Thousands march in Prairie View for voting rights

By HELEN ERIKSEN, Houston Chronicle
Feb. 20, 2008, 10:10AM

PRAIRIE VIEW — More than 1,000 Prairie View A&M University students and supporters marched seven miles to the polls on Tuesday to protest the lack of an early voting place on campus for the March 4 election.

Students, local leaders, civil rights activists and elected officials walked from the campus to the Waller County Courthouse in Hempstead carrying “Register to Vote” signs. The majority wore black shirts with the slogan, “It is 2008. We will vote!”

After the march, some students stood in a long line to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting, while others filled out new voter registration cards in a building across from the courthouse. Early voting ended at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, and some waited for five hours to vote.

Freshman Brittney Veasey, who was voting for the first time, said she took the 2 1/2 -hour journey because she believes her vote will make a difference.

“I feel like we’re making history today,” she said. “Instead of making it inconvenient, students should be encouraged to vote.”

Last week, under pressure from federal authorities, Waller County officials added three temporary polling places for early voting, ditching plans to open only one voting site in advance of the March 4 primary.

The Justice Department questioned the county’s original decision to cut early-voting sites from a half dozen throughout the county to one in Hempstead. Officials said the county could not afford equipment or staff to operate the additional sites.

Following an emergency meeting last week, the county submitted a revamped proposal to the Justice Department that included one more day of early voting on Thursday at the three new polling sites. Federal officials have 60 days to review and approve the plan, but have not raised any objections.

Debra Mergel, the county’s attorney, said one of the added polling places about a mile from the campus will have early voting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.

Mergel defended the county’s decision to have the polling place at a nearby community center rather than on campus.

“It is in a county-owned building that we have always used,” she said.

Some students had not learned about the added voting site near the campus, but Mergel said the county advertised it in the local media.

On Election Day, students can vote on campus in the University Alumni Association.

Christina Sanders, who helped organize the march and is a member of Black Youth Vote! Texas, said the county made concessions only after the Justice Department intervened and students complained.

She said the march was necessary to send a message to local officials that a lack of a voting place on campus “is unacceptable.”

The school has about 8,000 students, and officials estimate there are 3,000 registered voters among them.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, called it a “gross injustice” that the county did not seek input from the minority community prior to before establishing polling sites. He said the county has a turbulent history of thwarting Prairie View students’ attempts to vote.

The controversy over voting came to a head in 2004 when students marched from the campus to the courthouse after former Waller County District Attorney Oliver Kitzman declared them ineligible to vote, claiming they did not meet state residency standards.

Meanwhile, the county is being investigated by the Texas Attorney General’s Office based on complaints by local black leaders following after the November 2006 general election. Those allegations stem from voting machine failures, inadequate staffing and long delays for voting results.

"Quilombo Country: Afrobrazilian Villages in the 21st Century" premieres this Sat in NYC

Macumba dancers spin. Santa Maria, Itapicuru.

Fancy boi dances. Santa Rosa, Itapicuru.

“Quilombo Country,” the award-winning film about Brazilian villages founded by escaped and rebel slaves, will hold its World Theatrical Premiere on Saturday, the 23rd of February [Black History Month] at 8pm at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave. (2nd St.) in New York City, followed by a Q&A with director Leonard Abrams.

Go to for more information, or call 212-260-7540. To reserve your ticket now, go to

To commemorate the event and in gratitude to our supporters, we invite all in attendance to a reception after the screening.

“Quilombo Country,” a documentary film shot in digital video, provides a portrait of rural communities in Brazil that were either founded by runaway slaves or begun from abandoned plantations. This type of community is known as a quilombo, from an Angolan word that means “encampment.” As many as 2,000 quilombos exist today.

Contrary to Brazil’s national mythology, Brazil was a brutal and deadly place for slaves. But they didn’t submit willingly. Thousands escaped, while others led political and militant movements that forced white farmers to leave. Largely unknown to the outside world, today these communities struggle to preserve a rich heritage born of resistance to oppression.

The film ranges from the Northeastern sugar-growing regions to the heart of the Amazon rainforest, raising issues of political identity, land rights, and racial and socioeconomic discrimination. Included are examples of the material culture that allow the quilombolas to survive in relative isolation, including hunting, fishing, construction and agriculture; as well as rare footage of syncretic Umbanda and Pajelança ceremonies; Tambor de Crioula, Carimbó and Boi Bumba drum and dance celebrations; and Festivals of the Mast.

