In Partying at Richmond’s for Chess, Rhymes and Wisdom, I wrote about a November 6th “People’s Party” event at Richmond’s that raised–happy to report–$500 for new sound and video equipment for Chess, Rhymes and Wisdom Club at the Frederick Douglass Campus run by Northwest English teachers Brandon White and Reginald Houston. This innovative afterschool club blends chess playing with rap, poetry, and spoken word creations: Bobby Fisher meets Grandmaster Flash.
November 6th was my first People’s Party. Not knowing what to expect, I experienced an evening of chess, a full range of music, some laughable (in a good way) standup comedy and a gathering of engaged people from all races and ethnicities.
And–happy to report–people of all ages. Kit Miller (celebrating a birthday you would never guess) and other supporters of the Gandhi Institute. Musicians, artists, lots of teachers, students including a group from the Eastman School, people from various progressive communities. Inner Loopers and suburban interlopers at Richmond’s.
I also met DJ Alykhan, best described as the driving force behind the People’s Party.
Bouncing around the event, Alykhan was almost the evening’s cruise director, encouraging get-to-know-your-neighbor interminglings that kept the people partying past all the teacher’s bedtimes (not mine).
I was lucky to grab Alykhan for an outdoor semi-successful photo-op. Borderline focused. We lost the head of the kneeling person on the wall mural. And I was supposed to be holding my black chess King (Alykhan has the white one in palm). Nonetheless, in his smiling expression you see some of the energy of Alykhan and the evening.
At the event — and a little more recently — DJ and I talked about what the People’s Party is all about.
DJ himself was born in Boston, raised in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Rochester. After school, he worked in the public health field before pursuing his musical career full time.
A few years ago, Alykhan began organizing and DJing what became known as a People’s Party. The parties are both fundraisers — in this case for Chess, Rhymes and Wisdom — and opportunities for musicians and performers of all stripes to gather as a community.
We both agreed the essence of the Party is hard to strictly define: more an organic, overlapping, heterogeneous thing. As I experienced and DJ explained, the party draws people from everywhere, whether regulars or one time visitors. If there is a loci, it would be the Flying Squirrel community.
The Parties may not feel like it, but to us, fundamentally, they are political events. When we first spoke, I wondered if the People’s Party was titled after the same named populist People’s Party of the 1890s (that actually won 5 states in the 1892 presidential election). DJ said not at first, but now he can see some similarities. Both–then and now–are about people at the grass roots, local level taking control of their lives.
Really, the People’s Party is about what happens outside the party. Generating solidarity through collective music making, the Parties are where people go to feel re-energized. That energy is then harnessed in any number of ways. For many, it’s environmentalism. (Rochester leaves its footprint in La Marche Globale ) For others, such as those who came from Douglass to support Brandon and Reginald, it’s urban education. Some turn to electoral politics. I could Feel the Bern. Others supported Alex White and Rajesh Barnabas in the recent election. People like Kit focus on Non-Violence.
What will the next People’s Party be like? What conversations will be started? What fun will be had? We won’t know till you get there.
On another place for progressive conversation