Whatever Happened to Vote or Die?



Whatever Happened to Vote or Die?
By Davey D

original article-July 18, 2006The crowd roared with approval and P-Diddy repeated his remarks to make sure his point was not missed.

daveyd-raider2I have this nagging question, that won’t go away regarding Mr. Sean ‘P-Diddy’ Combs. It’s the eve of the second annual Hip Hop Political Convention, so I’m in a political mind set and hence I keep asking myself; ‘Does anyone know what the hell happened to his Vote or Die Campaign and his organization Citizens for Change?

I mean I already know the obvious, he shut that shit down a while back and he’s been running around throwing lavish parties, doing Making The Band’ for MTV, he was in a play Raisin of the Sun’ and now he’s gearing up for his new album in October of this year.

On the surface, most people are gonna be quick to say, ‘Dude was phony and all his ‘Vote or Die’ campaign did was help sell him a bunch of T-shirts’. Others will say he was never really serious about politics in the first place and he was on some sort of ego trip when he jumped into Hip Hop and politics arena.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that I remember when Diddy spoke at the Patrick Lipert Awards in February of 2004, before he started Citizen For Change or launched Vote or Die, he caught everyone by surprise when he jumped on stage to accept an award and told the packed audience he wanted to ‘Get Bush’s ass out of office’.

Startled officials from the non-profit, non-partisan Rock the Vote organization who put on the event got nervous real quick and moved toward Diddy as if to hurry him up. I guess he realized that by making such an overtly partisan statement he could get RTV in trouble so he backed off just a little and tried to recast his remarks.

But then Diddy came back harder by talking about how Bush was a lousy President who failed to comfort grieving mothers who lost their sons to the War in Iraq. The crowd went nuts and Diddy restated his opening remarks about ‘Getting Bush’s ass out of office’. Nobody including myself thought we’d hear such biting remarks form Mr. Party Central aka P-Diddy directed at the president

After he left the stage I tried my best to get a copy of the remarks, but RTV held on to their copies and wouldn’t release them. Although there were a number of press outlets present including MTV, you didn’t really see or hear a lot of coverage regarding Diddy’s remarks. It wasn’t until several months later I got a tape of his speech

Which you can hear here:


In the meantime Diddy went out and started his Vote or Die campaign and showed up everywhere including the couch of Oprah to extol the values of voting. When I finally caught up with him, it was at the Democratic Convention that July. He was definitely passionate but avoided talking about his remarks about Bush when I brought it up. He kept saying that he was non-partisan and hadn’t made up his mind. It was like a mantra. I figured he was just being careful because Citizen Change was a non-profit and he didn’t wanna get hemmed up the way Russell did when he campaigned to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws the year prior.

Now after the 2004 election we all know and heard the blowhard talk show pundits like MSNBC Chris Mathews who tried to take aim at Diddy and claim that the youth/ Hip Hop vote never materialized. That was in fact a lie. The goal was to get 20 million people to the polls. More than 21 million showed up marking an increase by 11% of voters between the ages 18-25.

With respect to Bush’s opponent Senator John Kerry, the only demographic to vote for him in the majority and with record numbers was the Youth/Hip Hop vote. Sadly his spineless punk ass never bothered to show any gratitude. It was the older critics of the youth vote who voted for Kerry didn’t pull their weight in the last election

But back to P-Diddy. Here’s a guy that often states that he hates to fail. If he does have an ego, it’s one that pushes him to look and sound good at all times. I can’t understand how he just slide off into the sunset without a word. Regarding his campaign. That’s not a good look. Why not continue the momentum? Was it really about selling t-shirts? Was it really about jumping on a trend? If Diddy was so passionate and so much against Bush’s politics in 2004, why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to weaken the president’s grip in these 2006 midterm elections? Forget the ‘Vote or Die’ campaign; I just wanna know why he’s been so silent about any of these issues.

Sometimes I wonder if he pissed some folks off in high places who saw him as having the potential to really wreck some political havoc and as a result he got unceremoniously got shut down. I mean it’s not like P-Diddy has always been spiffy clean. There’s had to be few times he was ‘ridin’ dirty’. It’s hard not to when you get to certain levels in the music biz. It’s hard not to when you get high up there in politics. On certain levels in both these professions people play hard and they play for keeps. Positioning, market share and power are the end games.

