Grooving across the United States

Moving back to San Francisco this month took me two weeks and all the way across the country. In addition to several stops along the way (read on), one of my highlights was visiting my hometown — St. Louis, MO, where I had a chance to play my first hometown DJ & MC set at Upstairs Lounge in Tower Grove for Victor Levy’s going away party.

From DC, we drove and stayed a night in Berkeley Springs, WV before stopping in Dayton, OH. We ended up in Chicago, IL that night, and after continuing to St. Louis, staying there for a few days with family. From St. Louis, we continued west to a National Park in Topeka, KS at the site of the school whose segregation prompted the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown vs. Board of Ed in 1954. Two days later, I was hiking above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park outside Boulder, CO, learning about the origins of glaciers, and spotting elk in alpine meadows through binoculars. 

I’m not sure when I’ll next drive across the country, but having the chance to do so over two weeks was a joy, as was the chance to play a show in St. Louis for the first time in over 20 years!

Coming Back to Cali (August 2015)

For the third
time since
I first saw you

Girls in leather
chaps whipping
men dressed like fairies

DJs bumpin
beats and who knows
what else in the dark

foggy mornings
in the sunset
pushing clouds

over Twin Peaks
down the Castro
somehow into

thin air as
it finally hits

If this is what a midlife crisis looks like, I hope it never ends

I’ve known that the summer of 2015 would be epic, but little did I know what shape its memories would take. Having left my job two months ago, and with the benefit of one month remaining on my sabbatical-of-sorts, a few reflections worth sharing leap to my mind.

This summer followed a six year professional sprint. Twice over the past 15 years, I came to Washington from San Francisco, inspired by the need to dedicate myself to vital struggles with world historical consequences: in 2003 it was the war in Iraq, then in 2009 it was the mass surveillance legacy of the Bush & Obama administrations that many overlooked until four years later, when the Snowden revelations exposed the emergence of state surveillance in the US to a degree unimaginable since the demise of the Soviet Union.

When the summer began, the last thing on my mind was the crucial need to give thanks for every day I continue to breathe. My dear friend Jay Marx — the very first person I ever met in DC even before moving here 12 years ago — tragically passed away at a festival only a few hours after I last saw him. His memory lives on as an inspiration to many, and I’m thankful for the chance to have shared so much time with him during his last weekend with us.

Jay’s passing helps remind me that, before all else, I am simply another human being. Like me, Jay defined his life in terms of resistance to various forms of domination and oppression — yet at the various events honoring his memory, what everyone seemed most to remember was his smile and warmth. While I take a great deal of inspiration from the principles that I defend, and I remain profoundly grateful for the chance to play my roles as a lawyer, writer, and strategist working to defend people from abuses of power, I am more than simply a cog in a wheel — whether of corporate America, or instead our fractured and struggling resistance to it. 

Needless to say, I’ve appreciated the chance to have some space from my work in order to think carefully about these issues and my transition through my midlife crisis. And if this is what one looks like, I hope it never ends.

A week after leaving my job, I reconnected with a long lost friend, met a small army of new ones, and broke through some personal musical barriers at the Freeform arts festival in Pennsylvania.

A week later, I was back in Cuba (for the second time this year) with a dozen friends. Words can’t possibly do justice to either the place or our trip, though I do hope to inspire my travel companions to write some reflections that we might all someday combine. My highlights included the chance to cross-pollinate my East and West Coast families, experience the Cuban medical system, and connect with dear spirits from lands as far flung as Hawaii and Czechoslovakia whose paths I was lucky to cross in Havana.

I returned to the US just in time to play another music festival, the PEX summer music festival in Maryland. That weekend offered not only the first performance fully realizing the vision that drove me to start DJing in the first place at the beginning of 2014, but also my first marathon set, a five hour downtempo romp that carried me through most of Sunday.

