Vanessa German: Word Hammer, Bush Slammer
Vanessa German is a performer with a message. Or, many messages if youre listening. The 28-year-old spoken word artist rose to the top of last weeks Slam Bush finals in Miami, Fla. and, after hearing from her, we get the sense there is little else the girl cant do.
WireTap spoke with Vanessa about her winning piece, her frustrations with the Bush administration and her hopes for the coming election.
WireTap: How did you find out about Slam Bush?
Vanessa German: I was in Cincinnati [performing] and I saw a flyer for the Slam Bush event they were having there. Then I got back to Pittsburgh and they were having one a week later.
WT: So something resonated for you and made you want to compete?
VG: Definitely. It was the opportunity to say how this administration has personally affected me and to do it the way that I do it, through poetry and spoken word, and also in an environment with other poets and artists who are doing the same thing.
WT: So how has the administration personally affected you?
VG: Where do I start? In my piece I talked a little bit about guns, assault weapons, and a lot about health care because I dont understand how people are supposed to live and pursue happiness when theyre in pain. I also talked about poverty and hunger and gay marriage, which I care a lot about because Im a lesbian. I talked about fear and how this administration has used terror as a tactic and has spoon-fed our society fear. I also feel like not only has this administration disenfranchised black folk, but it has really disenfranchised democracy and has made government this far-away, strange planet, you know? Theyve made politics seem really far away.
WT: How stiff was the competition at the finals in Miami?
VG: Can you imagine spoken word artists going up against MCs and everyone competing together? You had two similar, but really different dynamics, and they werent separate. So you think some people are gonna be biased like theyre just gonna be going for the music, right? But everyone was so strong, everybody had their own voice, which was powerful. There was one girl who was a teacher who talked about the kids and then there was another who talked about peace, etc. It was very exciting! Not only did you have the best from all these different cities, [but] it was elevated so many notches because the energy level was high. There were so many people in the audience, it was such an exciting venue and everybody was completely amped. You should have seen us backstage. Every time somebody went up we would all cheer.
WT: What do you think are the big issues that will get youth voting?
VG: I think that young people are going to vote. I believe more in the young people and more in the people people than I do in the candidates. I believe that well be more responsible and well hold them accountable and well also seek a means to make change.
I believe in us and I believe we really are getting out to vote. You should see it here [in Pittsburgh] in our election bureaus – todays the last day to register here. The places closed at 4:00 and they were packed.
But yeah, back to issues. I know that among my friends, we talk a lot about being artists and not having healthcare. And when your mouth hurts ... I have friends who take pain pills with alcohol. So youll be in pain and not have access to the resources to get the care that you need. Thats a big thing and something we deal with every day!
And also wages people are working 40, 50, 60 hours a week and still struggling. Its the everyday stuff that has people really concerned. You know, like the people on the bus with you ... I know a lot of people are concerned about national security but, realistically, where I live the people who I talk to are going to work, they wanna feed their kids, they wanna make sure their family feels well ... and they hope things are right around the world, but [thats not the top priority].
WT: What about the young people who might feel alienated from the system?
VG: Well, first off, they are the system and theyre in the system and realizing that, they are the power within it as well. I think that, unfortunately, the word system and a lot of politics definitely alienates people and makes them feel powerless and isolated. But I want people to understand the power that is within them.
I would tell young people who feel like their voice doesnt matter at all that your vote is your voice and your voice is your power! It's really easy to shut someone the f*ck up when they dont open their mouth. Its easy for someone to run the f*ck over you when youre standing still!
I also say that democracy is a muscle. Like if you have never done push ups and now its time for you to save your life but you havent flexed it, its going to be really difficult. So you have to start repping it. A lot of time people feel like they live these apolitical lives, but they have to know that every choice they make is political.
WT: Why do you think more people dont see it that way?
VG: I think despair creates a collective consciousness. Despair, powerlessness, hopelessness – those are the things that Karl Rove and his whole family are praying on. I believe that Bush wants young people to be quiet and he wants black folk to stay home, watch BET, drink 40s and you know, smoke. Extinction is a real thing.
WT: Is there anything else youd like to share with the WireTap audience?
VG: I want to add that I think its important for people to write to record their life, their times, and their histories. A lot of things, if we dont have a record of them, its like they didnt happen. George Bush tells people that life is sacred and thats why [he wants to put] a ban on partial birth abortion and on certain types of stem cell research because he says that life is sacred. But hes selective. I want everyone to know that their life is sacred and is eminently powerful. I encourage the whole WireTap audience to wiretap in to what is inside them, what is moving them and pushing them forward, and to rep it and flex it because its their life and their choice and their voice.