The DA China Annual General Meeting is coming up this weekend (RSVP if you haven't already!) and we are excited to welcome Global Black Caucus Poet Laureate Jasmine Cochran to unveil a new poem she's written for the occasion. We caught up to her to talk about her thoughts about politics, her love for poetry, and what she hopes people will work towards in 2020.
Jasmine Cochran grew up in Mississippi. Her first real face-to-face with the American political system happened in high school, when her AP government teacher had the class read the platforms of George W. Bush and Al Gore.
"At that time, Bush and Gore didn't have websites... it was a difficult and long text, and we had to read it as an assignment. It forced me to do research and was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned. Most people don't learn the facts, which is why politicians can spend millions of dollars on campaign ads, and people just follow along." Later, that teacher took her class to nearby New Orleans to listen to Al Gore campaign, an experience she remembered as "really exciting to see people get riled up. I just remember the electricity in the air."
In the years since, she's remained cognizant of those lessons, "I had a lot of years wading through the waters of trying to figure out what everything meant, and who would keep their word, and how what they did would affect Mississippi and who even cares about what would happen in Mississippi.
"I've grown and changed a lot, but my political leanings have been pretty much the same. I've just become firmer and more educated in what I'm involved in. People need to know what they're voting for and all that it entails."
We are voting for so much more than the presidential seat.
"We are voting for who will be appointed to the Supreme Court, what bills will be debated and passed on the Floor, who will put together or dismantle committees that will actually work to solve our problems. But if you don't know that, you don't consider the implications of your vote. Especially of local votes too, because local legislators make such a difference between one State and the next. I know what it looks like for a State that's got it together. And I know what it's like to be in a State that's not."
Though she didn't end up going into politics in the United States, she admitted, "I have always been very vocal... I got in trouble for my political views. It seems like people just want you to be quiet and not disagree, and living in the South, I disagreed with most people."
Cochran and her family moved to China four years ago. "My husband and I had talked about moving abroad since before we got married, but we hadn't done it yet. Instead, we moved from Mississippi to Texas. After some time there, I asked him if this was it - if we were never going to [go abroad] and were we just talking the entire time? He said no, he wanted to leave. Within a month, we had an offer to come to China."
They moved first to Weihai, in the Northeast of Shandong Province, but have since relocated to Guangzhou. "Weihai was gorgeous, but just too cold! After a couple years of snow, I was like alright, let's find some heat."
Last year, she answered the Global Black Caucus' call for a 2020 Poet Laureate to create a poetry series that would explore societal issues and the 2020 elections. She is now a part of the GBC's Poet Laureate Circle.
She recalls her first moments with poetry with her great grandmother. "I would go to spend weekends with her and one day, she gave me two books - one of which was a gold poetry book called "Apples of Gold." It was so great! I don't know how many times I re-read it. I have been writing [poetry] forever - my mom has a big box of all these journals with poetry I wrote through years and years. Now I am getting to the point where I'm happy with what I'm writing and how people are liking it, and that always encourages you to do more."
Her poems don't sugarcoat the problems of America and its current political system, but also illuminate a way forward - something she hopes will be reflected by Democrats working towards the 2020 electoral outcome.
"My parents have always been very honest about our history. My dad grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi. It's hard there. You still see slave shacks and plantations and the reality of the United States all over there, and Alabama, and Georgia, and Louisiana. There's that James Baldwin quote - to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. Being a black woman, there are so many things I can say. There are so many things in our system that need to be changed."
"But there are a lot of us out here who want things to get better and we've got two powers: numbers and knowledge.
"I understand how hard it is to rally for something you didn't really want. I know what it feels like for your guy to not be IT. But I also understand what it's going to look like for the next four years if we don't vote, and especially if we don't vote locally. There are too many of us who will lose a lot. But there's power in our numbers - we've got to put those numbers together. Whether you vote with a smile in your face or tears in your eyes, you go vote!"
"Plus, we CAN HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE. We shouldn't be living off just rhetoric. We are not powerless. A lot of time, we give our power away, but we aren't actually powerless against any of this. We can say - okay, we voted you in and these are our expectations. We will hold you to that. That needs to become our battlecry. My hope, wish, dream, is for people to unite with numbers and knowledge. If we don't get involved, there are never going to be checks and balances."
Jasmine Cochran will be presenting a brand new poem at the Annual General Meeting on Sunday, May 3rd. Please RSVP to attend!