Common on the 'Extremely Significant' Election, What He Learned on the Campaign Trail & Why He Backs Biden

Common has spent the past few weeks on the road, stumping for Democratic candidates across the country in the lead-up to the Nov. 3 election. 

At the top of that ticket is Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who Common believes will "change the tone and energy" of the country if elected — compared to the current commander-in-chief.

"What we’ve experienced over the past four years has been one of the greatest debacles that I’ve ever seen in my life," the Grammy- and Oscar-winning rapper, actor and activist tells PEOPLE. "And also one of the greatest times of dissension and division … And I believe nothing has changed for the positive for the everyday person."

Common, 48, spoke with PEOPLE on Monday about his recent time on the trail: what he's seen, what he's learned and what motivates him to back Biden despite the latter’s flaws.

He is now in Columbia, South Carolina, where's he's performing for volunteers of the Jaime Harrison campaign. (Harrison is running a hotly-contested campaign against incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham.)

Common has also spent part of his time in the South encouraging people to vote. Earlier this week, he canvassed in and around Miami alongside two Latina candidates: Daniella Levine Cava and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Spending time with candidates who work to forge personal connections to their potential constituents, says the rapper, is eye-opening.

"They've really showed me what I think the political system has potential to be," he says. "When you're thinking about being in leadership, you want to connect with all the people that you may potentially be leading so you can actually be serving."

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That attitude, he says, has been sorely lacking from administration of President Donald Trump, who has long favored personal insults and fierce, all-caps attacks on social media.

"The energy and the way the leadership has been for the past four years … the anxiety and depression that’s been a result of it … I’ve gotta do everything and anything to make sure that I will support someone who will change the tone and spirit and energy and [turn the country] to a new direction," Common says.

That's why he's supporting Biden for president.

Biden, he says, isn't perfect — but the former vice president will work to change the tone of the country.

"To be honest, Joe Biden made mistakes like any other human being," Common sys. "But I still believe he cares and we've all made bad decisions. He has the leadership qualities to get [the country] in a better direction."

"[Biden] is looking and seeking and thinking about the people who are overlooked … about Black and brown people and creating jobs for them," he continues.

Biden has previously faced criticism for blunders made when discussing race and he was challenged on remarks he made about school desegregation during the second Democratic presidential debate, after he recounted "civil" working relationships with segregationist senators.

Sen. Kamala Harris confronted Biden directly by offering a moving anecdote of her own experience being bussed to school in 1970s California. Ultimately, Biden chose Harris as his running mate, a move that supporters said signaled Biden's commitment to putting in substantive work when it comes to issues of racial inequities and policing.

Common says that Biden's selection of Harris, the first Black woman and person of Asian descent on a major presidential ticket in the U.S., is indicative of the former vice president's willingness to change and grow over time.

"I want to be clear: This man is not perfect … But having a partner [like Harris] in his ear will be helpful, too," Common says. "I want to see people in better conditions and living better lives. We cannot allow Donald Trump to be in office again. Around the world, we’re looking crazy."

The persistent negative messaging from Trump, in Common's view, has not just changed the country's reputation on the world stage. He says it has also impacted those in lower-income communities.

While canvassing in low-income communities in places like South Florida and South Carolina, the rapper-actor says he's met people from all walks of life. "I'm seeing several things: people going out and voting from some of the poorest communities. People enthused. Families just like, 'Yo, I voted. I early voted.' I’m seeing elders and some young people. It just warmed my heart and spirit."

"But I also see people who don’t feel like they're part of American society and don’t feel like their vote even matters," Common says.

It's those people — the ones who don't feel politically connected — that he hopes to connect with in the days leading up to the election, he says.

"That’s who we are striving to speak to," he says, "to inspire and say, '[Voting] is how to show you matter. And you care about your block and your community and your hood and your people.' "

The struggle, Common says, is getting voters to understand how a trip to the polls can tangibly affect their lives.

"I know it seems so distant, so I try to be as clear as possible," he says, offering up a condensed version of a speech he might give to urge someone to vote: "'You know, these prison laws have been affecting us. This is how you can change that. Long-term sentences for marijuana, too. We know these laws need to be changed, but you've gotta get someone in office who can do it.' "

Getting out the vote is Common's way of effecting change — but the change he wants to see won't come with a laser-like focus on only the presidential election.

"This election is extremely significant because you have people like Jaimie Harrison, who has potential to win in South Carolina," he says. "That’s a change in things — where you actually can have an agenda and get these laws passed for people. When Obama was in office, he was getting so much resistance from the Senate, he couldn’t get the work done he was striving to. But things are now moving and shifting. The Democrats can have the Senate."

If the Democrats take the Senate and Biden wins the election, Common is confident that Americans will be in a much better place.

"When Obama was in office, people felt better," Common says. "When you feel better, you think better, you feel more secure."

As for how he plans to spend election night, he said he'll likely be watching the results from Savannah, Georgia, where he'll soon be in town to begin shooting a new film.

"I'll be probably talking back and forth with my mother and friends," he says. "Watching the results and just sitting there in confidence. Speaking it into existence: 'Change is here. A new administration. The first woman vice president.' And I’m going to be thinking: Now, how are we gonna follow through in this?"






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