One Woman Speaks for Many

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The FCC has banned her rap CD, calling it “indecent” – but Sarah Jones attracts huge audiences to her feminist performances.

By GAETANA CALDWELL–SMITH

SAN FRANCISCO-The mostly young activist types and older leftists packing the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre had come to see Sarah Jones’s performance of “Women Can’t Wait.” Initially, the show had been commissioned by Equality Now, an international women’s rights group, of which Gloria Steinem is a member.

“Women” was based on a July 1999 report prepared for the Beijing +5 review process, pinpointing examples of discriminatory laws against women in 45 countries. Sarah Jones’s show is a powerful statement on the great need for government and international accountability for these human rights violations.

A few days after I saw the show, the media widely reported on the case of a Nigerian woman, Safiya Hussaini, who had been charged with “adultery” by an Islamic court and sentenced to death by stoning while buried in sand up to her neck. Thanks to an international outcry, on March 25, the ruling was overturned and declared unconstitutional by the Nigerian justice minister. However, reports say that another woman in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina faces the same fate.

For her performance, Jones stood in front of a microphone and used a long, diaphanous scarf as a prop. She adjusted her posture and became the moderator, Parveen, from India. Parveen explained that she was rehearsing women from eight countries-France, India, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Uruguay, and the United States-for their appearance before the UN, to speak of discriminatory laws that protect husbands and other male relatives from punishment for abusing and murdering women.

From Parveen, Jones took on other personas by simply adjusting her scarf, her body, and her accents. From Jordan, Hala told of her sister’s murder, which was sanctioned by a penal code that exempts “honor killings.” Next was Anna, from Kenya, who would rather run away than face female genital mutilation.

The audience responded in raucous agreement to Jones’s portrayal of a woman from Brooklyn, who said that things are wrong right here. Her ex-boyfriend was violent, threatened to kill her, called her a “female dog.”* After several complaints to the police, who responded ineffectually, she shot and killed him when he shot at her first. She now faces execution.

Since staging her first cutting-edge one-woman show, “Surface Transit,” in 1998, performed at The American Place Theatre and other New York venues, Sarah Jones has become a successful poet/actor/playwright in what she describes as a “predominantly white, patriarchal, corporate, capitalist culture.”

Though she enjoyed the success of that show, where she played eight New Yorkers from various ethnicities and economic levels, she finds “Woman Can’t Wait” to be more fulfilling and inspiring.

In June 2000, she presented “Women” at the United Nations, for the International Conference on Women’s Rights. Equality Now claims to be reaping all kinds of attention due to her performance.

Recently, Jones presented another show before the UN in which she portrayed Indian and Nepalese immigrants talking about how it feels to be an American post 9-11.

While Sarah Jones is being lauded in most areas, she is being stymied in others. Last May, the FCC banned her rap-poem, “Your Revolution,” from the airwaves, levying a $7000 fine on KBOO-FM, an independent station, in Portland, Ore., for playing it. The FCC claimed that the poem is “indecent” and written to “pander and shock.”

The FCC said the ruling was in response to a complaint by a listener, whom they refuse to identify. KBOO is appealing the decision.

In the meantime, Jones is waging a legal suit against the FCC to get them to lift the ban. Jones has said that the FCC (headed by Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell) is so culturally disconnected that they are unable to tell the difference between a parody written in response to the hate speech in pop music and the pop music hate speech itself. In trying to explain the difference to the FCC, “they didn’t get it.”

“Your Revolution” is a reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Your Revolution Won’t be Televised.” The first line goes: “Your revolution will not happen between these thighs….” Jones said that she had re-spun the lyrics she had heard on the radio to give an empowering message to women.

During a recent interview on KALW-FM, a non-profit station affiliated with the San Francisco public school system, Jones said: “Kids can listen to Limp Biskit’s ‘All for the Nookie,’ or Britney Spears’s, ‘I’m a Slave for You’ at eight in the morning, but not Sarah Jones. I want people to hear my lyrics and say, ‘Hey! she’s talking to me. She’s talking to my generation.'”

You can access an excerpt of Jones’s poem on sarahjonesonline.com, or hear it on yourrevolutionisbanned.com. You will see how off-base the FCC is, especially when her lyrics are compared to those of some 1990s “gangsta” rappers and Eminem today, with their “bitches-and-hoes” rantings. Though Eminem’s songs were banned at one time, the bans have been lifted. Jones’s art, on the contrary, remains off-limits to broadcasters.

Jones states that the FCC ban is a “clear attack on progressive feminist voices.” Aiding her in her fight are Gloria Steinem, Russell Simmons, and others.

E-mail Michael Powell at mpowell@fcc.gov to protest the ban and, Jones said, suggest that “he find another job.” Currently, Sarah Jones is working on a new piece, for the National Immigration Forum on Immigrant Rights, “Waking the American Dream.”

* Sarah Jones explained that she didn’t want “Women Can’t Wait” to be censored because she said “bitch,” so she substituted the words “female dog.”

Socialist Action News

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