With that in mind, how can I not put it past folks who roll in that infamous Neocon circle of Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearle and the rest of the gang that have all but hijacked the government and led us to War, to sit idly by when their position is challenged.

Think about it, if you were a high ranking political type trying to make power moves and you looked out your window and saw a guy like Diddy telling people to vote your ass out of office, you don’t think you wouldn’t dig up some dirt on him and shut him down and make him be quiet?

You don’t think you would find some sort of angle where you could literally make him an offer he couldn’t refuse? We’re talking about the music biz folks, where its always dirty. We’re talking politics here folks which has long been the dirtiest and grimiest business you can get into. Vote or Die had the potential to unseat some folks who many believe went out and stole a couple of elections and lied to us so we could be led us into a war for fictional reasons. In short the guys in power don’t play.

If you think this is far fetched, look at the vicious attacks that regularly go on during campaigns. Look at the Swiss Boat ads that sunk decorated war hero John Kerry. Look at how war hero Senator John McCain got taken out by the Neo-cons in their character attacks on him. Remember this was a guy who was a Prisoner of War during Vietnam and he stayed in prison and endured all sorts of torture to save the lives of his men.

When he ran against Bush in the 2000 primaries he looked perched to maybe win the GOP nomination, but Bush’s team took him out with the vilest attacks. Nowadays John McCain has totally changed his tune and wholeheartedly supports the president after he once proudly stood against him. He must’ve gotten some ass kicking to have changed up like that.

For a boisterous guy like Diddy to suddenly go silent, one can’t but think that something went down behind the scenes. Listen to his remarks in that February before the election. Ask yourself, how do you go from saying all that to not saying anything? The silence is glaring. The absence is more than noticeable. Diddy said he wanted to get Bush’s ass out of office and apparently, somehow, someway, somebody got his ass out of politics. How did that happen?

During the recent BET Awards, Diddy showed up to the press gallery about 20 minutes after boxing promoter Don King came through and lit up the place by telling everyone why George Bush is the greatest President ever and how he’s been real good to Black people.

Politics was on everyone’s mind when Diddy came to field questions and several reporters including myself and Andreas Hale of HipHopdx.com along with a woman from another newspaper who’s name I forgot, raised our hands to ask P-Diddy the 64 thousand dollar question; ‘Where did ‘Vote or Die’ disappeared to? ‘Do you agree with Don King and think Bush is a great President for Black people?’ etc etc

In typical BET fashion, the press monitor avoided picking anyone who he thought would ‘go there’ and instead chose three people who asked Diddy simple questions like ‘what kind of outfit he was wearing and how does he like working with Yung Joc’. He answered those three or four questions and bounced with the wind.

So anyway, P-Diddy involving himself in the 2006 election or politics in general is not be all, end all. This weekend in Chicago, there will be others who are fully prepared to engage that arena and they’ll stick I through no matter what. It’s like I said 20 years from now some of us will have grand kids and they’re gonna come across a video or an old Vibe Magazine cover or read about this campaign and they gonna have a few questions. It’d be nice if we one day got a full explaination.

The Election Aftermath:Hip Hop Where Do We Go From here?

The Election Aftermath:Hip Hop Where Do We Go From here?
By Davey D.
Rock & Rap Confidential
November 2, 2004

I would be lying if I said last night’s election results were not a big disappointment. It’s not so much that I thought John Kerry would be the answer, but a Kerry win and a Bush defeat would’ve helped the momentum and further ignited the excitement and passions held by many within the Hip Hop community who went to the polls. Instead what we’re left with his a Bush Presidency. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he went from being a guy who was selected to being a guy who now holds the record for receiving the most votes ever in US history. If that’s not enough four new seats went to the GOP and they gained several more seats in the Congress. The toughest pill to swallow are the newscasts and articles where the question that is mockingly being asked-Where was the Youth Vote? How come they didn’t show up? Etc…

Leading up to the yesterday’s election there was a long list of things that we could point to that suggested that we were gonna make a huge difference:There were numerous Hip Hop Summits and Conferences. The registration and get out the vote efforts within Hip Hop was unprecedented. Over the past couple of months, there were at least 8 mixtapes and compilation songs released encouraging the Hip Hop community to go to the polls. The participants ranged from artists like Wyclef Jean to Jadakiss to Eminem to WC and Mack 10 to Cypress Hill to the scores of underground artists who participated in the Slam Bush project.


