Hip-hop entrepreneur and philanthropist Russell Simmons celebrated his fifty-first birthday on Saturday, and he marked the occasion by campaigning on behalf of Senator Barack Obama and Senator Joe Biden in Ohio. Along with Cleveland Cavaliers star player LeBron James, Simmons urged folk to get registered before the fast-approaching state deadlines. Simmons talked to ESSENCE.com about the importance of this election, where the hip-hop community stands on Senator John McCain, and why he’s straight up scared of Governor Sarah Palin.
ESSENCE.COM: You’re registered as an Independent. Why are you campaigning on behalf of Senator Obama?
RUSSELL SIMMONS: It’s very important that we make this choice at this time. I believe it’s a spiritual choice. We have to figure out, do we want to be more selfish and fearful? Do we want an angry response to the world or a more thoughtful one? Do we want to start paying attention to the poor and the environment, and will our foreign policy engage people in dialogue? It’s my duty to use this little bit of celebrity to give people a clear picture of what will make them happy, safer and more prosperous.
ESSENCE.COM: What impresses you most about Senator Obama?
SIMMONS: He’s an inspiration and represents a shift of the world on the surface, but on the inside he’s the most progressive voice we’ve had run for president. We need that. We need a shift from the policies that have been made and implemented. His choices are dramatically different from what we’ve had. It’s the choices that will lift up not only our economy but our spirit as a country and our relationship with the world. I wanted to see this happen, and I’m glad to be a part of it. This gives me purpose.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you think of Governor Palin?
SIMMONS: I am scared to see her as president. I’m not surprised she’s become a big celebrity because that was the intention. But people are starting to see how little she knows. She has decent TV presence but she couldn’t answer most of the questions [at the vice-presidential debate] and that bothered me. Everybody should be worried because she’s very short on the issues. She doesn’t know much about most subjects that matter.
ESSENCE.COM: Is there anyone in the hip-hop community who supports her and Senator McCain?
SIMMONS: I don’t think there’s anybody in the entire hip-hop community—Black, White or anything — that does.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the most important issue in this election?
SIMMONS: Of course I’m concerned about the economy, but I’m also concerned about how we treat our neighbors around the world, and the way we treat the planet, and the way we ignore the poor. The way we treat people who are struggling in the country is a reflection of who we are. We need it to rise. We need a leader who reflects a new consciousness. It’s like a spiritual battle. We have to go to work, and go to the polls, and that’s what we’re working on.
ESSENCE.COM: What is your message to our readers about registering to vote?
SIMMONS: It’s about being connected. Being isolated is a sickness. Being collected is everything.