Were you intimidated at all?
There was so much pressure. I'm looking out into the audience and 10 feet away from me there's [rap artist] Black Thought looking at me. [Boston political activist] Malia Luza and I became best friends on stage. They were filming a documentary, so there's a camera right in your face. I looked at [Slam Bush finalist] Finale and said "If you win just give me a G." He said to me, "No, you're gonna win, so you give me the G."
Did you give him a G?
Noooo, I had to give my parents a G.
Was the money prize important?
Five-thousand dollars in my world is just so out there, like winning the lottery or something. How could I think about that? I had 10 pages of poetry that I had to pare down to two and a half minutes, so [the money] really wasn't important.
The night after Slam Bush, Bush choked in the debate. You think your energy affected that?
It's not just that energy, it's a collective energy. Among all the tragic and completely disempowering effects of this administration is the hopelessness and despair that becomes tangible. The whole Republican National [Convention] was like a hallucination. These people get up to speak and what are you saying? You send troops over to fight a war that you said would be over in six weeks? You are asking us to forget that over 5,000 Iraqi children have been killed as if no one else in the world is human?
Have you always voted?
I voted first when I turned 18. My mom would make us vote. She would ask my friends if they had voted, and if not, [she] said "Let's go," and we would take multiple trips to the voting place on Election Day. I didn't vote once, and I was complaining and she said "Oh Vanessa, you didn't vote? OK, shut up."
What would you do as president?
I would take care of certain domestic things. Bush made all these tax cuts and the principle behind that was "We're going to put money back in your pocket, so if you want to spend that on health care, you can, and if you want to spend it on child care, you can." You have tax cuts and service cuts. Two-hundred million dollars is coming away from education so after-school programs that used to be there for years, now you have to find something to do with your kids. It's OK to tax folks but they have to be receiving the fruit of that.
Who would your running mate be?
I could pick my whole cabinet. Secretary of State -- Sister Souljah. I would pick the woman who just won the Nobel Peace prize [Wangari Muta Maathai] as Secretary of Defense. Chuck D. would be my National Security Advisor. If Barbara Sizemore hadn't died, I would pick her for Secretary of Education.