This week, the Hip Hop Caucus launched Respect My Vote!, a national non-partisan campaign aimed at mobilizing young voters to participate in the political process. BE Politics caught up with Hip Hop Caucus Founder and CEO, Rev. Lennox Yearwood to discuss the launch of Respect My Vote!
With history-changing campaigns such as Vote or Die and Voice Your Choice under his belt, Rev. Yearwood is no stranger to mobilizing young voters. He often appoints celebrities as spokespeople and ambassadors for his get out the vote campaigns, using their platform and fame to make the electoral process more appealing to young people. Yearwood also uses celebrities to attract another, often ignored portion of voters: ex-offenders.
“We really wanted to engage ex-offenders, so we brought TI, who is also an ex-offender, on as one of our spokespeople. And then in 2012 we did it again with 2 Chainz who is another ex-offender.”
“In 2016 the issue hasnâ€™t gone away. In some places, you still canâ€™t vote if you’re an ex-offender. So even if youâ€™ve done all your time, paid your debt to society, there are still all of these restrictions. And so weâ€™re going to go with another celebrity who is an ex-offender to lead the 2016 campaign, Charlamange Tha God.”
Not all celebrities are equally supportive of attempts to engage young voters. In October 2015, Sean “Diddy” Combs, had some choice words for the movement he helped create, Vote or Die. Describing the electoral process as a “scam,” Diddy argued that “we get disenfranchised, [weâ€™re] disconnected because nothing that theyâ€™re saying actually relates to us.”
When we asked Rev. Yearwood about Diddy’s comments, he nodded in understanding.
“We created one of the best campaigns ever. We felt it was something that would go down in American history asÂ something that really changed the culture,” Rev. Yearwood said.
Citing “Citizens United” and the influx of money that followed, Rev. Yearwood explained that Diddy was coming from a place of disenchantment with a political process rife with voting restrictions such as “archaic Jim Crow-type laws inflicted on ex-offenders.”
“This is my thing, I love Diddy. And I, like many artists, think we need to have real discussion about the political process. And I appreciate that he put that forth, that we can’t just be talking about voting, but not be engaged. Heâ€™s saying we have to be engaged in the political process on Nov. 8th, 9th, and beyond. And I think thatâ€™s commendable. And the Hip Hop Caucus will definitely do that. We will ensure that people are getting to the polls, and that once they get there they are still informed on the issues of today such as healthcare, education, etc.”
Rev. Yearwood also shared his thoughts on how to capture the young vote:
“Young folks really want a candidate who they feel is not going to be controlled by the establishment. This race is very unique, young people… their mold is not so much to be revolutionary, as they are “solutionary.” This generation really wants to find a solution, and once they find a solution they keep going forward. And they really want candidates with that solution mindset, who are like ‘listen, save the rhetoric, donâ€™t tell me we have a problem with the prisons, fix the prisons, donâ€™t tell me we have a problem with our schools, fix the schools, donâ€™t tell me we have a problem with the water in Flint, fix the water.’ And so if you really want to attract young people on both sides, to not only vote, but beyond this process, be ‘solutionary.'”
To find out more about the Hip-Hop Caucus and RespectMyVote, voter drives, voter registration, and future events, head to Hiphopcaucus.org!