“Quilombo Country” is narrated by Chuck D, the legendary poet, media commentator and leader of the iconic hip hop band Public Enemy.

“Quilombo Country” was shot in digital video and has a runtime of 73 minutes. Leonard Abrams is the producer and director.

“Persuasive, complex, and timely.”
– Southern Quarterly
“Outstanding footage of festivals and ceremonies”
– In These Times
“Winner, Best Documentary, 2007”
– Black International Cinema Berlin

WOODEN SHJIPS, MARIEE SIOUX and HEADDRESS at Arthur Sunday Evenings at McCabe's tonight (Feb 17)


Please join Arthur Magazine tonight as we conclude our Arthur Sunday Evenings series of music at the 50-years-old-and-growing-strong McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.

McCabe’s is all-ages, and doesn’t sell adult-designated beverages, so bring the whole family, bring your own flask and so on. Coffee, tea, bottled water, soft drinks and home-baked cookies will be available for reasonable prices. There will be two intermissions, and there are ins and outs all night so you can go outside to use your cel, or perhaps have an invigorating smoke.

McCabe’s holds 150; we’ll have 75 seats out for those who prefer to sit rather than dance or sway or lay down. Here’s the info:

Sunday, Feb 17, 7pm – $12 – call McCabe’s at 310-828-4497 to buy a ticket

Blissed longhairs from the Bay Area working the eternal vein that runs from “Electric Music for the Mind and Body”/”Section 43”-era Country Joe and the Fish to Butterfield Blues Band’s “East-West” to Jefferson Airplane to Quicksilver Messenger Service to the Doors to Suicide to Les Rallizes Denudes to Spacemen 3. As guitarist-vocalist Ripley Johnson acknowledges, “It’s been done already, by the Velvets most famously. This is just our take on it. It just feels so right: repetition, drone, simplicity — that is life, the sound of the nervous system, the sound of the universe.”

Cascading river-of-consciousness folksongs from the young Nevada City nature-songstress

Texan nomad fellas on a dark, lonesome, reverb-soaked high — think the Stones’ “Wild Horses” in super-slow-mo and you’re getting there

Hot tips from McCabe’s on how to park for free near the shop:

Arthur Sunday Evenings poster by ARIK ROPER

Albert Ayler visitation report

posted February 12, 2008 – The Nation (web only)

An Ayler in My House
Nick Stillman

On October 28, 2007, I ate my first pot brownie. A friend and I had huddled around a television set awaiting Game Four of the World Series, which would end up being the final contest of our hometown team’s romp through the playoffs. Having attended a college where fraternities are banned, we touted the evening as a kind of intentionally underwhelming, last-chance frat party. Both of us were heavily into free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler at the time; while waiting in suspense for the notoriously gradual effect of the brownies to kick in, we cranked Live in Greenwich Village, Ayler at his imperious best. Anyone who’s sampled a “special brownie” knows the rest of the story. As for the game, I remember almost nothing, except this: I was visited by the ghost of Albert Ayler.

About ten minutes before the first pitch my friend and I were in the clutches of the brownie–digging Ayler’s violent squawks and celebratory cadences, oblivious to Fox’s pregame histrionics on the muted TV screen. As a country singer approached a microphone near home plate to sing the national anthem, our jaws slackened as Ayler’s sax purred the plaintive opening notes of “Spirits Rejoice,” which quickly becomes a tight, triumphant military-style march before disintegrating into crushing trumpet bleats by Albert’s brother Don. On the silent screen gigantic flags were unfurled, pyrotechnics exploded, a military flyover happened and Americans rejoiced while Ayler’s band evoked twin towers of war–pageantry and battle–masterfully, if psychotically. The highly constructed, frankly vulgar pregame spectacle we were seeing was so incommensurable with the disarming, empowering and terrifying music we were hearing that it was as if the late Ayler himself had graced my civilization, determined to show me something.

