A time has come, one that calls on every individual to make a personal choice, for to remain neutral now is to no longer matter.See Also:
This once great nation is now gloomed by darkness, for an unparalleled oppressor has stained our traditions, ruined the American reputation, sacrificed our sons, and destroyed our environment. That oppressor's days in office are numbered though, and in these darkest of times, we the people have an opportunity to usher in change, and not just the changing of the guard, replacing one crusty corporate crony with the next. No, this shall be an opening for authentic change, and measurable progress, because a choice awaits us in the voting booth. And it is a choice where we shall be able to select an individual to lead us, who represents the best that America has to offer. We have a chance to bring to a close, a seemingly endless foreign occupation, the pollution of our skies, and the oppression of the poor.
Therefore we cannot sit on the sidelines in the upcoming political game, because it is a game with the highest of stakes. Not because it is winner take all, but because if we lose -- if hope loses, if integrity loses, if prosperity, peace, and progress loses again -- then we won't ever have another chance like this one come around.
Hearing the call, and realizing that his role as a leading figure in both the hip-hop industry and black community offer him considerable clout, Russell Simmons has decided to come forward and publicly endorse Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States.
BallerStatus caught up with Simmons in the midst of the most bitterly contested and historically critical presidential primaries in the modern era.
BallerStatus.com: You're decision to endorse a presidential candidate has been highly anticipated amongst the hip-hop and black communities, why did you decide to come forward now and endorse a candidate?
Russell Simmons: I've seen something very spiritual come out of the Obama campaign, a transformative component. People who were not inspired are now inspired. That inspiration is what we'll need to promote real change. It's impossible to make a lot of the major change we need without the people's support. When the people take to the streets for change, the politicians who represent them are forced to make change. If not, the people are left to count on the politicians and the lobbyists to represent their interests.
BallerStatus.com: Why Barack, what do you think he will do for America that a Clinton or a McCain would not?
Russell Simmons: The policies that Obama promote are very similar to those promoted by Hillary Clinton. But, the dramatic difference between McCain and Barack and Hillary is what scares me most. I do believe Obama is slightly more progressive on major issues like the environment, education, prison reform, fighting poverty and foreign policy. John McCain and the Republican Party have operated from fear on foreign policy and have promoted policies that include tremendous amounts of corporate welfare and disregard for the poor. You see how the trickle down theory that has been used to justify their treatment of American corporate interests have left the poor damaged and the American corporations that should have benefited, with a frustrated and uneducated workforce and people too poor to buy their products.
BallerStatus.com: Back in April, you made some comments about how you, if given the opportunity, would put Dennis Kucinich in the Oval Office, what changed?
Russell Simmons: He's not running.
BallerStatus.com: Kucinich was the only candidate to even bring up the subject of reparations, and he's fought the hardest, out of all the candidates, against the egregious offenses of the Bush Crime Family, so why did you not continue to support him?
Russell Simmons: It could be possible that my time and effort to promote a positive change in American politics could have best been represented by continued support of Dennis Kucinich. Maybe some of the things he said could have been more injected into the debate. But, that would have taken a tremendous amount of influence and support, and I don't believe I have that influence or could have gotten that support.
BallerStatus.com: Do you consider yourself to be a liberal or a progressive, or do you consider those mere labels which pigeonhole individuals?
Russell Simmons: All the labels are hard to digest. When I think conservative, I think not to be wasteful. My whole spiritual practice is to remove labels. And, it's a practice, after all. I find myself using these words to describe people and ideas sometimes, anyway. Removing labels is a critical practice for all of us.
BallerStatus.com: Did race play any factor in the decision to stand behind Obama?
Russell Simmons: My race did not. It would be nice for the American people to show a unique and evolved state of mind, where race and gender play only a small and subtle role in choices we make, and the best example is the choice for the leader of this country. What I mean is, I'm just as inspired to see a competent woman be elected into office as I am to see a person of color. It gives me an additional sense of hope that we will be leaders in changing the world into a place where women will not be treated as second class citizens as they are today, or most of the darker people of the world will not live in extreme poverty as they do today.
BallerStatus.com: As a leading figure in the hip-hop community, are you endorsing because you want the rest of the culture to see that and back him as well? Or was there another motive for making that endorsement public?
Russell Simmons: I think everybody has to make a choice. We, the people, have to govern ourselves as I said earlier. And it helps to create more interest in the political process. So, when I see Kimora endorse Hillary Clinton, to me, that's more interesting than what Britney is doing. It's more inspiring to be a part of the process that affects how we're treating each other or treating the world, than what the media is reporting on Lindsay. We have to get people involved in the process. It would be very easy for me to remain neutral. I had a very good relationship with Barack Obama before I endorsed him. When I discussed Obama with my best friend Bobby Shriver, Maria endorsed him. Similarly, when Kimora expressed her appreciation of Senator Clinton, I put her on the phone with Senator Clinton, which led to her endorsement. I have a great respect for both of them. So it would've been easy to remain silent and work in the background. But in the end, my conscience would not let me sit still without expressing publicly what I felt, that Obama was the best candidate for this country.
BallerStatus.com: What is it about Barack that is so different from black candidates who ran for president in the past such as Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Al Sharpton?
Russell Simmons: Two things. Barack has adopted an attitude that is above race. He's played the role of an American leader and not a black leader.
BallerStatus.com: Do you feel Barack's decision to run not as the "Black Candidate," but as a uniter is what put him in the position he is now where he is poised to run away with this election? Because he never mentioned issues like vote caging, or hate crimes, or police brutality, and does not use the Jenna 6 or Genarlow Wilson in his stump speech.
Russell Simmons: Because there is still an element of race playing a role in this election, it has been difficult for him to identify with the black communities in certain instances as he runs the risk of polarizing himself. But the greater good that will be served is the ability to address issues of import to all Americans and will be better for America.
BallerStatus.com: Do you consider yourself a staunch Democrat, because you've supported Republicans in the past such as Michael Steele? So does party really matter when it comes to selecting whose best for that particular role in public policy?
Russell Simmons: Unfortunately it does.
BallerStatus.com: Is the sky the limit in terms of an Obama presidency? In other words, how good do you think he will be? Will he be able to fix the problems that Bush has caused to foreign relations and the economy? What do you think his lasting mark will be?
Russell Simmons: I have faith he has the judgment to choose the right team and he'll manage them effectively.
BallerStatus.com: There's a lyric in an old Tupac song that says, "And although it seems heaven sent / We ain't ready, to see a black President." Can you really believe this time has finally come, and considering the fact that if Barack loses, it will probably be another twenty years before there's another opportunity, does your endorsement in part signal that it is time for the black community to stand up and not let this chance slip by them?
Russell Simmons: Yes, I have faith that there's a climate today and going forward to elect a black president. And partly because of that climate, I think we should be very careful about telling black leaders or telling black voters who they should vote for or endorse.
BallerStatus.com: Though Barack did go to Harvard and all that, what does it say to you that he turned down lucrative job offers to essentially work for nothing as a community organizer in Chicago?
Russell Simmons: He has it in his heart to be a public servant.
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 26, 2008
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