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Emerge is a festival that creates space for music and social justice

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Header photo: Tarriona TANK Ball from New Orleans' Tank and The Bangas perform at Emerge, at The Joint, Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, NV. May 31, 2019. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Reporting and photos by Shannon Miller and Nissa Tzun

Las Vegas, NV - In its second year the Emerge Festival, a hybrid concert series mixed with social justice conversations, set out to engage their audience with various themes throughout the weekend including, gun violence, police brutality, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, mental health advocacy and sex positivity. Included in the line up were March For Our Lives prodigies Emma Gonzalez and David Miles Hogg, who arose in their activism immediately after surviving the Majory Stoneman Douglas high school school shooting on February 14, 2018 sparking a nationwide movement against gun violence, acclaimed Brooklyn hip hop artist, Talib Kweli, Las Vegas' own Brandon Flowers of The Killers, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and many more.

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March For Our Lives David Miles Hogg and Emma Gonzalez discuss their activism, movement against gun violence and their vision for the future. May 31, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

The theme for the Friday evening session called, "Protest," was the movement to end gun violence, featuring Hogg and Gonzalez. On a panel that lasted nearly 45 minutes the youth activists shared their experiences of being directly impacted, their decisions to act and respond by organizing a movement that has become a nationwide catalyst for change. They offered very clear and simple guidelines on how to navigate difficult conversations and how to engage communities with the pressing issues this nation faces while also acknowledging their own trauma and working on their self care.

"Just understanding that, people who come up to you right, they're angry about something, and their manifesting anger to your face. So coming back at them with anger or their equal tone is not always the way to behave. You have to be the bigger person and be like, 'let's take this down a notch but I understand that asking you not to yell at me is not going to work yet, so let's have a conversation,' " shared Gonzalez. "People are angry and they want justice for something. And you want justice for something too but it might be a different thing and you just have to find some sort of common ground and say, 'well you know I don't know anything about you so tell me something about you.' Start a conversation from there."

Hogg emphasized a message of responsibility for action, not just from his generation, but all generations, and focusing on collaboration, inclusion and collective education. "It has to be OUR generations that save the United States, by working together, with the wisdom that older generations have, from the mistakes that have been made by no fault of their own but by the systems that were in place at the time where we use that wisdom to not repeat history and repeat mistakes, but also use the vigor and passion that the youth have to drive social justice and change in every community in the United States, and not having those people speak for each other, and not having the older generation say 'young people don't care about politics, young people shouldn't be politically involved,' and when they do get politically involved what they say is, 'they're too stupid to be talking about politics,' and then they don't fund our civics education. That's wrong. But we're asking for your help."

Hogg went on to emphasize the importance of understanding the historical roots of America, a nation founded upon the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, and how we now suffer multiple forms of oppression because the history hasn't been addressed. He also mentioned other social issues including police violence. In his introductory speech he acknowledged police homicide victim Black Panther Fred Hampton who was assassinated by Chicago Police in 1969. He went on to remind us of the many challenges we are facing as a nation including climate change, and expressed his disdain for the hypocrisy of Congress sending young people out to fight wars that don't serve the everyday people of America, but fuel and feed war profiteers and the military industrial complex.

Gonzalez concluded with, "Get mad, and take that anger, and make protest, and keep going."

The two youths received widespread and enthusiastic applause from the Emerge audience. They concluded their panel with curating the crowd to the March For Our Lives website.

Before Hogg and Gonzalez' panel, Grammy-winning recording artist, filmmaker activist and host of the Emerge's Protest block John Forté played a short acoustic set and introduced Brooklyn-based rapper Talib Kweli.

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John Forte hosts and performs the "Protest" session of Emerge on May 31, 2019, at The Joint, Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

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Brooklyn hip hop artist Talib Kweli stirs up the crowd on the first night of Emerge at The Joint, Hard Rock Hotel, May 31, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Talib Kweli opened with "Going Hard" and broke to speak on social responsibility in art. "As an entertainer, my job is to make sure people have a good time. But as a person in society, my job is to speak truth to power."

The rapper then brought in clips from some of his favorite protest songs including Joan Baez "Here's to You" and Public Enemy "By the Time I Get to Arizona." After "Definition" and "K.O.S. (Determination)" from Kweli's Black Star collaboration with Mos Def, the artist criticized the political right-wing for claiming to own American-family values. The audience joined in for a chorus of "Fuck Donald Trump," echoing some of the Kweli's past Tweets known to ruffle feathers. A spirited interpretation of "Get By" closed the set.

Kweli spoke to Emerge's theme of social justice, saying during the performance, "The music that stands the test of time is the music that speaks to the condition that poor, marginalized, oppressed people are living in this world."

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Tarriona TANK Ball of Tank and the Bangas had the crowd moving at the first night of the Emerge Festival, Las Vegas, NV. May 31, 2019. Photo by Shannon Miller

Brandon Flowers from Las Vegas' own, The Killers, performs, "When You Were Young," a perfect ending for the first day at Emerge, at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, May 31, 2019. Running time: 3 min, 36 sec