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Bernie Sanders: Public Enemy #1 or Yoko Ono #2?

Calm down, Bernie Supporters! This is not about Bernie Sanders so much as it is about the break-up of one of the most influential hip hop groups of all time: Public Enemy. There has long been friction between two of its original members, Chuck D and Flavor Flav (who has now left the group). With Super Tuesday upon us, it seems more is at stake than just the Democratic Party nomination! From Wikipedia:

In late February 2020 it was announced that Public Enemy (billed as Public Enemy Radio) would perform at a campaign rally in Los Angeles, CA on March 1, 2020 for Bernie Sanders, who is campaigning to be the nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2020 presidential election. Days following the announcement, Flavor Flav took issue toward the group being associated with the Sanders campaign and issued a cease and desist letter asking the campaign to not use the group's name or logo. "While Chuck is certainly free to express his political views as he sees fit---his voice alone does not speak for Public Enemy. The planned performance will only be Chuck D of Public Enemy, it will not be a performance by Public Enemy. Those who truly know what Public Enemy stands for know what time it is, there is no Public Enemy without Flavor Flav," Flavor Flav's statement read. Chuck D responded to the statement by saying "Flavor chooses to dance for his money and not do benevolent work like this. He has a year to get his act together and get himself straight or he’s out.” A lawyer for Chuck D added "Chuck could perform as Public Enemy if he ever wanted to; he is the sole owner of the Public Enemy trademark. He originally drew the logo himself in the mid-80’s, is also the creative visionary and the group’s primary songwriter, having written Flavor’s most memorable lines." Prior to the group's performance at the Sanders rally, Chuck D issued a statement saying Flavor Flav had been fired from the group. "Public Enemy and Public Enemy Radio will be moving forward without Flavor Flav. We thank him for his years of service and wish him well." According to reports, Chuck D and Flavor Flav had been at odds for a while. In 2017, Flavor Flav sued Chuck D over claims his earnings from Public Enemy "diminished to almost nothing." Flavor Flav issued a statement shortly before his firing saying "I don’t want our family and our movement broken up. I am a little worried about my partner Chuck, I hope he is ok and that Public Enemy can get back to doing the good works we have done for 30 years…not for money but for people like me who have been denied their rights to participate because of bullshit policies. I have nothing personal against Bernie but I have issues with how he and his people have handled this." Following his firing his lawyer released [a] statement taking shots at Chuck D and claiming that "masses of clock wearing fans" left the Sanders rally when Public Enemy Radio performed.

Leonard Greene in the New York Daily News commented on this brush up in his column today, stating:

As a longtime Public Enemy fan, and a Chuck D devotee, I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I think I’m with Flav on this one. While it’s probably true that Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav doesn’t know the difference between Bernie Sanders and Barry Sanders or even Col. Harland Sanders for that matter, it doesn’t mean that presidential candidates should be able to use his likeness---or his clock---without his permission. ... Bernie Sanders may have broken up Public Enemy, and I for one may not be able to forgive him.

Still, Greene keeps a sense of humor about all this, recognizing the long-time tension between Chuck D and Flavor Flav: "Now, as much as we’d like to make Sanders out to be Yoko Ono in all of this---it’s a Beatles reference; just Google it---the split is more likely about what every musical group split is about. Money."

Oh well. All this is not unusual. Even if we consider the use by public figures of songs by groups that despise them (and that list is legion), I'll leave it to the IP folks (Stephan Kinsella?) and ASCAP to sort out the legal issues, and to the ethicists to sort out the rights and wrongs of politicians using compositions written by folks whose first impulse is to issue "cease and desist" orders.

Still, in defense of Bernie Sanders: You may or may not endorse his politics but don't blame him for the break-up of Public Enemy!

What can I say? Whatever your political persuasion: "Fight the Power" [YouTube link]!