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ISSUE 118 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/15/2004

Rock the Vote kicks out jams

By Jonathan Graef
Opinion Editor


Friday, October 15, 2004

Although the youth of America is generally thought of as being apathetic towards politics, you wouldn't know it by examining pop culture in recent months.

It seems like caring about the direction that the country is heading in is the hip thing to do. In fact, it would seem that way if you watched MTV (Music Television, supposedly) and saw P. Diddy with his Vote or Die! campaign encouraging the kids to go register to vote.

While I won't get into how sad it is that a civic responsibility is all of a sudden becoming the hip thing to do, at least you should give credit to those who are trying to get voters properly registered.

And, as we all know, there's nothing the kids respond to more than the MTV and the rock music. Perhaps we could combine those elements, plus add some booths informing voters on how to become registered, and some other booths handing out a whole bunch of useless crap. Thus you get Rock the Vote.

Rock the Vote (As opposed to Smooth-Jazz the Vote?) is a non-partisan organization associated with MTV, if I'm not mistaken, to get the youngest voters out and registered, as well as encouraging young voters to become politically active.

It was founded in 1990, according to the Rock the Vote website, to mobilize young people to create positive social and political change in their lives and communities.

This past Monday, the Rock the Vote bus visited the St. Olaf campus with the intent of registering voters, and entertaining them at the same time. I had heard that there were four bands playing, and since I spent most of my summer with my head in the sand that is known as indie-rock stores, I figured I could become educated with which bands were popular nowadays.

Turns out that most of the bands were local, or were up-and-coming, and just signed to a major label. But, I will mention this no more, as I am more than likely cramping the style of our paper's Variety section.

I arrived at the Buntrock parking lot around noon, when things were getting started. The first thing I heard was the Flaming Lips being played out of what must have been a huge sound system.

So far, so good. Approaching the festival, the first thing I thought was Sponsors ahoy! as there was a large Sunkist display with a huge inflatable Sunkist can. My cynicism was overdosing on itself.

But lo and behold, I decided to check out the booth, and see what it had to offer. To my chagrin, I actually learned something from this display. But first, I had to go around to different stations and answer questions on a card. These questions on the stations related to general voter rights.

For example, I thought that once you registered to vote, that you were automatically put on the list for jury duty. According to the nice people at Sunkist, this is not the case! Sunkist one, Graef zero.

There were many other questions I answered, and promptly returned my card. Then, my card was put into a box of some sort, and I was told that I was in a raffle for some useless crap. Sweet!

However, this made me notice something. There was a very interesting Quid Pro quo subtext with the whole Rock the Vote thing. As in, Make a pledge to vote, and well give you a T-shirt with a quasi-risqué slogan on it!Have some Ben and Jerrys ice cream, dont forget to vote! More and more, I started to notice that this wasnt so much Rock the Vote as it was Bribe the Vote.

This, along with the friend I went with constantly insisting that I am a massive tool, made me very sad. Is this the only way that our generation can become interested in politics? To entice us with ice cream, and T-shirts? To market our civic responsibilities with clever catchphrases?

The answer is probably yes. But, I think it is better that Rock the Vote exists, and that it came to St. Olaf, than the opposite.

I did learn some things, and was very intrigued by booths by organizations such as Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the John Lennon Educational Tour bus. So while I think the youth voter should be genuinely interested in voting (and plenty are), Rock the Vote has plenty of reasons to exist.

As long as it even registers one voter, I will tell Rock the Vote, (to use the words of the MC5), to Kick out the jams, Mother!


Opinions editor Jonathan Graef is a senior from Glenview, Ill. He majors in English and political science.


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