These artists’ efforts complimented the day to day organizing and important groundwork that was undertaken by numerous Hip Hop organizations and their members around the country who were the unsung heroes and sheroes, yet critical backbone in all these Hip Hop meets Politics activities. For example, the night before the election it was encouraging to get a late night fall call from one of the many members of BayLoc (The Bay Area Hip Hop Local Organizing Committee) asking me to Vote Yes on Cali Proposition 66 which would’ve reformed the dreadful three strikes law. I was also told to vote ‘Hell Naw’ on Measure Y in Oakland. This was an initiative that would add more police to the city’s payroll. I was told to go to the BayLoc Website to get more information on other propositions and asked to come out the next day to a Get out the Vote Rally that was going to be held at Oakland’s City Hall.

What BayLoc was doing was just an example of the dozens of similar efforts that were going down all over the country. For example, members of the Los Angeles Hip Hop Local Organizing committee were so determined to impact the outcome of the election that they dipped into their own pockets and brought plane tickets to go to Milwaukee after they got word of bogus fliers being distributed in many of the Black communities telling people that they risked arrested if they voted and had not paid their parking tickets or child support or had voted in any prior election this year. The sentiment amongst the LALoc was that there were enough troops on the ground holding it down in the Golden State and that they play a more effective role helping their Hip Hop counterparts in Milwaukee monitor polls and do outreach and voter education.

It was encouraging to do my radio show, reach out and get reports from Hip Hop organizers stationed in various cities around the country like; Columbus, Ohio, St Louis, Missouri, Phoenix, Arizona, Sante Fe, New Mexico and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to name a few, and hear how about how they had been registering people and their plan of action to get folks to the poll on election day.


Such efforts were underscored by the League of Hip Hop Voters and the League of Pissed off Voters who had meticulously researched and put out more than 115 different state and city election guides for folks to download off the internet and take to the polls. What was even more inspiring was seeing that while most major news outlets and so called Hip Hop and R&B radio stations completely ignored these newsworthy efforts, that the League was able to get the word out via all the large Hip Hop websites and listserves like AllHipHop.com, OkayPlayer.com, Industrycosign.com and RapAttacklives.com to name a few, and reach thousands of people who eagerly and used them.

During the 04 elections Missy Elliot paid for buses to get people to the polls

It was encouraging to read about Missy Elliott renting a bus in Miami and pitching in to take voters to the polls. It was encouraging to hear about Questlove of the Roots hooking up with actor Ozzie Davis to combat voter suppression efforts. It was great to hear about comedian Steve Harvey bringing together a coalition of rap starts ranging from Warren G to MC Hammer to Ice Cube and E-40 to ask for support on passing Prop 66.It was encouraging to talk to a Rev Gundy on our national broadcast and have him point out the important role the Hip Hop community had played in terms of getting the vote out. He spoke about the Black college tour that artists like Trick Daddy, Trina and Luther Campbell (Uncle Luke) put on and how they helped get hundreds of people registered.

Whether it was mainstream icons like P-Diddy and his Citizen For Change or Russell Simmons and his Hip Hop Summit Action Network or grassroots organizations like the Hip Hop Political Convention, the Hip Hop Assembly or Hip Hop Congress, lots of people stepped it up and got involved. For most it was their first time. For many they had to learn on the job. The collective efforts for these organizations and people should be commended after all, its a lot more then what was done in previous years.


With all that being said, after the dust has settled and folks get some time to reflect, there will be some important questions that will have be answered thoughtfully and honestly. Questions like ‘What could’ve been done differently?’ Did the numbers of people who came out to the polls add to up the expectations? In short, did the hype match the reality? Did we overestimate? Did we underestimate? Was too much weight put on the shoulders and expected turnout of the youth/Hip Hop vote?

Were the approaches used by organizers as well as politicians the right ones or the most effective ones to engage the Hip Hop Community and younger people in general? After all, when iconic figures like Russell or P-Diddy show off new clothing styles, introduce new slang or put forth a new trend folks seem to follow in masses, why was this not the case with yesterday’s election or was it? These are some of the hard questions we need to seriously look at.

