when it comes to Hate, conspiracy cults, and dismantling the Democratic process, there is no room for compromise in the United States of America. The middle would still fall somewhere amidst enemy territory.
I don’t know where America goes from here, but I care for her more than ever. Perhaps we needed to be reminded how fragile it all was. In the meantime, there is a wild and corrosive trauma that’s been unleashed upon us. So, there’s no rush to diagnose, or solve, or even to speak on the matter. There is only listening and surviving and adapting.
A few years ago, I shopped my photography portfolio to some select art galleries and was told that many of them just didn’t curate photo shows. I then toyed with the idea of making a photo book, but was promptly told that photo books don’t sell as well. “Well, what do I do with all these photos I’ve been shooting since I was 12 years old? Live photos from punk shows and ‘90s skaters and world travels and famous people before they became famous?” “Put them where everyone else puts them: Instagram.” My relationship with photography has felt different since that day. I truly love this medium. It has helped me digest the world and narrate it back to you. But, I’ve been disenchanted with the devaluing of the craft. Instagram made everyone a “photographer,” the art was democratized, expected to be handed out for free, and now people look past how special and important the practice is. There is a way, however, to restore much of the meaning that’s been lost. As well as the value. I’ll explain more in the year 2021.
When I say I miss traveling, what I mean is that I miss the feeling of being slightly uncomfortable, outside my element, and for a moment, living in someone else’s shoes. To see the mountain from the other side. It’s a reality check, an awakening, a revelation that spurs and informs new creative choices.
There’s this website called WindowSwap that is perhaps as close as I’ll get to experiencing the quiet corners of the world in a pandemic. I’ve been leaving it on in the background as I work, if not to simply listen to the movements and breath of a universe that exists beyond mine.
Dry popcorn rustling during the trailers
Shoes squeaking on the wood, the resonant thump of the ball
Sitting patiently through the daily specials
Ears ringing, post-concert, thwarting a night’s rest
New people, hearty handshakes
Nodding off after takeoff
Getting lost amongst unfamiliar buildings
Spoons colliding in a shared dessert
Birthday balloons on mailboxes
A distant cough that goes ignored
Laughter with abandon
Brilliant, luminous, smiles
As you know, I’ve been spending less time on my social media this year. I’ve allocated those hours instead to texting my community. It’s been a healthier exchange for everyone, but I personally love it because our conversations run deeper. Plus, there are zero trolls (they need an audience) or algorithms. The best part is the honesty because neither of us are afraid of being shamed or judged for our statements.
Over the weekend, I asked the thousands of you that I text with if you were voting and if so, who for? To no one’s surprise, the majority of my following answered, “Biden*.” I’d say about 75% of the texts. About 7% responded with, “Kanye.” It’s eye-opening, but also not entirely shocking. After all, I speak to a streetwear crowd, mostly young, male and into Kanye’s music. Some were half-serious about Ye, some wanted a non-politician in office, others just wanted to up-end the system. Another 7%-ish or so were staunchly Trump, with exhaustive justifications attached. There were a couple of religious reasons at play, one guy who said Ice Cube’s work with the Republicans last week pushed him over the line, but the red hats voiced the usual: Trump has done a lot of good in four years, the media is biased against him, and Biden sniffs children’s hair. The last 10% was a blend of Jorgensen, a few Howies, and anti-voting.
After I turned 18, the first presidential candidate I voted for was Ralph Nader with the Green Party. I was opposed to the idea of Bush or Gore, and the Republicans and Democrats in general. My rejection of a mainstream duality spoke to my personality, especially in my teenage years. More than backing Nader’s policies, I wanted to prove a point, refused to hop onboard a two-party system like the rest of the sheep, and believed all politicians were dishonest. So, I get it (I’m also aware that I probably inadvertently helped the GOP win that year).
There’s a large asterisk on those Biden votes btw. The majority of the people who said they were backing Biden are settling. In fact, I’d say most everyone who responded to my text is actually a Bernie and/or Yang supporter, reluctantly checking Joe’s box to extinguish the current administration.
Although “Anyone but Trump” and “Lesser of Two Evils” are baseline strategies to hobble a Democrat into office, they’re not sustainable plans for America’s political future. Don’t forget, there’s still a world after November 3rd. What do we do in 2024, 2028, and beyond? If we take my nationwide community as a small sample of the incoming class, it’s evident that young people’s relationship with the government is sputtering. A 2014 Harvard study found that only 31% of America’s youth trusted our nation’s leaders (I can only imagine how much further that number’s plummeted in the last six years). In 2016, the writer and academic Yascha Mounk reported that around the world, the youth are increasingly taking democracy for granted. Only a third of American millennials see civil rights as “absolutely essential” for a democracy. More than a quarter don’t see why we need free elections. These are the same kids who’ve been left with less opportunity for wealth and happiness, a ravaged planet, and emotional brokenness.
As much as we’re focused on Election Day, there’s a deeper crisis at hand. This earthquake was rumbling long before Donald Trump and will surface for years after. We must address the youth’s disenchantment with our political system and we need to do that by reconstructing the system itself. Let’s begin by nominating candidates whom the people – not the powers that be – are excited about. Independents are growing faster than parties with about 44% of the electorate. A majority of Americans want a viable third party – is it time to build on that energy?
Politics have always been corrupt, but with the transparency and immediacy of the Internet, we are all now privy to how the sausage gets made. It’s gross. These kids today, they’re gonna stop eating those sausages the more they learn about what goes in them. Then they’re gonna burn the factory down. And yes, I know there’s a glizzy joke in here somewhere.
