This Year, America’s Youth May Agree It’s Time to ‘Vote or Die’

Posted October 27, 2004 at 4:40pm

Recently, my good friend Minyon Moore, a veteran Democratic strategist and former President Bill Clinton’s political director, returned from New York where she met with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. When I dropped in on her to find out what was going on, she handed me a present from the hip-hop mogul, fashion designer and actor. [IMGCAP(1)]

Like a child wanting to see my Christmas gift, I ripped open the package. Mr. Diddy himself sent me one of his latest signature T-shirts with the words “Vote or Die” emblazoned on the front. Gosh, I thought to myself. Should I wear it? Will I, a woman in her early 40s, look ridiculous wearing it or will I, like Sean and others, make a statement?

I decided to make a statement.

USA Today calls them the “X” factor in this election. Indeed, there is strong anecdotal evidence, as well as information from the field, that young Americans turning out to vote in record numbers will become the story next week.

As P. Diddy’s manager Hiriam pointed out to me Tuesday from Milwaukee, the “voiceless” have found their tune and are ready to play it for a fresh new start in American politics. These young people, like some of my students at Georgetown, are scraping together money to travel across the country, jumping on buses to make their voices heard across America. It’s about time.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, turnout among young people was so dismal that most political analysts didn’t bother to give them an honorable mention. In fact, more young people dialed in or sent in a text message to support Fox’s “American Idol” contestants than participated in the previous presidential election. But this year promises a different result. And, it appears that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) may be the biggest beneficiary.

In addition to P. Diddy, other hip-hop moguls, including Russell Simmons, have launched star-studded get-out-the-vote drives on college campuses and in urban communities across the country. Simmons told me during the annual Congressional Black Caucus legislative weekend that he has spent more time on the road registering new voters this year than ever before. Like P. Diddy, he sees a new generation ready to take its seat at the table. P. Diddy and others believe these voices will never again be included in the ranks of the uninformed and disengaged.

Other celebrities such as Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Eve, Ashanti, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Bruce Springsteen, Wyclef Jean and Chris Rock also are out there stumping, shouting and rocking the house in battleground states, urging these new registrants to actually get out and vote. It’s so cool to watch these stars talk about voter empowerment and the need for change. For those of us familiar with how to turn out voters, these rockers, rappers and rhythmically passionate artists are turning up the volume in time to get people all fired up on Election Day.

It will be hard to dismiss the impact they will have on the outcome of this election. The artists are not without a political compass. Strategists like Moore, Ann Marchant and Michael Brown (son of former DNC Chairman Ron Brown), as well as other veterans from the Democratic Party, are lending a hand to guide these celebrities to the best spots to get their powerful message across. With that direction, these multimillionaire artists understand how to target potential voters and market their message. Just look at the commercial success of “rap gear” all across suburbia and exurbia alike.

This week, Democratic Gain, a leading national organization of activists, sent me legendary Detroit white rapper Eminem’s new video, “Mosh.” Yep, I have a small, but growing collection of rap music. But this new video will have people talking way past the election.

In the video, which is quite provocative, Eminem calls on his listeners to “come along … follow me as I lead through the darkness … as I provide just enough spark that we need to proceed. Carry on, give me hope, give me strength. Come with me and I won’t steer you wrong.” Powerful stuff from a rapper, but young listeners clearly will walk away knowing they are now leading the charge for change.

As P. Diddy’s manager reminded me late last night from Philly, en route to Florida, “vote or die” is an alarming message. I agree. But, it’s time young people hear the message and make a statement, too.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grassroots political consulting firm.