Politics Mondays: E-Letter To Vince McMahon and Russell Simmons - Some Advice For "2 Million More in 2004"
I hope that this letter finds you both personally well and prospering in all of your professional, philanthropic, and entrepreneurial efforts. As promised, I am writing you to offer my humble and sincere advice regarding your massive voter registration drive, "2 Million More in 2004" - the collaborative effort between the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) and the World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) Smackdown Your Vote! I write to you from the perspective of a Black business and political economist and former manager of a multi-platinum selling Hip-Hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, who seeks to understand how culture absorbs politics and how important it is to build movements from the bottom-up. If successful with "2 million More in 2004," I think you two will have fostered a political revolution that will forever change the landscape of American politics; and as a result - the world. I honestly believe that you - Mr. McMahon and Mr Simmons - are "built for this"; in that you have the credibility, sensitivity, resources and network to succeed in the realm of voter registration with young people where civil rights organizations, political parties, interest groups and opinion leaders have spectacularly failed, for one reason or another. To that end, I only offer a few suggestions on how your effort can authentically appeal to voters, aged 18 to 35 who have grown up exposed to and entertained by the cultural force embodied by Hip-Hop music and professional wrestling - both of which dramatize social realities that politicians would like to ignore. Of course, as publisher of BlackElectorate.com, my perspective is rooted in an understanding of how you can achieve your goals in Black America. I honestly believe that you could register 2,000,000 Black voters alone with your effort. But my advice is far from race-centered and involves political ideas and reform initiatives that will appeal to millions beyond the Black community.
I, of course, am at your service and available to discuss my advice in far greater detail, should you choose to explore it further. Here are four areas where I think you should focus your thinking and efforts.
Same-Day Voter Registration. (SDVR) Currently, in most states, in order to vote in a general election, voters must be registered weeks before the actual election date. California requires voters to register 15 days in advance of an election. New York requires voters to be registered 25 days before an election. New Jersey requires voters to be registered 29 days before an election. Florida requires registration 29 days in advance. Texas requires registration 30 days in advance. And Illinois requires registration 28 days prior to an election. Here is a link to the FEC website showing the registration deadlines of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Currently five states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Wyoming and New Hampshire allow election day registration and each of these states has witnessed a significant increase in their levels of voter turnout. In the presidential election of 1992, states with SDVR had an average voter turnout rate of close to 70 percent while the national average was 55.1 percent. And these same five states had the highest voter turnouts in the 1996 elections with Maine delivering a whopping 72% turnout.
We all probably know of individuals who were unaware of these laws and attempted to vote or register to vote, on or close to Election Day only to learn that they missed the registration deadline. This would not happen if there were a national same-day-voter-registration law that would allow every eligible citizen to register and vote, on Election Day. On September 23, 2003, the very week, you had your joint news conference for "2 Million More in 2004" Congressman Olav Sabo of Minnesota introduced, in Congress, the Same Day Voter Registration Act that would solve this problem, I believe. Rep. Sabo comes from a state where Same Day Voter Registration is legal. Mr. McMahon, you can appreciate this, as it was one of your former employees - professional wrestler and commentator extraordinaire, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who became governor of Minnesota, largely because of the huge turnout of youth voters, in 1998, who voted as a result of the Same Day Voter Registration Law, which has been on the books in Minnesota since 1974. Exit polling showed that most of the 330,000 residents who used same-day voter registration cast ballots for Ventura.
Congressman Sabo has explained that in the last Presidential election year, 69.4% of eligible Minnesota voters cast a ballot; with 18.9% (464,155) of those voters taking advantage of Minnesota's same day voter registration laws. In 2002, 61.5% of eligible Minnesota voters cast a ballot; with 15% (342,978) registered on that Election Day. Mr. Simmons, you should easily make the inference and read the implication from these statistics that individuals registering and voting on the same day, in such high numbers are exhibiting behavior much like those Hip-Hop consumers that rush to purchase Hip-Hop albums on the same day. Interestingly, the release dates (called "street dates") for new album releases traditionally occur on Tuesdays. Federal elections occur on the first Tuesday of November. Perhaps you could arrange for a slew (or that of an enormously popular artist )of new Hip-Hop album releases on the first Tuesday of November 2004 and do some creative cross-promotions between the album(s) and public service announcements to vote. Imagine if Eminem, Ludacris, and 50 Cent dropped albums on election day and asked their fans to purchase their albums and then vote. Imagine how powerful this would be if there was the passage of Rep. Sabo's Same Day Voter Registration Act, which would allow every eligible citizen to register and vote for federal elections on Election Day. By the way, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), present at the press conference announcing your WWE-HSAN "2 Million More in 2004" effort, is a co-sponsor of Congressman Sabo's bill, H.R.3153, to amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require States to permit individuals to register to vote in an election for Federal office on the date of the election.