My interest in Ayler was stoked by listening to an even more obscure group of free-jazz players: the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Contemporaries of Ayler, the Ensemble protested both America’s war in Vietnam and ignorance of a legitimate free-jazz revolution within its borders. (On their great album A Jackson in Your House, they openly mock the American military and white America’s fear of blacks.) In 1969 the group embarked on an extended residency in Paris with a team of players (including Ayler’s frequent drummer, Sunny Murray), who would record a torrent of now-legendary obscurities for the French label Actuel. The European subculture the musicians found themselves in embraced their new brand of music–one made with gongs, toys, noise guitar, non-instruments, silence, grunting, preaching, singing and chanting, as well as the more conventional saxophone, trumpet, bass and drums.

Initially, I assumed Ayler’s enigmatic music, like the firebrand Art Ensemble’s, could be interpreted as political satire. By 1966 Ayler had begun to weave simple melodies through the hard-core modal chaos that had become his trademark. Trying to explain the new direction in his brother’s composition, Don said at the time, “The thing about New Orleans jazz is the feeling it communicated; that something was about to happen, and it was going to be good.” These sing-songy passages echo the celebratory marches of early New Orleans jazz and grandiose patriotic standards. Ayler’s music from this period is a conflation of celebration and punishment. The difference between exultation and torture dissolves. Paranoia is part of the listening experience. Ayler’s celebratory moments–and many of them are achingly beautiful–become a tease, a false respite from an impending onslaught of horn, string and drum wrangling. Despite comments made by Ayler during his lifetime that his music was “not a protest,” I assumed that the stylistic schizophrenia of this period was a powerfully satirical metaphor for America at a loss, a nation enmeshed in a miserable war abroad and failing to deal with different stages of domestic status quo upheaval in regard to race and gender equity, sexuality and drug use.

After seeing the new film My Name Is Albert Ayler, by Swedish director Kasper Collin–which features the only known footage of Ayler–I found myself checking all these assumptions, and I’ve since come to realize it’s impossible to consider Ayler’s music to be even the slightest bit sarcastic or insincere. Audio from interviews with Ayler between 1963 and his death in 1970 is the backbone of the film–and why not, since Ayler is eminently quotable, uttering such pronouncements as “My imagination is beyond the civilization in which we live; I believe that I’m the prophet.” (Murray insists Ayler’s cosmic philosopher-speak accounted for his success with women.) But he also talks easily, freely and without a trace of negativity while the film documents his grinding poverty. Born into a working-class family in Cleveland, Ayler was forced to drop out of college and join the Army because, as he puts it, “funds weren’t strong enough.” Michael Sampson, the violinist in Ayler’s band, describes the conditions in New York as “dire poverty.” Ayler’s friend and staunch champion John Coltrane lent him and his brother cash so they could eat. The majority of the band being black, they were forced to stay in what Sampson called “ratholes” on the road. Don had become mentally unstable by 1966 and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. In other words, while Ayler was revolutionizing music (and his commentary in the film demonstrates that he knew it, or at least felt it to be true), there was plenty to be negative about.

Ayler was prodigiously, if cultishly, spiritual. According to his commentary–and it’s hard to disbelieve it when you hear it–his music had one grand theme: universal harmony. And yet for such a message to be effectual people had to hear it, feel it and–ideally–like it. In the film he says, “The people must listen to this because they will be hearing it all the time.” The people weren’t ready. In 1967 Ayler published a dense, difficult, mystical-religious essay in Amiri Baraka’s magazine The Cricket. Photos of Ayler in 1968 show him pointing his horn skyward in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, gazing at the sun. It was rumored that he had become involved in a mystical Egyptian ritual of staring at the sun; he reportedly told the photographer that he was prepared to go blind. In 1970 Ayler’s body was found floating in the East River. The circumstances of his death remain cloudy. What is clear, though, is that Ayler played music that exuded desire. Exactly what that desire entailed is probably incommunicable through language (and possibly a factor in his early death). It’s obvious in his tone: its glossy raggedness and disarming shifts in timing, volume and intensity. Ayler’s best music takes that iconic phrase of the civil rights movement, “I am a man,” and flips it into “I am human.” For Ayler, spiritual unity meant eschewing ugliness and negativity. Is this what Ayler’s ghost tried to show me on October 28? I’ll never know, but this I’m certain of–it’s plainly obvious what Sunny Murray means in My Name Is Albert Ayler when he cites the difference between Ayler and everyone else: “Albert played it with love.”