When I tell people how much of my community sincerely thinks Kanye would make a great President, I get perplexed laughs and smug eyeball-rolling. Instead of making fun of Yeezy voters, we should ask them why they feel Mr. West is the best or only candidate. We should listen to what they need in a Leader and what convicts their hearts. And we should help them get to their destination, with better options, a renewed faith in our system, and people to believe in.
Because we all need people to believe in. Not perfect people, not sinless or blameless people, but people who are willing to make the sacrifices for a better and beautiful America. I still believe these people are out there and exist. I talk to them every day.
One of my favorite writers, David Brooks, writes the most thorough summary of our social condition in The Atlantic.
Read the full essay here.
You know how you’ll get buried so deep into an argument sometimes that you don’t even know what you’re fighting about anymore? It’s not about defending or challenging the issue at hand, but venting resentment for the unaddressed problems around it. Or it’s just retribution for being ignored and marginalized. So much of politics feels this way today. We are crying for help, but nobody is listening – so we guard our fear with self-righteousness, arm ourselves with tribalism, weaponize politics in a wicked sport of revenge. It’s understandable why we’re disillusioned and scared: Wealth disparity. Morally bankrupt leadership. Systemic oppression. I’ve spent the last four years immersing myself in all corners of social and political discourse, and I come back to the same conclusion time and again. Americans are united in our hurt and isolation. We are desperately seeking bonds and relationships with our neighbors, but we are being hardwired for opposition. Whether it’s the social media algorithms, Russia or China, the dark powers that be that are making us lose hope in each other, it is unnatural for us to behave this way. That’s why this feels so wrong and inhuman. What if we approached Politics from a place of Love and Support? Not to protect one’s self only, but to help others? Is there a Politics that believes a better life for everyone else is ultimately an improved existence for ourselves? A Politics that listens more than it speaks, that gives more than it takes? Can Politics be a restorative tool instead of a harmful device? For me, there’s only one Pres/VP team in this race that speaks a more reconciliatory language, and so I’ve lent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris my “Solidarity” art for a collaborative T-shirt now available on their website. The coolest part about America is that you can vote (or not) for whomever you want, even if it goes against your friends, your family, or me. I just hope you vote for the guy who wants to keep it that way.
On this Labor Day, I want to address the disturbing number of Americans without jobs, having trouble finding work, or worrying about stimulus payments running out in the face of a looming recession.
I’ve spent the bulk of my weekend answering texts (323.310.2844) from those of you who are feeling alone and anxious in a historically catastrophic job market: brand upstarts who are losing hope. Influencers, models, and freelancers who are being forced to pivot. Musicians who can’t tour. Recent graduates, especially, are facing the worst prospects since the Great Depression.
If this speaks to you, I want you to know that you are not alone. I’m alarmed by the number of close friends and followers who have reached out to me over the last few months seeking employment help (I’m even more bothered by the lack of openings I can find for them in the marketplace). I understand there is a certain sense of shame and disappointment associated with being jobless and nobody likes to publicize their hardships. But, it’s very real and happening all around us, if not happening to us. It’s a collective crisis.
So, if I can lend any unwarranted advice…
1. Lean on your network. The most successful people I know did not elevate in their career by blind resumes or job search engines. They were referred by friends and juiced their social connections in landing the jobs of their dreams. I know it’s especially hard to do this in a pandemic, but utilize social media contacts and scrub your Address Book for anyone who can grease that link. And you don’t need to have a fancy social scene to do this. When I say “network,” I mean your wacky uncle who runs a deli, the girl you graduated with who started an app, your friend who works at a company and can get your foot in the door.
2. Take this pause to master a skillset. Employers are looking for specific roles to fill. I get a lot of people asking if they can work for us, but when I ask them in what capacity, they say, “I’ll do anything.” I don’t need you to do anything. I need you to do the one thing. And be the best at it. For example, if you are interested in design, learn the Adobe Creative Suite by following YouTube tutorials. Master a diversity of styles by tracing other designers’ work. Once you’ve gotten fast and proficient enough in the design programs, add your personal opinion to develop your own style.
3. If you don’t know what your interests are, it’s time to open your mind and gain some experience. Look for an internship in a field that you are remotely curious about. I interned for over a year (for free) at a skate magazine. I didn’t go into that industry, but I did discover a passion for clothing and editorial through that time. Speaking of which, although there’s a lot of chatter in our culture on the subject, it’s actually pretty rare to identify passions, let alone build a career out of them. Follow your curiosities instead. I didn’t grow up being obsessed with fashion, but I was curious about the youth culture industry, and that wonder led me to where I am today.
4. Maybe you know your interests and have the knowledge, but the circumstances have to be aligned just right in order to move forward. This hesitation is a result of fear, self-doubt, and laziness. Just press Start. You have to get the car moving in order to get anywhere, even if it’s in the wrong direction. You need the inertia to steer the car and direct your life towards a destination… anyway, that’s the easy part! The hard part is getting yourself out of Park and committing to a path. Unfortunately, the majority of people will be too comfortable or scared to ever leave that space. There is no better time than Now to release that parking brake.
Lastly, if you do have a job or a means of income, hold onto it. I know I’m out here preaching inspirational messages and urging you to follow your dreams. But once the unemployment checks run dry, once the elections are over, I worry about the fallout. So, while I advise you to be reckless in your dreaming, it’d be irresponsible to also not warn you of the oncoming storm. I’ve been coaching people to lay low for the next 6 to 12 months. I know there are those of you who hate your jobs or are dying to get into your own thing. But think about launching your passion project or seeking a shinier job once the dust settles on 2020. Until then, you can always stack more skills, raise capital, or strategize your future. Just make sure the next lily pad is secure before you jump.
I hope any of this is helpful. Always here if you need me.