A Once-Passionate Obama Campaigner Sits Out The 2016 Races

Jan 2, 2016
Originally published on January 2, 2016 11:37 am
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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for Snapshot 2016, a series of audio portraits of folks that we've - meeting on the campaign trail, people swept up into the excitement when a candidate comes to town. NPR's Asma Khalid has our latest installment.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Sometimes those people don't get swept up. A couple of months ago, Hillary Clinton was in Charleston, S.C., giving a big speech to the local NAACP. And so I went down there, too, and I met Anton Gunn.

ANTON GUNN: There are a lot of people like me who are very sour - very sour - at how Barack Obama was treated as president.

KHALID: And so they're apathetic about 2016. It wasn't always that way for Anton Gunn. Back in 2007, he was very passionate. Gunn was a little-known community organizer who ended up joining the Obama White House. What he wanted me to know was how his political story began.

GUNN: My first political awakening was in 1988. It's when I bought the album "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back" by Public Enemy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING THE NOISE")

FLAVA FLAV: (Rapping) Yo, Chuck, these honey drippers are still fronting on us.

GUNN: Chuck D was my first role model outside of my family.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING THE NOISE")

CHUCK D: (Rapping) Bass, how low can you go? Death row...

GUNN: His music spoke about the issues that were impacting the black community, and it spoke to me about how we solved those issues in the small P politics, not the big P politics but the small P.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING THE NOISE")

CHUCK D: (Rapping) Never badder than bad cause the bother is madder than mad at the fact that's corrupt like a senator.

GUNN: It was in 1988 that I participated in my first anti-apartheid rally because of the hip-hop artists' opposition to apartheid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW'EM WHATCHA GOT")

PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitudes.

GUNN: So hip-hop is my first political memory. Hip-hop is what got me involved and engaged and I got my social conscience and my political awareness from hip-hop. Chuck D said in his one interview about his record deal with Def Jam - is your goal to go platinum? He said, no, our goal is not to go platinum but it's to create 5,000 new black leaders working in the community. And when I heard that, that's when I made a decision that I was always going to be involved in something. And I didn't know that it was going to end up being involved in presidential politics and working for Barack Obama, but I knew I was going to be a community leader to make a difference in some way, shape or form. And that's what I miss about the music and that's what I miss about the cultural framework of hip-hop. It is commercialized like politics has become commercialized today, but nonetheless, I know the passions that drove me into it and still inspired by that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK STEEL IN THE HOUR OF CHAOS")

PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) I got a letter from the government the other day I open and read it and said they were suckers.

KHALID: Anton Gunn no longer works in national politics. These days, he's working at the local level dealing with diversity issues at a hospital in Charleston. This election, Gunn says he's not looking to a candidate. He's looking to a movement. He says Black Lives Matter is pricking the consciousness of people not in the culture, people like Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley, and making them talk about issues of criminal justice and police violence, making them talk about issues that have not normally been a part of election-year politics. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT THE POWER")

PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) Our freedom of speech is freedom of death. We got to fight the powers that be. Fight the power. Fight the power. Fight the power... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.