Shahid Buttar is a lawyer, activist, emcee and poet. He says music gives him the opportunity to speak to his passion through a creative medium.
By day, Shahid Buttar is a constitutional lawyer and executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. But by night, he's an emcee and poet.
One year after the Edward Snowden leaks, he released a music video for his song "NSA vs USA," an electronic dance track with a message about government surveillance.
“The song for me is a way to try to speak to people's hearts and encourage a little outrage,” he says, “encourage a little more than debate, encourage resistance.”
He says the video is both a call to action and a public education tool.
“The third verse particularly connects the Snowden disclosures of mass secret government spying by the NSA to the history of our intelligence agencies abusing constitutional rights by the FBI and it particularly engages and reflects on the experience of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton as well as other activists.
Buttar says the project is a way to reach a broader audience and engage young people, who he says make up one of the most important demographic sectors in today’s America.
“Students are not the leaders of tomorrow,” he says. “Students are the leaders today. They set trends with respect to everything from marriage equality to drug policy, and you see the way that their influence influences broader social debates.”
He says he hopes to reach those who were born or grew up in a post-9/11 world and might be accustomed to pervasive surveillance.
“We’ve become the land of the monitored and the home of the timid,” he says. “That’s exactly the history that I think young people need to remember, and I don’t think they’re going to get it in history class and I don’t think they’re going to get it from my writing for the non-profit that I lead. But I do think they might get it if we put it to a beat and let them hear it while they dance.”
Born in London, the Pakistani-American says the song was inspired by the vision of America that he had growing up as an immigrant in the Midwest, under the Reagan Administration.
“I’m crazily patriotic,” Buttar says. “Not to a flag or to parties, but to principles, and they’re the ones that inspired my family to cross oceans to get here.”