Yesterday, during an interview with MTV P-Diddy said something very profound. He admitted that he may have been a bit reckless when he said he was going to rally people to ‘Get Bush’s Ass Out of Office?‘ He said it was reckless for him to say this and not have a viable, suitable candidate in to replace him. In some ways P-Diddy’s remarks seemed similar to ones made a few month’s back when Boots Riley of the Coup wrote a letter to the Eastbay Express Magazine asking that he not be characterized as an anybody but Bush type of guy. Boot’s noted that its not just enough to vote for someone, but it needs to be connected with a larger plan of action and education. Folks have to really understand the process and the issues that you’re asking them to vote for.. If there’s no connection at the end of the day folks will not only not go to the polls, they may actually become disillusioned with the process. They’ll be even more disillusioned if they discover that those who are advocating don’t really buy into the process.. Such may be the case today when folks woke up and found that some of their favorite celebrities while advocating voting, never went to the polls themselves.

When we look back at this election the fundamental question we have to grapple with is , was it enough to simply hate Bush if you weren’t feeling Kerry? Talk show host Tavis Smiley spoke to this issue last night during his ABC News broadcast when he noted that one of the things that may have effected John Kerry in Ohio was that he simply didn’t pull out the large numbers of Black people in places like Cleveland as was expected. He explained that a lot of folks did not connect with Kerry and that the word was ‘he was no Bill Clinton‘. This reality was conveyed to me earlier in the day from folks on the ground who had noted that in spite of all the rallies and media attention and speculation, the numbers were lower then expected in some of those critical Black communities especially around Cleveland.

Much of what Tavis spoke to could easily be juxtaposed with the larger Hip Hop community. The reality we may have to face is that folks simply could not buy into the whole voting/ electoral politics hype with Senator John Kerry has the big door prize. The end result and purveying attitude was likely to be similar to the one reflected by artists like Method Man who when asked who he was going to vote for, told allhiphop.com in a recent interview ‘F**k both them mother f**kers. I’ma play Soulcom2 online like everybody else. F**k Bush and Kerry. Both them n***a’s is cowards.’

One of the important lessons that we will have to come to terms with is not falling into the trap of leading or organizing by proxy. By this I mean, we needed to have in place a methodology and a way to really ensure that the folks we reaching out to be in agreement and had good understanding of what was being advocated. In other words, a possible mistake that may have been made was us not being clear as to what was being asked. Were we asking people to go to the polls to vote FOR John Kerry or to flex our power and vote Bush out of office just to prove that we could influence an election?

Ben Chavis and Russell Simmons of Hip Hop Summit Action Network

If we were asking folks to vote for John Kerry did we present a compelling set of arguments connected to a larger end game that folks would buy into? In other words were we voting for Kerry because he would appoint fair and balanced Supreme Court judges? Were we voting for Kerry because he we would be better positioned to maneuver about the system under him versus Bush? Did the potential voters see and understand those sorts of points? Did John Kerry himself ever really pay attention to the issues on both on the platform voted upon during the Hip Hop Political Convention or the similar platform being championed by Russell Simmon‘s Hip Hop Summit Action Network?

More importantly were the larger critical mass of people who never attended these Hip Hop summits, who we needed at the polls in agreement with and aware of the platforms?Lastly, did we expect too much too soon? Yes, it was an important election? Yes there was a lot of hope, hype and anticipation around the role Hip Hop would play in this election, but was it realistic to expect us to hit a homerun on our first at bat? Was it fair for us to allow ourselves to be put in that position? Conventional wisdom suggests that we look at and build around small, achievable victories versus trying to get it all in one shot. While hitting a homerun on the first try is great and will get you lots of props. Having to play the game where your forced to run the bases and deal with striking out from time and not getting any hits at all, will be best in the long run, because it allows you to build a solid long lasting foundation and establish important meaningful relationships with the people you are trying to reach. It will also allow you to do the important work at hand minus the roar of the crowd and all the hype that comes when you hit it out the park.

The bottom line is this.. The election results are disappointing and not all of our expectations have been met, but no means did we fail? All those collective efforts did indeed increase voter turnout.. A lot of folks came in and gave it their best shot and did some really good things that made a difference and will continue to make a difference. Fortunately many of the Hip Hop organizers like the folks from BayLoc, Hip Hop
Coup, LaLoc and others all throughout the country have embraced the attitude that the work they are doing is for the long term. It’s all about building a solid foundation that will not fold up and crumble at first windstorm or setback. The 2004 election is a setback from which they will learn from and will not paralyze them. One thing you can always count on is that the very essence of Hip Hop is that it always able to create something out of nothing and overcome insurmountable odds. The question that Hip Hop has to humbly ask at this point in time is where do we go from here? I believe bigger and better things are in

written by Davey D

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