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Arts & Activism: Get to Know Chris Porterfield & BLOC

Traditionally, when an artist has a new record, there is an album release party followed by a lengthy tour. Such was going to be the case with 'Brake Light Red Tide', the fourth LP released by Milwaukee’s folk-rock powerhouse, Field Report, when it came out in late April. With the quarantine in place in regards to the COVID19 pandemic, singer-songwriter, Christopher Porterfield, once again had to approach things a little differently.

“My favorite part of this job of being a songwriter is sharing, receiving, and giving energy with others. When you’re at a show you share something together and its bigger than just any one person. This is a whole different world that we’re living in right now,” Porterfield explained recently on our Zoom, “Places like bars, nightclubs, and venues that we are used to playing in were some of the first places to go, and will likely be some of the last places to reopen,” Porterfield continued.

With live streaming shows on the rise these days, Porterfield, as always, is an optimistic leader in the Milwaukee music scene, “There is a degree of intimacy for artists when performing live-streamed sets,” he stated on Zoom, “When you really think about it, the music industry has been in a constant state of flux… who knows what the future will look like? One thing I’m learning is that technology and everything else going on is always a disruptor when it comes to music and art. Those who are able to adapt and roll out of the moving car will land on their feet. Right now, I think that it’s key for artists to work on finding their audience and building trust. Culturally, when considering the music industry, thinking about things in terms of ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ needs to be replaced with thinking about how we can be creative, innovative, and reach out audience in a variety of different ways. We can all be vehicles for likeminded people going down the road together.”

Between the pandemic and civil rights demonstrations going on daily in communities near and far, Porterfield finds himself in an interesting role, as being a longtime advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, and for finding ways to help empower some of the most vulnerable people in Milwaukee. Hence, he was eager to partner with Black Leaders Organizing For Communities (BLOC) for his #rockthestream show.

“I first heard of BLOC from an article I read in The New Yorker,” Porterfield shared, “I wanted to partner with BLOC so that we can help build networks within our city and community. The most important work we can do right now is to help create the next generation of leaders.”

Angela Lang, Executive Director of BLOC, added on Zoom, “Our goal is to build long term power in our community by reframing what civic engagement ought to be We center on being an organization that teaches civic engagement regarding knowing your rights and knowing what government does, and also provide forums for people to be heard.”

Instead of taking a traditional approach to identifying future leaders through those adults who are currently civically active, Lang and her staff looked at things differently. “We need to listen to one another and hear what the needs of our communities are. To this end we have gone to people who have never voted before and asked them the question, ‘What does it look like for the Black community in Milwaukee to thrive?” By posing this question out there to so many different people we began to see patterns on what issues are most important and then we can make efforts to work together to address those concerns.”

BLOC is known not only for teaching Milwaukee residents about their rights as voters but also has helped empower a new generation of civic advocates and potential leaders. “We have a Fellowship and a Civic Ambassador program,” Lang continued, “Where our ambassadors serve as lead people on teams. We train folks to send emails and work on improving their technology skills. Our goal is not to be here just in times of elections, but rather be a political and educational home in the community. Success is measured by people getting more interested and invested in their communities, and building something that is long-lasting that can be tweaked to address the needs of the community at any given time.

The BLOC ambassador program, like many other programs across the city and beyond, had to move to an online platform when the COVID19 Pandemic hit. However, Lang is undaunted and is as busy as ever, “We aim to build a bridge to empower others to run elections and create infrastructure that betters our community,” she enthusiastically stated.

Be sure to check out Christopher Porterfield & BLOC on Thursday, July 9th @ 7PM on Rock the Stream.

Please consider donating to support Chris Porterfield & BLOC​'s 501c3 Education Fund

Funding format:100% of the funds donated from the live-streams are split equally between the musician and nonprofit. The nonprofit partner accepts the donations and distributes half to the artist.

About BLOC

What We Believe In

The concerns and needs of the communities we represent always come first. Community-based organizing and face-to-face conversations lead to change. So we listen in order to build transformational, not transactional, relationships.

We are uniters, working to lift up the Black citizens, leaders, and businesses of our community. We are transparent in our work to ensure the community we advocate for can hold us accountable.

Our Goals

1) Invest in our community and engage citizens to build long-term political power.

2) Through coordinated political action ensure a high quality of life and access to economic opportunity for members of the Black community in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin.

3) Empower Black leaders with the tools, training, and resources needed to organize and guarantee that their issues, concerns, and values are represented at all levels of government.

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