WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – The Hip Hop Caucus brought its message of voter empowerment to the youth of the nation’s capital July 28, with the Respect My Vote campaign targeting 18-to-29-year-olds.
“Ninety three percent of young voters outside of college didn’t vote on Super Tuesday. That’s a huge amount of people who didn’t vote,” explained Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood.
“No matter who wins in November, if large numbers of young people do not vote, then we all lose. This is really a critical time, Katrina, Sean Bell. There are so many issues that affect us. It does not look good for the future if young people, particularly those who are not in college, are not engaged or involved in the electoral process.”
The campaign launched with a star-studded program featuring co-sponsor and Grammy Award winning rapper T.I. The goal of the campaign is to combine the power of celebrity and media with 21st century grassroots organizing tactics to mobilize and educate young people between the ages of 18 and 29 who are not in college.
The campaign will be led by T.I. and use celebrities, athletes, and high profile individuals to stress the importance of voting in a variety of ways, including PSAs for radio, television, personal appearances, press events, mobile and e-mail alerts from celebrities and an aggressive online campaign.
The Hip Hop Caucus is taking its message to the streets of 17 key cities including Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas and Richmond.
“The opportunity to get involved with this presented itself to me in April. Once I heard about it, it was a no brainer. It’s important for youth to exercise their right to vote. We have to become a part of the decision making process. If we want the laws to be different we have to get involved,” said T.I. to The Final Call.
“American’s current state is a direct result of us not voting. I’m encouraging the hip hop nation to exercise their right to vote. Challenge what’s going on, get involved or stop complaining. If you’re not a part of the solution you’re a part of the problem. I look forward to urging the masses to take advantage of the right that I no longer have,” he said. T.I. lost his voting rights because he is a convicted felon in Georgia.
T.I., born Clifford Harris, was arrested last year in a gun buying sting. As part of a plea deal, he has to perform 1,000 hours of community service before serving a one-year prison sentence.
“Think before you act and take your education as far as you can,” he said.
The campaign started with green carpet arrivals of celebrities supportive of Respect My Vote. From the Washington Wizards basketball center Etan Thomas to Olympic gold medalist Anthony Killiebrew to world class sprinter and champion Michael Walton to Dawn from Danity Kane. They were greeted by a crowd of eager youth. Once everyone was inside the 930 Club, a show began with a performance by D.C.’s own Mambo Sauce Go Go Band, which was followed by a question and answer session.
“In the 60’s they needed to be revolutionary. Our generation must be solutionary,” said Rev. Yearwood. “Their Vietnam is now our Iraq, their Birmingham is now our Katrina, and their Emmett Till is now our Sean Bell. We have a critical moment. This is our lunch counter moment.
“In 2004 only 33 percent of non-college youth 18-29 turned out to vote. Sixty seven percent of them believe they cannot make a difference in their community. People don’t take us seriously. We can’t sit back and complain. We have to connect our cultural expression with our political experience,” he said.
Half of young Americans ages 18-29 have never enrolled in college. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, nearly 80 percent of young voters on Super Tuesday had college experience.
The Respect My Vote campaign will build on what worked in the 2004 election. Rev. Yearwood helped create the 2004 Vote or Die! campaign with Sean “Diddy” Combs. This year’s effort will include bus tours, street registration teams, and voter education events during the Democratic and Republican conventions.
“I think this helps a lot. A lot of kids wouldn’t register to vote. This is a wonderful opportunity. I already registered to vote. I work but I want to go to college and become an orthopedic surgeon. I just have to get the funds together,” said DeShawn Ross, 18.
“I could have voted in the last election but I didn’t see any reason to. This year it’s different. My man Barack is on the ticket,” said 22-year-old Alonzo Jackson. “I’m glad they’re reaching out to those of us who don’t go to college. It’s like sometimes we get forgotten about. Everybody can’t go to college but everybody can vote.”