Inspiring activism through spoken word

Poet, author, and activist Matt Sedillo visits Thunder Bay

By Leah Ching

The Argus

photo provided by barbara gauthier

Sitting across from Matt Sedillo at Madhouse Tavern and listening to him speak; it’s easy to be taken back by his intellect and the depth of his political thought. An incredibly brilliant thinker, Matt is also humble, friendly and full of humour. On his first trip to Canada, The Lakehead Department of History, along with RESRG welcomed Sedillo to Thunder Bay for a series of events from January 14-16.

A slam poet, author and activist, Sedillo has been featured in the Los Angeles Times and is Grand Slam Champion of Damn Slam L.A. 2011.

At Matt’s Wednesday night performance, those who hadn’t seen slam poetry before were in for a treat. The Embassy room at the Finlandia was packed to overflowing, including a large number of Lakehead students and faculty. Matt’s poetry was raw, emotional, and extremely thought provoking.

Delving into issues faced on a personal level and by society as a whole, Matt’s poetry managed to resonate deeply with listeners. Also performing that night was a Lakehead student, who wrote a poem at Matt’s slam poetry workshop the night before. Matt’s ability to connect with the audience thought spoken word was immense. The events caused guests to laugh and cry as he paused between poems and connected with the audience through humour and stories from his own life.

Embarking on a series of lectures around Lakehead, as well as performances, workshops and an interview on CBC, Matt sat down after a long week to talk about his first trip to Canada.

Unapologetically Marxist and a self-proclaimed communist, Matt is bold in his political stance and in his poetry. He spoke to The Argus about his disdain for the exploitive nature of capitalism as it stands in the United States:

“My concern is for the people, not for the institutions that seek to exploit them. I’m against capitalism; I’m against state structure that murder people. I’m against prisons. If you identify America by its prisons, or by its war drones, yeah, I’m against that. If you identify America by its trigger happy cops that are gunning down black people in the streets of Ferguson, yeah, I’m against that… our fights and struggles are based on the fact that one group of people is stealing from everyone else; a tiny group of people – the ownership class.”

Also, Matt spoke about the similarities in structures of oppression between his hometown of Los Angeles and Thunder Bay.

“Racism and other issues facing Native peoples in Thunder Bay are similar to those facing Blacks and Latinos in America. Both groups function as a perceived underclass economically, and also as a scapegoat to blame for economic hardship.”

With many people feeling inspired by Matt’s poetry and lectures, many were left wondering what they could do to participate in activism in everyday life

“Before you can understand what to do, you need to understand why things are happening. Get involved in any way you can in the ways that are specific to Thunder Bay. As you’re out there fighting, do some thinking and studying.”

The events put on by RESRG and the History department were inspirational as students, staff and community members alike were shown how creativity comes together with agency to produce incredibly touching poetry and performance by Sedillo.

As Matt wrapped up his voyages as a now internationally renowned poet, The Argus asked him, “What’s the best thing about Thunder Bay?”

His reply, “Finnish pancakes.”


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