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Tupac on Inequality

Two decades before Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy, Tupac spoke of the evils of inequality to a national audience.

Blogging Our Great Divide
May 12, 2016

by Josh Hoxie

“There’s no way these people should own planes and there’s people who don’t have houses or apartments.” Who said it?

Reading this today, you might think the words came from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who has made rising inequality the major focus of his campaign. However, the words come from a recently unearthed video of deceased hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur being interviewed on MTV News in 1992.

Tupac goes on to say, “There’s no reason Michael Jackson or whoever Jackson should have a million, thousand, triple billion dollars and then there’s people starving.”

In 1992 Bernie Sanders was entering his second term in the House of Representatives having just founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus the year before. At the time he was an obsucure independent Congressman from a small state with no national profile and little hint of his future rise to prominence. However, his message hasn’t changed much since his early days in public office.

In his one minute debut speech to Congress in October 1991, then Congressman Sanders called on his colleagues to pass a tax increase on “the rich, whose incomes are soaring” and challenged then President George H.W. Bush to veto it “if he dares”. A compilation of speeches put together by National Public Radio (as well as similar video compilations on YouTube) show Bernie has been talking about rising inequality consistently for decades.

In that same year, Bernie said in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, in response to Bush’s ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric, “How do we get to the root causes of crime? … Lets deal with the causes of crime. Lets not keep putting poor people into jail and disproportionally punishing blacks.”

Bernie sounds awfully similar to “Changes” one of Tupac’s best known tracks with lyrics, “It aint a secret, don’t conceal the fact. The penitentiaries packed and they filled with blacks … Instead of a war on poverty, we got a war on drugs so police can bother me.”

It’s impossible to say who Tupac would support in today’s presidential race, but the video does mention one candidate by name: Donald Trump.

“This world is such a gimme, gimme, gimme, everybody back off place. You’re taught that in school and in big business if you want to be successful, if you want to be like Trump, it’s ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme. Push, push, push. Step, step, step. Crush, crush, crush.”

He goes on to reject this mentality saying that young people and black people need help to be independent, not more so than others but not less so either. That some people have so much money and don’t help others bothered the rapper deeply.

“Can you imagine this person has $32 million dollars? 32! $32 million dollars. And this person has nothing. And you can sleep?” The rapper goes on with his populist rhetoric to say, “These are the type of people who get humanitarian awards. Millionaires. How can they be humanitarians when the fact that they millionaires and there’s so many poor people shows how inhumane they are. And that bugs me.”

Tupac didn’t live to see the rising inequality that’s taken place in the 20 years since his tragic death in 1996 or the more recent growing public interest in addressing inequality. Nor did he get to see the burgeoning movements around Black Lives Matter and the public outcry over mass incarceration. However, his words from 1992 sound prophetic to today’s listeners as we face the same problems he describes over two decades ago.

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