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Analysis: Hip-hop election?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   July 23, 2004 at 5:42 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, July 23 (UPI) -- When the Democratic National Convention opens Monday, one of the many related activities in Boston will be the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network drive to register more new young voters -- a campaign that organizers hope will get the attention of politicians who are accustomed to low Election Day turnouts among young voters.

Russell Simmons, the chairman of the organization, said the group has registered nearly 1 million people at 23 Hip-Hop Summits and other events across the country.

The voter-registration drives have been promoted with appearances by such pop, rap and hip-hop stars as Beyoncé, Eminem, Will Smith, P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.

Plans call for appearances in Boston by Reverend Run of Run DMC, Jadakiss, Mase and other hip-hop artists.

Simmons told United Press International that the stars have been very generous with their time on behalf of the voter-registration drive.

"The whole hip-hop community has not turned us down for any request," said Simmons. "Eminem, 50 Cent, Puffy, Jay-Z -- no one has said no. If they're available, they come."

Simmons said the drive will lead to strong turnout by young voters, who traditionally have not turned out at the polls in numbers consistent with their size relative to the overall population.

Hip-hop mogul Sean Combs -- known to music fans as P. Diddy -- has launched his own campaign to get young and minority voters involved in the Nov. 2 election. Citizen Change, as his campaign is called, will place political ads on the MTV and BET cable channels and organize a nationwide voter-registration drive.

In a statement, Combs said he wanted the campaign to attract people into the political process who have felt alienated from politics in the past -- and have therefore been overlooked by politicians.

"The forgotten ones will ultimately decide who the next president is," said Combs. "According to the latest polls, Bush and Kerry are neck-and-neck. We will make the difference. We will be the deciding factor."

As Combs was announcing Citizen Change in New York Tuesday, The New York Observer reported, he was at a loss for words when a reporter from the paper asked him about his own voting record. Combs -- who was wearing a T-shirt that said "Vote or Die" -- conceded he had not voted since 2000.

The Observer said Combs tried to turn the moment into an argument on behalf of his voter-registration drive.

"I was just as disenfranchised as the younger disenfranchised voters," he said. "It's just recently ... that I started to educate myself and understand the way the system works. So that's what makes this thing so much more relevant, because I'm not talking from the outside."

Combs said he understands that many young people and minorities think "the system doesn't work," but he said he can't just sit back and complain about it.

"So I don't have a long-lasting record history of voting, but I do have a long-lasting record of communicating and motivating and energizing and synergizing young people and, you know, I'm just like them," he said.

Combs said Citizen Change was non-partisan. However, James Carville -- who once served as a close adviser to former President Bill Clinton -- is also advising Combs' project.

Simmons said the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network voter-registration drive will also set up shop in New York during the Republican National Convention. He said his project had received support from both Democrats and Republicans.

"We've only got some money from the Democratic National Committee," said Simmons. "Maryland (Republican) Gov. Robert Erlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele are ... very, very accepting."

Steele made Maryland history in January 2003 when he became the first black to sworn in to a statewide elected office in the state's more than 350-year history. He serves as vice chairman of the Maryland Bush-Cheney '04 Leadership Team and is a member of the African-Americans for Bush National Steering Committee.

Simmons said he has high expectations that the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network voter-registration drive will succeed.

"I think it's going to be so dramatic, the turnout, that people are going to be accountable to them (young voters), both Republicans and Democrats," he said. "I believe that young people, it's in style and becoming more and more in style for them to take advantage of their responsibilities and their opportunities. It's the beginning of a major movement that will make this country more compassionate and -- the real word -- conservative, not wasteful."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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