Spoken Word Poet Kanazi Performs, Advocates for Palestinian Rights

Just three days after the U.S. presidential election, most Claremont students had domestic issues on the brain, but a crowd gathered in the Scripps Humanities Auditorium to hear Palestinian spoken word artist Remi Kanazi talk about the plight of a people thousands of miles away. Throughout the night, Kanazi continued to remind the audience about the relationship between oppression at home and abroad, reading from his newest book Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up from Brooklyn to Palestine.

“Fuck Donald Trump,” Kanazi said at the beginning of his performance. “And also, fuck Israeli Apartheid.”

Intersectionality and solidarity played a key role in the night. DC slam poet Eliamani Ismail SC ’20, who opened for Kanazi, spoke to this.

 “Even though we may have our own problems, we’re both facing the same injustice and oppression and we’re stronger together. If we build a bigger coalition, we have more manpower and we have a bigger voice,” she said.

Ismail writes primarily about Black Womanism and the struggles facing Black Americans. She started the night with her piece, “Elijah”, addressed to her three-year-old nephew about the discrimination he would face as a consequence of being Black in America. While the poem was personal to her, Ismail noted the broader impact of her work in speaking about injustice.

“Poetry is such a raw, unadulterated way to see someone’s emotions,” she said. “You can critically analyze it, but you can’t invalidate it. You don’t have to have any statistics; you don’t have to have any empirical evidence. I guess the whole thing is really just your own empirical evidence.” 

Fast-talking L.A. artist Matt Sedillo also opened for Kanazi. His poetry focuses on his experience as a second-generation Chicano and explores the history of the American Southwest as well as his own upbringing in East Los Angeles. Lea Kayali PO ‘19, the emcee for the night and member of Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke to the variety of talent in the evening. 

“It was really important to me to have someone local to Claremont, local to the L.A. area and then this international famous artist all in one space.” 

Kayali also spoke to the commonality of the performers.

“Indigenous groups in Palestine face similar struggles to oppressed people in the States,” she said, “and without networking across those groups, there would be potential for growth missing.” 

After Sedilo and Ismail performed, Kanazi performed a series of spoken word poems—impassioned portrayals of Palestinian narratives and experiences. In “Normalize This,” Kanazi laments the West’s and Israel’s justification of Palestinian suffering.

“You are profiting off our death … nothing is normal about occupation,” Kanazi said. He further advocated for Palestinians’ right of return—their entitlement to property and land that they lost during the Palestinian exodus.

DD Maoz PO '18, an audience member, believed “Normalize This” was especially thought-provoking. The event “pushe[d] us to take a step back and consider,” said Maoz. “Whether all the rationalizations we were taught … can ever truly ‘justify’ this system of oppression that is ruining, ending so many lives.”

Kanazi touched on similar themes in his performances of “An Empty Vessel” and “This Divestment Bill Hurts My Feelings.” In the two poems, Kanazi passionately narrates the immense loss of life and territory Palestinians have endured since 1948. He further comments on how Palestinian struggles are trivialized by pro-Israel media coverage and heavily-politicized dialogue.

“Talking points erase faces,” Kanazi said.

Kanazi also warned against the dangers of apathy and slacktivism—superficial support of a sociopolitical cause, often on the internet—in “Nothing to Worry About” and “Dear Twitter Revolutionaries #YouAreNotThatRevolutionary.”

Throughout Kanazi’s performances, the audience was involved both intellectually and emotionally. Adriana Gonzalez PO ’18 greatly praised the intersectional nature of Kanazi’s work. 

“Someone like Remi is able to, in very simple [and] concise words, talk about intersecting oppressions, and that's something we don’t know how to do here,” Gonzalez said.

Maoz also recognized the accessibility of Kanazi’s primary medium—spoken word poetry.

“Poetry is so important in connecting us to real human experiences … it makes you feel,” she said.

“The door to freedom is not through Capitol Hill,” Kanazi said.

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