To Vote Or Not To Vote: Hip Hop Artists And Activists Weigh In
Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur, BET.com, Jan. 28
Electoral politics are a hot topic for the hip-hop community these days as many of it’s leaders are seeking to bear influence on the 2004 presidential election. Their goal is to effectively educate, mobilize and get young people out to the polls. The question is can it be done?
According to Jeff Chang, hip-hop activist and the author on an upcoming book on the history of hip-hop activism, the answer is complicated. As an organizer for the National Hip Hop Political Convention, (this June in Newark), Chang is part of a grassroots push to get people to become more aware overall.
“[Whether or not hip-hop can move people to the polls] remains to be seen. It’s dependent on many factors: organizing, messaging, and a sense of urgency,” Chang told BET.com. “I think NHHPC has been doing a good job on the organizing; HSAN (Russell Simmon’s outfit) had been doing a good job on the messaging. What remains to be seen is if we will feel a sense of urgency.”
If not urgency, then certainly excitement is a factor when it comes to Russell Simmons and his HSAN group. They have registered over 20,000 people to vote so far. Making voting “cool” is exactly what Simmons hopes will inspire hip-hoppers to sway the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.
The remaining HSAN summits will take place between now and November, with the goal of registering 2 million voters. Despite all the registering, some statistics show that less than 50 percent of all Americans actually vote. That number plunges even lower when you are talking about 18 — to 34-year-olds, according to political activist/radio personality/ hip-hop expert Davey D. But, he feels that dip is due to the fact that politicians don’t value the hip-hop generation or the issues that affect it.
“Very few politicians have gone out of their way to make hip-hop a viable audience. If an elected official wants older people [to vote for him,] he/she has an employee that researches that demographic,” Davey D says. “But they don’t have a media strategist that has relationships with me, Sway from [The Wake Up Radio Show] or Big Boy from L.A.’s Power 106.”
Continuing, he said that conventional politicians overlook the rap nation, sighting a lack of grassroots promotion for “basic stuff” like passing out flyers at the hip-hop summits.
To guide voters, Davey D, scribe Upski and 10 other political experts have compiled “How To Get Stupid White Men Out Of Power,” a book “that is going to revolutionize the way young people who don’t do electoral politics do electoral politics.”
“Its primarily focused on showcasing the examples where young people have mobilized people to vote and used hip-hop to turn this thing around. It shows that we can be effective in electoral process,” he says of the book from his office in California. “How To Get…” will be out this fall.
Kaine, of the Ying Yang Twins, isn’t convinced of the effectiveness of voting. When BET.com spoke with him, he expressed a serious mistrust of the electoral process.
“I don’t feel like [my vote] registers,” he said. “This time they got you scared, and that’s why we is where we is now. [Bush winning] made our vote irrelevant. Why vote if you don’t have a voice. The only voice we got is with the hip-hop community.
“I feel that they should have let everybody revote and do it all over again, because that was something too crooked. It’s like, ‘Why should I vote if it don’t count,’ because Florida was way against Bush. But that’s where Bush’s folks are at. How is it that the only state that had to get recalculated was where Bush’s folks are at? How ya like them grapes?”
Ghostface Killah, of the Wu Tang Clan, echoes Kaine’s sentiments. “They try and make it seem like we have a choice, but these elections are already set for the next 20-30 years. They know who is going to win before we even go to vote, and it sure ain’t no Black guy.”
Aside from distrust, apathy seems to emanate from many of the biggest hip-hop artists. AM New York (a free daily in New York City) recently took rappers to task for not voting, even though they have publicly encouraged the youth to do so. Rappers, including 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Eminem, Scarface, DMX and several others, have not been to a voting booth recently, the paper says. Ben Chavis told the paper he could guarantee that the rappers supporting the HSAN’s efforts would vote in November. Busta Rhymes recently registered to vote, even though he has taken a very public stance similar to that of Ghostface and Kaine.
“I most definitely plan to vote,” Rhymes said recently. “I think that all the young people my age should vote,” he said. “At first, I was thinking that my little vote won’t help, and then the thing that happened in Florida, with the polls, was one of the reasons I wouldn’t vote.
“When I thought about it hard, though, I see that it really does matter at the end of the day …We should all be involved.”
Mississippi-bred rapper David Banner agreed.
“…[I]t’s something that we’ve got to do until we get it right,” Banner said. “It’s like what I tell people all the time: ‘We have to continue the fighting process.’ We have to stay in practice. You can’t expect to hit that game-winning shot when you haven’t practiced in four or five years. You can’t expect people to vote in masses when it’s the real time for them to vote, unless they been voting all the time. We have to stay consistent with what we do.”
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