Hip-hop election campaigns could alter outcome

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 1, 2004

With just one more day left before Americans go to the polls and pick a new president, youth organizers are among the many scrambling around the country to get their constituents off their cell phones and from in front of the television to go out and vote.

The last year has seen more organizations come about aimed at the youth vote than in any other race in history.

“This could be the most important presidential election of our lifetime,” said Joanne Bland, Executive Director of the National Voting Rights Museum. “Young, old, black, white, rich, poor, we all need to be at the polls on Tuesday – making the right decision.”

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That sentiment is shared by groups from all across the country, as well as by the numerous celebrities that have jumped on the “get out to vote” band wagon this year.

“Several years ago you had Rock the Vote and then came Rap the Vote, which helped garner attention from a younger audience,” said Bland. “They mostly held concerts and made television commercials though, now you have celebrities like Drew Barrymore actually coming to Selma and Russell Simmons and P. Diddy actually going into the streets with the kids, it’s amazing.”

Amazing is not the only thing it is, apparently it’s effective.

The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, founded by Russell Simmons set a goal in the beginning of the year to register 2 million people between 18-34 to vote before tomorrow’s election. By March he already had 500,000. His “Team Vote” tour has been traveling around the country hosting summits in major cities like Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and Birmingham.

Rap Mogul and all around “can-do” guy, P. Diddy recently joined the growing number of faces touting the importance of voting by starting Citizen Change, a non-profit, non-partisan organization “created to educate, motivate, and empower the more than 42 million Americans aged 18 to 30 that are eligible to vote on November 2nd”.

Locally, young people are responding for their own reasons. “Myeshia McNeil, 19-year old, senior at Selma high, says she registered to vote back in September after she saw rapper Nelly appear on television with P. Diddy wearing a tee-shirt with the organization’s motto “Vote or Die” emblazoned on it.

“I wasn’t registered and I know I wanted Bush out of office,” said McNeil. “When I saw Nelly with Diddy, I just went ahead and registered, because I LOVE Nelly!”

She isn’t the only one.

Citizen Change has amassed a cadre of entertainers for what they call the “Coalition of the Willing” to appeal to youth where politicians have failed. The ‘coalition’ includes such big names as Jay-Z, Ashlee Simpson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Ashton Kutcher, 50 Cent, Drew Barrymore and Mary J. Blige to name a few.

Barrymore, who was in Selma in May to film a documentary about youth and voting, is serious about getting young people to the polls according to Bland who hosted her for part of her stay.

“She is not about showing off her celebrity, she is serious, she couldn’t understand why young people were not voting before she made this movie,” said Bland. “When she came to Selma and got a sense of the history and saw the work that was still being done here to get young people involved she was moved to keep working.”

Hip-Hop insider, Michael London, of SNA entertainment in Montgomery says that all of the attention being given to the young people has been effective.

He says he believes that a number of the youth are simply responding to the big names and may not have real understanding of what the right to vote really means yet.

“To some of these kids its a fad, but it’s working so it’s good.” said London. “Using hip-hop reaches kids because that’s what they respond to today. Hopefully it won’t all be a fad and will continue beyond the election on Tuesday.”

According to Synethia Pettaway of the Dallas County Board of Registrars, her office had a rush of new registrations between September’s run off election and the October deadline.

“We must have registered over 400 people,” said Pettaway, “and a good number of them were in the 18-34 range. We registered close to 200 at Concordia College alone one day.”

Pettaway attributes some of the rush to register to the push being made to attract young voters to the polls for this election.

According to London, the real story won’t be told until tomorrow night, “it all comes down to Tuesday, and then we can sit around and figure out what worked and what didn’t work.”