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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