Which Side Are You On? RodStarz of Hip-Hop Duo Rebel Diaz Explains Confronting Ted Cruz & Being Pro-Community

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Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks to an audience at the restaurant Sabrosura 2 on April 6, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Rolling up on politicians TMZ-style comes second nature to hip-hop duo Rebel Diaz. Real-life Chilean brothers and brains behind the TeleSur English web show N Don't Stop, Rodrigo "RodStarz" Venegas and Gonzalo "G1" Venegas, recently made it their mission to confront Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in their native South Bronx during his meeting with New York State (D) Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr. at Sabrosura restaurant last week (April 6). "Ted Cruz has no business being in the Bronx, this is an immigrant community. We deal with climate change every single day," says RodStarz in a recent video from the event, which shows him firing back at Cruz' anti-immigrant policies and comments about climate change not being "science." Below, RodStarz recalls getting into Cruz's face, his family's history, passion for hip-hop and why voting everyday in the form of activism is crucial in a seemingly tough-to-pick-sides election.

Me and my brother, G1, got word from a community member that Ted Cruz was gonna be in the Bronx, meeting with State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. and we decided, 'Let's go see what’s up.' We went to go eat over [at Sabrosura restaurant] and we were about to have a meal before [Cruz] showed up. We also host a web show with TeleSur English, so we were there doing our community people’s journalism and originally we asked Ruben Diaz Sr. some questions. He knows us just from community organizers in the Bronx and we’ve butted heads with him before because he’s one of the main people asking for more stop-and-frisk in the Bronx. He’s historically been anti-LGBTQ community and we stood up against them. He knows us and where we stand and where he stands but we thought bringing Ted Cruz to the community was a huge insult. We decided we’re just gonna go up there and try to get some questions answered that we thought the community might want answers to. They didn’t want to answer anything as you saw in the video and proceeded to kick us out. While we’re getting out, I’m like, ‘Alright. At this point, they’re not allowing us to do our journalist job so I’m gonna represent like a community member would. That’s really what happened. We just spoke up against Ted Cruz, his anti-immigrant policy and his climate change denial.

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I’ve been involved in activism since I was born. My parents were political prisoners in Chile under the CIA-funded military dictatorship of [former president Augusto] Pinochet in South America so we’re a product of the first September 11 in 1973 [Ed.: On Sept. 11, 1973, the U.S.-backed Pinochet took over Chile following the death of their elected president Salvador Allende]. I grew up under the table of political meetings and so now, obviously we’re adults and have our own families. We been doing activism in the Bronx for the last 12 years.

[Hip-hop]'s not separate. Anybody that’s heard the music of Rebel Diaz and the work that we do, it goes hand-in-hand. Hip-hop always spoke to me, a child of the movement. When I was 13 and listening to A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers and Common Sense, a lot of the messages that hip-hop was putting out were aligned with what our parents were talking about but it was to a different beat, different energy. Ultimately, the messages they were sending were the same -- fighting for social justice, talking about people in power in our communities and stuff like that so for me, what made me fall in love with hip-hop was the energy, the beats but also the messages that I was hearing in the music that let me know that the struggle my parents were fighting for was still alive.

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We’ve definitely taken stances in our music throughout the years. We have a song called “Which Side Are You On?” featuring Dead Prez and Rakaa Iriscience that talks about a lot of issues going on. It’s crazy that a lot of our music is protest music. We talk about proposal. That’s really the endgame -- you can’t just oppose, you have to propose. And that’s what we try to put forth in our music. We’re anti-police but what are the alternatives? I think that’s presented on the Free Family Portraits project. We also have a project coming out with famous MC, Tef Poe. Our solo release, the Radical Dilemma album talks a lot about social justice. In general, Rebel Diaz touches on issues in our music all the time. And when you put “Rebel” and “Diaz” together, rebeldiaz means “rebellion” in Spanish.

I’m gonna side with the people [this election]. I think that this country has a two-party dictatorship that’s ran by the corporations so I don’t really see any candidate doing better to represent the people. I want people in my community and area to vote everyday with the actions that [they] take whether it’s teaching an after-school class, volunteering to teach kids to make music or doing a community garden and learning how to be self-sufficient and grow [their] own food. When you look at every other country in the world, they have six, 10 political parties and the fact that we have to choose most of the time and settle for the lesser of two evils, it’s very telling of the idea of political participation in this country. When we went in and shut down Ted Cruz, we were voting that day. Our vote wasn’t for the Democrat [or Republican], our vote was for the people. We like to say we want to politically participate and be involved in this democracy on an every-day basis by the actions that we take.

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When folks ask us, who holds Rebel Diaz accountable? I’m accountable to my community. I’m accountable to my neighbors, to my family, to my block. I’m not accountable to the corporations. And so if I go out there and speak out against Ted Cruz, I know I’m representing my community. I know I’m representing my family and I’m standing up for them. I’m not worried about what that’s gonna look like so I would just tell artists, to people in general to be more fearless. We rolled up on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel [last] weekend as well. He just happened to be on a flight coming home and we rolled up on him and talked to him about [the 17-year-old who was fatally shot by Chicago police] Laquan McDonald and why he [allegedly] covered up a murder. The reason for doing these things too is there seems to be certain respectability politics that you’re not supposed to talk to politicians, that you can’t roll up on them and it’s crazy but you see TMZ and paparazzi roll up and disrespect celebrities all the time, taking it to a level where it’s almost become accepted. Learning from experience with the Rahm Emanuel and Ted Cruz incidents, we’re gonna keep rolling up on the politicians and keep asking questions that are gonna make them uncomfortable. If the people in my community live uncomfortable, then we’re going to continue to make the politicians uncomfortable. I look at it like this, if you’re a politician and the policies you represent and the legislation that you’re supporting is directly attacking our community, that community has a right to stand up and tell you, you know what, we don’t want you here. And that goes for all politicians.

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I think that Donald Trump is a blatant racist. He’s a fascist and though Ted Cruz is not as outspoken [as Trump] and hasn’t received much media attention, his policies are actually to the right of Donald Trump. He’s more of a problem in a way. This guy’s from the Tea Party. With Hillary Clinton, we saw how her husband treated the Black Lives Matter crowd [on Thursday, April 7]. She got on record as calling 13 year old black males “super predators.” Her husband was responsible for the mass incarceration on so many members of our community. When we talk about Latin America, she supported the coup in Honduras [in 2009]. We’re clear that none of these candidates are good representatives of the people and so we don’t support any of them.

The solution is to give the community real power. We need to focus on getting local leaders elected and start on change locally. We like to say that even in the activism that we do -- organized locally, thinking globally. Right now, we need to start a third or fourth party. I have a friend who says, ‘I won’t vote till freedom is on the ballot.’ With the Black Lives Matter movement, Ferguson, Baltimore and the Occupy movement of 2011, there’s a whole generation of young people that are hungry for something else. That’s why you see a lot of the young people supporting a Bernie Sanders because he comes with a bit more liberal rhetoric but I still don’t think that’s necessarily the answer. The answer is within the people. We need to vote everyday in our communities with the actions that we take. It’s that simple. Maybe let’s look to 2020 and see what kind of energy we can come up with then.

--As told to Adelle Platon

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