To Rock the Vote, Knock It, or Block It?
by Jonathan David Morris
10 March 2004
If the average high school senior's brain is as empty as Punk Voter thinks, why do we need their input at all?
"Voting is for Old People."
That's the phrase on an Urban Outfitters t-shirt that's drawing Al Jourgensen's ire.
Who's Al Jourgensen? Al Jourgensen is the founder of the self-described "post-punk
dance unit" -- i.e., band -- Ministry. He's also involved with a group called
Punk Voter, whose goal is to "organize, educate, and invigorate today's youth"
with an eye towards political proactivity. Item No. 1 on their modest agenda:
Mobilize half a million kids over the age of 18 in an effort to vote out
That's where Urban Outfitters' "Voting is for Old People" t-shirt comes in.
In a letter to company president Richard Hayne, Jourgensen writes that the
shirt is "irresponsible" -- a mark of "recklessness." He writes: "Voting
is the right and obligation of all voting age citizens. Your company markets
to a young clientele and a voting demographic that are severely under-represented
and need to be encouraged to exercise their Constitutional Rights as Americans."
"In an ideal world, I would love to have your product removed from your stores,"
Jourgensen adds. "In a next to ideal world, you could sell 'Voting Matters'
Well, that's bunk.
I've only been to Urban Outfitters once. It was last summer during a trip
to Chicago. While there, I bought a model DeLorean from Back to the Future,
which sits on my shelf, unassembled, still in its box. I also bought a t-shirt.
It depicts the Son of God, arms outstretched, bearing peace signs a la Dick
Nixon. The words beneath it? "Vote Jesus."
Want to guess how many 18-year-olds will be writing-in Christ at the ballot box this year? Odds are: Not many, if any at all.
This is what gets me. On the one hand, Mr. Jourgensen wants kids to roll
out of bed and head to the polls on Election Day because it's their "obligation"
as "voting age citizens." But on the other hand, he'd have us believe their
minds are so manipulable that they can't be subjected to a sheet of cloth
with five words on it, for fear that they'll stay home instead.
Well, if your average high school senior's brain is as empty as this guy's
suggesting, why do we need their input at all? I mean, if they're only going
to go with whatever they're told to go with -- such as the openly partisan
politics on Punk Voter's anti-Bush Web site -- then I'll take a non-voting
varsity football star over a voting one any day. I don't need some teenaged
dreamer telling the government how to spend my money. Ya dig?
I don't know Jourgensen. I don't know his true intentions. If he says he
cares about kids, I'm willing to take him at his word. Quite frankly, though,
I question the positive impact these get-out-the-vote youth groups are so
often said to have. They push for a sort of political engagement that, to
me, seems self-serving. Vote for the sake of voting. Vote because it "matters."
Vote because "you should."
Take Rock the Vote, for example.
Rock the Vote was founded by recording artists "in response to a wave of
attacks on freedom of speech and artistic expression." An MTV staple throughout
the '90s, and the host of a Democratic presidential debate last fall on CNN,
Rock the Vote aims to "empower young people to create change in their communities
and take action on the issues they care about." So far, so good.
But while I applaud Rock the Vote for so vigorously fighting in the name
of free speech, its energies seem misspent. I'd much rather see them focus
on things such as Clear Channel's recent firing of Howard Stern. That decision
had nothing to do with so-called decency standards. He didn't even do anything
indecent! As Stern himself has pointed out, he was yanked for condemning
the government a day before Clear Channel was set to testify before Congress.
He was sacrificed on the altar of the FCC.
Yet, instead of fighting the good fight against said government agency, Rock
the Vote's devotion is voter turnout. Its street teams and online registration
programs, along with its support for laws like the Motor Voter Act, serve
to feed the same federal beast threatening free speech in the first place.
This makes me wonder which matters more here, quantity or quality? And if it's the former, what's the point of voting at all?
Think about it. Kids are being taught to believe that voting is noble, in
and of itself. When I was a kid, I was taught the same thing. The fact that
you vote -- "no matter who you vote for" -- is all that counts.
A few weeks ago, I came across New Jersey's Republican Party Web site, on
which they proclaimed: "It's your civic duty. Register to vote." Small wonder
they'd say that. After all, they want you to vote for them. But don't you
see what they're trying to do here? They're trying to shame you into going
to the polls. Not just the Garden State GOP, either, but every GOP, and DNC,
in every state across the country. They want you to think staying home on
Election Day means you simply don't care.
Well, here's an idea: Stay home because you do.
If you think this sounds like giving up, I say voting out of "duty" sounds
like giving in. And look who you're giving in to: Career politicians who
vote themselves tax-subsidized raises, who pass laws like the "Bipartisan"
Campaign Reform Act.
Do you know what the BCRA does? It paves the way for a full-fledged police
state right here on American soil. Think I'm kidding? Imagine there's an
attack on NYC the day Bush is there accepting his nomination later this year
(September 2nd). Thanks to info collected through that other bipartisan gem,
the Patriot Act, the feds can round up average Americans -- dissenters, "enemy
combatants," and so on. And because the BCRA makes it illegal to take out
an "issue ad" 60 days before the election (November 2nd), groups like the
NRA and ACLU will be powerless to warn us not to answer the SWAT teams knock-knock-knocking
at our doors.
I'm not saying this stuff is going to happen. It's certainly quite a stretch.
But the mechanisms are in place now. It would all be perfectly legal. And
it'd only be the next logical step for a government which kidnaps Cuban toddlers
I look at it like this. Your choices for president this November are John
Kerry and George Bush. Both parties will tell you it's crucial the other
guys lose. Even if you don't care for the man your party trots out, they're
going to tell you to vote for "the lesser of two evils." This makes no sense.
The lesser of two evils is still evil, isn't he? Why should we give whoever
wins -- not just "our guy," but that dreaded other -- permission to mess
with our lives? So he can blow a few billion more on the miseducation of
kids so fragile they need protection from $28 t-shirts? Hey, look: I know
a bargain when I see one. And this? This isn't a bargain.
I'm not trying to sound the death knell on democracy here. But I do believe
we should ditch this idea that democracy automatically means freedom. Democratically
elected officials can commit "a long train of abuses" -- as Thomas Jefferson
called it in the Declaration of Independence -- just like the tyrants we
claim to despise abroad. Showing up at the polls out of loyalty only means
you're giving them "the consent of the governed." So call it civil disobedience,
call it conscientious objection, call it whatever you want, but I say it's
entirely possible to stay home without "throwing your vote away." I've got
to believe there's more to free speech than the privilege of picking your
This government didn't give us our rights and our freedoms. God did. That's
in the Declaration, too. But what do I know? You're talking to a guy with
a "Vote Jesus" t-shirt here.
Jonathan David Morris is a political satirist based in New Jersey. His website is Read JDM.
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