The rest of July went by in a blur. I spent several days in Brooklyn catching up with old friends, recovering from some minor injuries I endured in June, and taking more or less random swipes at any of the several writing projects on which I’d hoped to focus before the summer began.

Transformus came and went quickly. I went largely to embrace my favorite regional Burning Man event before moving back to California, to record some funk tracks (which unfortunately fell through), and also to get away from my dear friends in the Northeast in order to immerse myself in beginner’s mind. While I realized each of those aspirations except for the recording sessions, I did not expect to return to DC mourning a friend.

I’ll write more about Jay for my column on the Burning Man blog, and look forward to sharing his formidable legacy with others. I needed to write this post just to share some of my own reflections.

Last week, I turned 41 years old and reveled in several memorable experiences: a birthday dinner with a dozen close friends followed by a manic night reveling on the dance floor at 18th St. Lounge, a birthday party with more goodbye hugs than I could count from friends both new and old, and an all-night memorial to my dearly departed friend culminating in his favorite coffee table game, which we played in the rear bed of a pick up truck on a public street between 2 and 6 AM on a Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Tomorrow, I start a two-week road trip across the country to the West Coast, which I adore and have missed dearly for most of the past decade. I can’t wait to see what I find when I finally return, though I also hope never to forget the phenomenal moments, adventures, and companions I’ve found in the East.

“Green out of the pockets of politicians…”

The PEX Summer Music Festival in July 2015 gave me a chance to break through a few personal musical milestones. My DJ & MC set at Meso Creso on Friday night better realized the vision that prompted me to start DJing in the first place — fusing the lyrical spirit of conscious hip-hop with the funk and delirium of house music — than any gig I’ve played yet. Fortunately, the inspiration struck at a good time.

This 2:00 video clip shows me mixing between tracks, our fabulous and frenetic crowd celebrating the wee hours of Independence Day, and a single rhyme challenging both drug policy and money in politics.

I’ll post a live recording soon, after nailing down whether a version that includes my vocals (for the first time!) is available. Many thanks to everyone who held down the dance floor!

I’ll post a live recording soon, after nailing down whether a version that includes my vocals (for the first time!) is available. Many thanks to everyone who held down the dance floor!

Debating an NSA apologist on the eve of a Senate victory

On Tuesday, May 19, I was invited to join a panel on The Heat including my colleague Julian Sanchez from the Cato Institute and Fred Fleitz, a former CIA employee and Senior Vice President at the Center for Security Policy. Our discussion spanned two segments (both posted below after the jump).

Days later, popular constitutionalists scored a major victory when the Senate failed to extend section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, allowing its scheduled expiration under a previous act of Congress. It’s the first time a controversial surveillance authority has ended since unconstitutional mass surveillance was first illegally imposed in secret over a decade ago, and offers me particular cause for celebration as I’ll be wrapping up my time leading the Bill of Rights Defense Committee next week. 

While I felt great about this segment, I was disappointed that the show is broadcast primarily in Asia, only because government officials and apologists for national security corruption are so rarely willing to debate me on camera for American audiences. Then again, I received supportive emails from expats now living in Asia who saw the interview, so it didn’t fall entirely on uninterested ears. 

A “Superhero Supermix” for the DC Bike Party Superhero Sprint

Tonight, the DC Bike Party hosted a Superhero Sprint, and played a DJ mix I recorded specifically for the event on a mobile sound system pedaled through the city by a longtime friend (of 15 years!) who build it. Read on (after the jump) for an explanation of how this mix aims to depict a universal hero myth elucidated by renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell.

The mix includes electro-swing, space disco, trippy EDM and deep house, depicting the narrative arc of a superhero epic, informed by Joseph Campbell’s elucidation of the universal hero myth. It starts out jovial, with electro-swing recalling the proto-hero’s state of ignorant bliss enabling a thirst for adventure (until 7:00), before calling our heroes from their mundane lives into realms of supernatural wonder & discovery with some trippy space house (until 38:00). The mix then slides into dramatic, darker, then eery & sinister tracks (until 1:14:00) to convey the urgency & danger pervading a hero’s quest. A melancholic denouement precedes some goofy tracks insinuating a suitably spectacular party after defeating the latest diabolical plot concocted by the CIA to destroy the world and/or enslave humanity. 

