Russell Simmons Clears the Air on Walmart
I want to talk a little bit about the Hip-Hop Summit. Somebody forwarded me a blog and Im not sure if it was written by the Summits people, but I wanted to make a clarification. Im on the Wal-Mart advisory board, thats why I wasnt there [at the Action Awards in NYC]. The advisory board is not the business board, its very important [to distinguish between the two].
The advisory board is where we work on issues about diversity. On that board with me is Cathy Hughes, Bob Johnson, some very prominent Asian and Latino businessmen, Alexis Herman who was the secretary of education, and Reverend Sharpton. Our job is to direct a lot of [Wal-Marts] spending back into the community. Theyre big supporters of the Hip-Hop Summit, of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding they support the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, and Im trying to get them to invest in the Diamond Empowerment Fund and the Happy Arts Foundation.
Im chairman of four of the five that Im trying to get them to invest in, three of them theyre already there. So, me directing their charitable work is very helpful. Also me fighting or being part of the process to change their policies on diversity and to include more Blacks and even make small changes - like their minimum wage is maybe 30% higher than the minimum wage. If I could take that and make it a national issue, then thats powerful enough to make the national issue come to light and then make that minimum wage match theirs. Theres little things you can do on that board that are community things that need my input, Reverend Sharptons input, Alexis Hermans input, thats why Im on the board.
So when they were saying that because I was on the board is why I might have supported Hillary, I didnt support Hillary. In the end I didnt make any endorsements, I can tell you that behind the scenes Ive helped all of the candidates. Ive put them in touch with people that could be useful to them. Some of the most significant people that have come out, Ive been behind them. My job is to register voters, not to pick candidates.
Im gonna go on the road, and the reason Im raising money now is Im putting together a war chest. Im gonna go to every city in every battleground state twice. Thats what the Hip-Hop Summit wants to do, we want a repeat performance and we think that because we have a hero thats inspiring young voters to go to the polls, that these Hip-Hoppers will make the next president. Wal-Mart is funding a great part of our summit, and were trying to get them to fund more, thats why I was not at my own event.
So I just wanted people to get clarity, Im not on the business board, Im on the advisory board and the advisory board is critical on issues of diversity, community empowerment and charity. [Ive been] working with the chairman Lee Scott, as I was doing on that Monday and Tuesday at a $350 billion company, and directing their charitable gifts to places that really make a difference in our community, and the money that they pay me to be on the board I give to charity. Its no real money anyway, its not worth the time I spend and theres certainly not a payment. I dont get paid for it, I just wanted to make that point, and I kind of resented it saying that this is why I have an opinion. I have an opinion.
I said to AllHipHop that Hillary worked with me on prison reform, and we got it done. She worked with me to bring hundreds of millions of dollars back into the education budget, we got it done. She worked with me on countless issues of poverty, so having access to her matters. But in the end, it still didnt cause me to support her. I said, Thats a lot to give up without having a lot of dialogue and I think maybe that when we had 80% of our Black Congress people pulling for Hillary, it was because they needed to have a discussion with Senator Obama. They needed to have more discussion, they wanted to feel comfortable.
Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to expect support when people have long standing relationships with the other candidates. You have to earn it, you have to prove that youre gonna be acceptable to the needs of poor people and Black people. In the end, I believe that hes a great candidate, and in the end I think that the work that were gonna be doing is likely to benefit him tremendously. Thats what we wanna do. Although I didnt go out and endorse anyone, Im still open but it does affect the way our Hip-Hop Summit is perceived if I were to go out and make an endorsement. Thats my problem.
I spoke yesterday to Rosario Dawson and let her know that it would be good if she got young Latinos to vote more in Texas. That would help the outcome of the election. Shes worried about her status as a nonpartisan organization thats registered, but she acknowledged that almost all of the people who support her in her efforts to register voting and the people that she inspires to vote are Obama supporters. It doesnt mean that she would go out and endorse him, because her job is to get them out, and its a lot more important that she get them out than that she endorses. So we have the exact same issue, Rosario Dawson and I. She has the Latino Vote Initiative that shes done a lot of good work on, Voto Latino.
I was like, How can they make a judgment? I wasnt really angry about it but [the comment] said, Im not judging but hes on the board of Wal-Mart like it was some selfish thing that I was doing, it was a community thing and I was advised by everyone. Every liberal, everybody said, Why would you get on the board? I said, Because we can help people and just because youre up under the unions a**es, theres two sides.
Four dollars for medicine is important. [Wal-marts] got a card thats competitive with my [Rush] card. Thats not helpful to me. Theyre big and they have resources - they lower the price of a lot of products, and sometimes it makes companies go out of business because they cant compete. But in the end if theyre employing enough of our people on a senior level, its a business where we need to have some say-so. So being on the board is helpful.