Gregory “GCL1” Lewis is an often under-utilized and underappreciated link between Seattle’s Hip Hop community and its movement potential. He plays a central role as a Shaka (security) for 206 Zulu and un-official advisor to many artists and activists in the Seattle area. He is also a martial arts instructor, soon to be competing in the 8th Annual Kyokushin Challenge April 18th in Bellevue, Washington at Eastside Christian School.
Recently, a collection of his work from the late 1990’s was selected, translated to German, and published in a book by Gabriel of the Anarchist Publishing House in Hamburg. When GCL1 dropped through and showed me the book a few weeks ago, I wanted to take the opportunity to get some of his words down, and pass on some Seattle history to some of us younger folks.
These writings were taken from Black Autonomy, a national paper with roughly 1-2,000 distribution. Black Autonomy, initiated by Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, a former Black Panther, former SNCC member, political prisoner, and author of Anarchism and the Black Revolution, began as a joint project of activists from New York, the Bay Area, Detroit, Seattle, and D.C, to report back on community actions and put forward a new revolutionary agenda. “The message we all wanted to convey was that Black people are fighting back and that real leadership is either collective or by example. You can’t wait for a messiah to come and save you,” says GCL1, who put up the money and launched it out of Seattle in 1993. It was published every two months, but after four years, contributors fell off, and feeling like the paper wasn’t reaching the audience it needed to reach, GCL1 finally stopped bearing the financial burden.
(Photo: GCL1 helping emcee Sista Hailstorm "kick" her smoking habit at a demonstration)
“The first time I got involved with Hip hop was 1983, I was in middle school, the scene at that time was violently competitive, so I stepped back, got involved with the metal and grunge rock scenes for a while,” recalled GCL1, who got into activism and movement work in the early 90s because of several factors. “ ‘92 was a big year for direct action against reactionaries and the state,” GCL1 remembers with a laugh. “I moved to the University District, which had a large and highly politicized homeless youth population at the time. They were protesting Mark Sidran(former city attorney for Seattle) and taking over vacant buildings, and I got in with them.” It was there that he learned about Marxism, anarchism, and other various national liberation movement ideologies. In addition, the original George Bush was invading Iraq, and Seattle was seeing some of its biggest protests since the early seventies, including one that blocked freeway traffic on Interstate 5. The city also experienced two nights of Rodney King related burning and expropriation in the downtown business district and on Broadway. “We marched from City Hall up Pike by Seattle Central chanting ‘Wait ‘till Dark!’ As the sun set, the first burning dumpster was pulled out into the middle of Broadway. It was ‘on’ after that,” he recalled.
Neo-nazis were attacking homeless kids, people of color, and gay people. “On Christmas eve of ‘92 Nazis stabbed a Black man on a metro bus on the Ave. We marched from University Heights to an abandoned building behind Dick’s on Broadway the nazis occupying and using as a base to sell heroin and recruit members. Armed with sticks, baseball bats, knives, and brass knuckles, we went into their house, and started going to town on them. My favorite moment was when the Crips and other hood cats came out with tire irons and their fists to fight along side us. The nazis cleared that spot out quickly.”
GCL1 also did prisoner support work for Mark Cook, a member of the George Jackson Brigade, an armed anti-imperialist group that were active from 1970 to 1979, and founder of the Black Panther Party chapter at Walla Walla State Penitentiary. GCL1 was also a co-founder of the Seattle Mumia Defense Committee and Seattle Leonard Peltier Support Committee.
GCL1 drifted back into the Hip Hop scene in the early 90’s, during the tail end of the Golden Era. “I met Specs One, Silver Shadow D, Merciful, Jace and the 4th Party, Amilcar Navarro from Union Of Opposites, and many others,” said GCL1, who had just turned 21, became a bouncer, and was coming to know and admire the work of many local artists in the scene. “In ’93 I met Merciful at Seattle Central and he turned me on to the struggle for Coleman School and the African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in the Central District. Through Merc, I met Omari, Wyking and others who gave me more education on Nation of Islam, the 5% , the Black Liberation Movement, etc. Merc introduced me to most of the Hip Hop community.”
GCL1 attempted to get activists from the North End involved with the struggle in the Central District, but was often met with indifference or outright hostility. It seemed to GCL1 that although the white activists would go to various church congregations seeking support from the Black community for their agenda, they didn’t want to see Black people with real institutionalized power and therefore would not support a Black-led organization or its agenda.
GCL1 turned his energy to co-founding Copwatch 206 with dRED.i’s Merciful, being active in the AAHMCC struggle as a board member, participating in the WTO protests as a member of the Seattle IWW, and emerging victoriously from both a physical and legal altercation with the Seattle Police Department and the City of Seattle in which he used his karate skills to save his own life from a murder attempt at the hands of a police officer.
“Seattle Hip Hop connected me to people of all walks of life, made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself,” says GCL1, “Hip Hop is a lot more fun than the chore of activism; a lot of the people in the ‘movement’ are unpleasant people, unhealthy, negative, and cynical; Hip Hop is generally more outgoing and hopeful, and social. Hip Hop is going to teach the activists how to relate better to the people. It is up to the activists teach the Hip Hop heads how to be more disciplined, organized, and analytical. Hip Hop also provides the soundtrack to the revolution.” (Photo GCL1, left, with King Khazm, Chapterhead of 206 Zulu)
But GCL1 also has his frustrations with the community. “In Hip Hop, I see a lot of people saying one thing and doing another, not following through on what they say, and treating others like pawns. The big lesson is that the people you meet on the way up are the same people you meet on the way down. Treat everyone with respect, and if they aren’t worthy of respect, take them off the planet. If you’re not willing to do that, then you must respect them. You don’t have to like someone to respect them. How is it we can hold our nose and deal with people we don’t like at our day jobs, but we can’t learn to work with people we may not like within the Hip Hop scene?”
When I prodded him to apply some of the organization and leadership theories from his book to Hip Hop organizing, he responded, “Hip hop is currently not organizing for revolution, it’s organizing for reform. They don’t want to transform the world; most are only interested in transforming their own individual economic situation. People keep doing things to replicate and reinforce the current political system of capitalism and white supremacy. The currently accelerated collapse of the capitalist economic system is the best thing that can happen for revolutionary progress, yet most fear the final outcome of this. We must be the ones to shape the final outcome!”
(Artwork by Daniel Strzelczyk)
On the role of hip-hop activists operating in the community, he said, “What really separates us from the Masons, the Boulé, Skull and Bones, and all these secret society types is being upfront about who you are, your agenda, and what you do. Anything else is rank opportunism and deception of the worst kind.” GCL1 continued, “There’s always a hierarchy of knowledge. Nothing is unknown, people are just unaware, indifferent, or unable to synthesize and move forward with the information they have. Those of us who know have a responsibility to teach those who do not know.”
For GCL1, the intersection between Hip Hop and movement work is not just the message in the music, it’s his community and his life. “I don’t do activism ‘cause I enjoy it, I’ve never enjoyed it, I do it because I know it’s needed and necessary. If I don’t do something the universe will punish me. That’s not just a belief, I’ve seen it happen. Indeed, it’s happening now.”
For more, check these articles GCL1 on Illvox.org:
"Session Notes: Self-Defense"
"Mythology of the White-Led “Vanguard”: A Critical Look at the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA"
"Use No Way As A Way: An Interview with Gregory Lewis"