Appearing on the RT network, Talib Kweli answered questions about his stance on voting and why he prefers to spend his political energy on grassroots activism initiatives. Speaking specifically about the United States’ prison-industrial complex, Kweli also touched on the perils of a for-profit prison system and his work with political prisoners.

When asked about his aversion to “you should always vote” type messaging, Kweli described the possibility that he’ll return to the voting booth himself.

“I don’t believe that the vote is what they tell us it is,” Kweli said. “Yes, I’ve come out against the idea of voting without knowing the facts, without having a grasp on what the candidates represent. I have voted in the past and I may vote in the future but I’m not one of these people who thinks you should vote all the time and just because people died for the right to vote. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to cast your vote.”

Opening up about the value of political activism, the Gravitas emcee explained his focus on working with prison inmates.

“I was taught in the household I grew up in that the community that you come out of, you should give back to,” he said. “That’s something that’s valued in my household. Just from my perception being a young Black man growing up in Brooklyn, prison and the prison industrial complex seems to be one of the biggest drains on our society. It seems to be a problem that you can have a direct effect on with activism, grassroots activism, and even possibly voting if there’s some sort of block vote or some sort of activist candidate who makes it to the top. So just focusing on political prisoners, people who have been wrongly imprisoned or people who have been imprisoned when the evidence suggested maybe they’re innocent. Stuff like that is stuff that remains close to my heart.”

Addressing the prison industrial complex in the United States more generally, Talib Kweli connected the abolishment of slavery to the continually disproportionate rates of people of color behind bars.

“Prison is for profit,” he said of the current system. “America, a small group of people get rich off of imprisoning people and the labor and the jobs it creates in these towns. This is a country that was built on slave labor. Sort of like of the backbone of this country, we have an intrinsic value system that celebrates giving people nothing and extracting everything from them. Because of it, we’ve become the greatest country in the world. When slavery was ended, America naturally formed a replacement for slavery. The fact that it’s mostly people of color who are dealing with the prison industrial complex is not at all a coincidence. It is a new Jim Crow. When Michelle Alexander wrote that book she was saying things in an academic way that people in the streets or people in the hoods have been knowing and feeling in their bones and their hearts. She just expressed in a way that people could read it and be like, ‘Okay, I see the connection clearly.’”

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