Fighting corruption in the surveillance state

I’ve had a chance to publicly critique the intelligence establishment several times this month. After being quoted by the Guardian as describing the proposed USA Freedom Act as “yesterday’s news,” I had a chance to visit Thom Hartmann several times on The Big Picture. Here’s our on April 28 interview:

That visit was followed by a series of return appearances on The Big Picture.

On April 22, Thom & I discussed stingray devices developed by the CIA and now used by local police departments and sherrif’s offices to spy on your & your neighbors without a warrant.

On April 28, we discussed the Baltimore uprising following the police murder of Freddie Gray, as well as the impending congressional debate over mass surveillance.

On May 8, we discussed the mass surveillance debate in greater depth.

Finally, on May 12, Thom invited me onto his radio program to discuss more about the congressional debate over unconstitutional mass surveillance.

I also visited a few other broadcast programs. On April 27, I spoke on the Peter Collins Show about the impending expiration of some provisions of the PATRIOT Act, as well as my recent arrest for asking questions about corruption.

On May 8, I appeared for a brief interview on Uprising with Sonali Kolhatkur about the mass spying debate.

Finally, on May 11, I appeared on Counterpoint, a syndicated radio program, to explain and discuss a major appeals court ruling holding that mass surveillance under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act is illegal and unauthorized by Congress.

Questioning police body cameras across the Midwest

This month, I had a chance to invite audiences in two midwestern cities at the center of the Black Lives Matter uprising to reconsider the conventional wisdom on police body cameras.

In early April, I visited my hometown, St. Louis, for an April 2 discussion with SLU law professor Justin Hansford sponsored by the school’s American Constitution Society chapter and covered by the St. Louis American. Professor Hansford’swriting in the Washington Post had drawn my attention, and reflects similar concerns also raised by my colleague Nadia Kayyali at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

On April 18, I spoke in Cleveland at the Martin Luther King Jr Public Library throughout a forum hosted by the Greater Cleveland Civil and Human Rights Network. The Cleveland Plain Dealercovered the forum, and posted video of some of my comments.

I was happy to meet, and generally impressed by, City Council member Matt Zone, who demonstrated an open mind towards each of the many issues that community members raised. Especially impressive were Shakyra Diazfrom the ACLU of Ohio, and Alice Ragland, a youth activist and poet whose comments consistently revealed tremendous vision.

DJ & MC set at Meso Creso’s “Birds and the Bass Spring Fling”

I spun this funky, uplifting, then dark, conscious, spacey, nostalgic, and finally micro house set on Sunday at sunrise for Meso Creso’s “Birds and the Bass spring fling” in Washington, DC.

While DJing, I kicked live rhymes that weren’t captured in the audio recording. But here’s a video (recorded around 39:00) of me spitting my song “Ferguson to Jerusalem.”

This set was especially memorable to me because I’d just flown home (and actually landed after the party had already started) from Cleveland, where I spoke on Saturday about police accountability, surveillance, and body cameras at a community forum covered by local media that posted video of some of my remarks.

Challenging Mass Surveillance on Capitol Hill

Today, after publishing Back to Square One on Spying in the Hill, I spoke at a congressional briefing about a proposed bipartisan measure to repeal the twin statutory pillars of the surveillance state. Here’s video of my remarks at the briefing:

Appropriately titled the “Surveillance State Repeal Act” (H.R. 1466) the bill is the successor to former Senator Russ Feingold’s JUSTICE Act, which I’ve championed since it was first introduced in 2009. 

[Update: Outlets covering today’s event included US News & World Report — which did an exceptional job of depciting our concerns — The Hill, The Daily Caller, and the Institute for Public Accuracy.]