Donned in her own merch and a pair of silver hoops, musician Noname sat in front of soundboards that line the wall of her Los Angeles home office. In the Zoom box next to her sat UC Santa Cruz alum Tiffany Dena Loftin, sporting a smile that shone through the screen. The two came together on the evening of May 20 for the “Amplifying Radical Voices: Identity, Organizing, Media” event to talk about community organizing, vulnerability, and Noname’s book club. 

Noname’s Top 2 Books:
(1) Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Pablo Freire
(2) Blood in My Eye by George Jackson
Tiffany’s Top 2 Books:
(1) At the Dark End of the Street by Danielle L. McGuire
(2) Revolutionary Suicide by  Huey P. Newton

Over 100 participants from coast to coast tuned in on Zoom and YouTube Live to watch the event hosted by Student Media and the Black Student Union (BSU) at UCSC. Though the two speakers were separated by a screen and 300 miles, the conversation was like a reunion between old friends, full of quips and windows into their personalities.  

“You are a troublemaker, my friend,” Loftin said to Noname. “And you are in a good way.”

Noname is a spoken word artist, poet, and musician based in Chicago, also known for her social media presence on Twitter and Instagram, where she discusses sociopolitical issues. 

Loftin described Noname’s use of social media as tenacious in how she sheds light on injustices like climate change, policing in America, and the ongoing apartheid in Palestine. 

Student Media event coordinator Neva Ryan said the event’s inception was a collaborative one, with work spread between other student organizations like the BSU and two of UCSC’s literary magazines, Matchbox and Chinquapin. While Radical Voices is hosted yearly by Student Media at UCSC, this year it was rebranded to add the “amplifying” verbiage.

“There were a lot of discussions about [adding] the word ‘amplify’ or the word ‘uplift’ to the title.” Ryan said. “The intention of the event was always to amplify Black voices, to support and celebrate Black lives.”

Throughout the event, Noname talked about the intersection of activism and fame. Noname, an anti-capitalist, must navigate the hyper-capitalist field of the rap industry as part of her day-to-day life while maintaining her own values that do not align with it. One way this has played out has been through Noname’s Book Club that was originally created as a traditional private business structure, but has since been transitioning to a worker cooperative, implementing more of a socialist economic model. 

Noname wants her platform to be intentional and honest — in contrast to a social media landscape that is sometimes lacking in action.  

“I don’t call myself an activist,” said Noname during the event. “I’m trying to be a comrade, I’m trying to be a part of a longer and more protracted struggle.”

A majority of the discussion between Loftin and Noname centered around community organizing. While Noname talks about large, systemic issues on her platform, she encourages organizers to also focus on a more local level.

“We need to build our communities,” Noname said during the event. “For me it’s been literally on my block, talking to my community and seeing what folks legitimately need, and just working alongside them to get that.”

In Los Angeles, Noname found herself falling into a pattern of assuming her houseless neighbors’ needs instead of asking them. She described a moment of realization after donating tents, only to see folks not using them. After some conversation, Noname discovered that what her neighbors did need was access to fresh food. Now, Noname is trying to establish a community fridge in her neighborhood.  

Loftin echoed Noname’s sentiment, shifting the discussion to UCSC and the campus administration’s reluctance to participate in productive conversation with their students. 

Amplifying BSU Demands

Following the murder of George Floyd, BSU released a set of demands for UCSC and Chancellor Cynthia Larive in June 2020, calling upon the school to address the needs of its Black students. It took a year for the administration to meet with student leaders from BSU. 

“This [event] allows for folks to know more about the struggle of Black students on campus, of whom many feel out of place and unsupported by the university,” said BSU outreach coordinator and event emcee Ethan Davis. “The fact that we have to send out these demands after our ‘Unrelenting Anti-Blackness of 2020’ [statement and demands] and after the [Kerr Hall]  Reclamation in 2017 is a reminder once again that our issues, which affect all students, have not been addressed.”

BSU presented its demands to Chancellor Larive and the UCSC community on May 17, 2021 in a campuswide email. BSU’s demands address a range of issues from accessible housing and affordable and diverse mental health support, to institutional changes like divestment from the UC Police Department.

BSU social media chair Indeya Eubank said that she hopes people found ways to be allies past just posting something on social media. After the conversation between Noname and Loftin concluded, participants were able to reflect on the event and connect with fellow UCSC students in breakout rooms facilitated by Student Media members. 

“I hope that people are motivated, and they are moved to find their own way to be radical and then amplify other people’s voices,” Eubank said. “I want people to not only think of ways to find their own way through ‘Amplify Radical Voices,’ but also think about ways in which they could be allies to other groups, for other communities on campus.”

CHP is publishing this story during the week of June 7 as part of a backlog on unpublished content from spring 2021. The article was originally written on May 26.