Preparing to go on the road with John McCain was a very unusual proposition for me, considering that I spent part of my childhood in Oakland, California, on public assistance and always felt disenfranchised from the “American Dream.” Therefore, until I recently worked with MTV’s Choose or Lose department, I never really had faith in politics or its process. But I’m all grown up now and I realize that there needs to be a broader variety of representation within the political arena, as well as how it’s reported. So, in anticipation of the Senator’s MTV/MySpace dialogue Monday at 7 p.m. ET, I was eager to infiltrate these circles.
I had never been to South Carolina, so I really didn’t know what to expect. In my experiences traveling through the South, people have been extremely friendly and easygoing. They greet you when you walk by and say “sir” or “ma’am” at the end of sentences. They are very proud of their traditions both new and old, which at times has proven to be very uncomfortable for me, particularly when driving down highways where I see multiple Confederate flags waving. As an African-American man, that’s a part of the Southern legacy that I can’t be comfortable with, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, I was there to hang out with Senator McCain, and he gave us an all-access pass.
After a 90-minute flight on one of those small commuter planes where you literally feel every bump, we finally arrived in one piece — to find out that the Senator’s flight was delayed, so we made a detour to a local coffeehouse. That detour was a blessing in disguise for me, because I was a little concerned about my approach to interviewing the senator and felt like I needed more time to absorb his policies and map out our talk.
Actually, interviewing artists and politicians is similar in many ways because they all have something to sell — but still, would I question Senator McCain — who, after all, could be the next president of the United States — in the same way I would 50 Cent or Pete Wentz?
During my deliberation, I found myself staring at a white girl whose hair was in dreadlocks. Needless to say, seeing that in Columbia, South Carolina, was a bit of a surprise, so I invited her to sit down for a conversation. She explained that she’d only arrived in S.C. a few months earlier, and that she was a photographer from Atlanta. She mentioned that she’d been hired to shoot a local wedding but, upon her arrival, she wasn’t allowed into the venue because of her hair! It had been her first taste of discrimination.
We were floored, but she went on to explain that the venue was a country club that did not allow minorities, single women with children, and — just added — white people with dreadlocks. Since I’ve had ’locks for more than a decade, I could relate. I asked her if she would consider, as it would definitely make her life easier, and she answered me, in my opinion, in the best way possible: She said that she would always stay true to herself. I give her a lot of respect — and not only that, she helped me to decide how I would approach my interview with the senator. I would do it the way I’ve always done it, and be myself.
We got word that Senator McCain was back on track and wanted to meet us in the city of Lexington at a place called Hudson’s Smokehouse, about an hour away. Now this place was the quintessential barbeque spot! We arrived to an abundance of hospitality, along with war veterans and staunch McCain supporters, and I thought to myself, “So this is what the campaign trail really looks like!” It actually kind of reminded me of covering the Rock the Mic Tour with Jay-Z and company.
After a short wait, the senator arrived and went straight to work, shaking hands and kissing babies like the seasoned veteran he is. He addressed the crowd of at least 200 people, covering topics such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care, education, the economy and global warming.
After addressing the crowd and the cache of press reporters, he headed my way to our designated area, greeted me with a smile and said, “Ah yes, MTV.” I proceeded to introduce myself and, before launching into questions, establish some commonalities between the two of us — like fishing! That first move set the tone for a smooth interview that consisted of topics that directly relate to young Americans, including: If elected, how would young voters’ lives be different at the end of his term? Will Social Security still be available by the time young Americans become eligible, decades from now? What are his plans to keep our nation safe? The senator didn’t shy away from any question, and was straightforward in his responses.
All in all, it turned out to be a very useful and informative interview, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him at our next Presidential Dialogue. But more importantly, I hope that many more young Americans get involved in the political process.
Take your comments and questions straight to Senator McCain when MTV and MySpace present our next Presidential Dialogue on Monday. Catch it live on MTV, or log on via MySpace or ChooseOrLose.com. It all starts at 7 p.m. ET.