Initiative and Referendum. You should remember that I asked both of you whether or not you intend to utilize the institutions of initiative and referendum in your effort. What are initiatives and referendums? According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, "Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate for office is called a ballot measure. Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories - initiatives and referendums. Initiatives are when the citizens, collecting signatures on a petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or reject. Twenty-four states have the initiative process....In many of the same states the citizens have the ability to reject laws or amendments proposed by the state legislature. This process is commonly referred to as the referendum process. There are two types of referendum in this country - popular and legislative."
I brought them up because I believe that the two institutions represent an untapped vehicle by which new, young and disenchanted voters can be brought into (or back into) the electoral process. I think the California recall helped to make my point. The recall election generated an impressive 60% voter turnout. Compare that with the dismal statistics that show that 51% of Americans voted in the 2000 presidential election. And that less than 50% of American adults voted in the 1996 presidential election; with only 38% voting in the mid-term 1998 congressional election. And along age lines, for example, consider that in the 1996 election 67% of American adults 65 years of age and older voted; while only 32.4% of those ages 18 to 24 voted. When one considers the widely-held idea that young people are more cynical about, and disenchanted with the American political process; California's recall election possibly sheds light on how this reality can be changed in a way that results in new voter registration. I have not for one minute believed the argument advanced by the Black political and liberal establishment that California's recall election was a rolling back of the civil rights of minorities or a Republican coup. Nor have I accepted the popular notion among many Republicans that the recall election was a sign of a new conservative revolution in California. Both arguments are self-serving propaganda to me. The proper lens to understand California is not political ideology but rather one of best business practices - when persistent error and poor performance occurs in the workplace. Quite simply what we saw in the California recall was a mass firing, more than anything else. And that "mass firing" pulled new and disenchanted voters off of the sidelines to participate in making the decision to terminate Governor Gray Davis. As my friend, economist Reuven Brenner - an eloquent advocate of direct democracy - wrote me in an e-mail (he has written about the importance of initiative and referendum in great detail in a couple of books, including his most recent, Force Of Finance) regarding the California election, "a recall is an initiative, nothing more or less", and he quite accurately notes that initiative and referendum are not guarantees "that the 'right' things are done" but, rather initiative and referendum, "like most of the 10 commandments have a 'no' implication, that 'wrong' things would not last." Initiative and referendum gives people the power to stop the persistent, chronic, and major mistakes of politicians. This, power, I believe motivates activism, civic and political participation and reduces apathy, cynicism and skepticism regarding the political process.
Interestingly, for all of the fears that Republican political consultants have regarding the notion that greater voter turnout and the emergence of new voters automatically benefits Democrats, California provides a contradiction. 40,000 more new Republicans than Democrats were registered during the heat of the recall effort; and I have been told that as many as 130,000 new Republicans were registered as a result of the entire effort. Do these numbers contradict my earlier point that a new conservative revolution is not what California was all about? No, all one has to consider is the enormous amount of voter participation on the recall question and the number of Democrats that voted yes on the recall and voted in favor of Cruz Bustamante. These Democrats, too, participated in the "mass firing."
I think partisanship is a secondary phenomenon with initiatives and referendums; which could make them extremely compatible with non-partisan voter registration drives, such as yours.
Cynthia McKinney, Dr. Lenora Fulani, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Minister Louis Farrakhan. This suggestion is politically incorrect. But isn't that what pro-wrestling and rap music are all about? The advantage of artistic culture over electoral politics and even business is in its ability to deal with a broad and diverse reality rather than elite, narrow, minority interests. You two, as cultural geniuses, in your respective fields, are uniquely made to understand what politicians are scared to consider; and to make alliances that establishment politicians can't. I think you should engage four individuals in the Black community whom I love, have had the honor of supporting, of getting to know, and of working with in a variety of capacities - Cynthia McKinney, the former Congresswoman from Georgia; Dr. Lenora Fulani, a leading Black political independent; Reverend Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and 2004 presidential candidate; and Minister Louis Farrakhan, National Representative of the Lost-Found Nation Of Islam in the West. Here is why I think you should seriously consider working with them all on your "2 Million More in 2004" project. At the very least I think you both should sit down and meet with all of them to hear their view of your undertaking. While I cannot speak for them, I sincerely believe that each one of them would be willing to serve your initiative.
Cynthia McKinney. There are 600,000 unregistered Black voters in Georgia. Ask around and I think you will find that there is no political leader in the state with the credibility, network and ability to speak to and inspire these voters better than Cynthia McKinney. Although she is being referred to as"the darling of the political Left," I can tell you from my hours of conversation and tens of thousands of words of written communication with her that she "thinks outside of the box" and is not a die-hard partisan who takes her marching orders from a political party establishment. She is the first member in the history of the United States Congress to have a Hip-Hop component in her political platform; and she is even privately admired and respected by influential Republicans (I will leave room for her to tell you who they are, if she chooses. You would be surprised), for her willingness to speak the truth and tackle hard issues that others shy away from. She is admired by thousands of Black women across the country and has probably built the most ethnically diverse coalition of supporters that I have seen among any member of the United States Congress. By the way, she consistently sponsored and supported Same Day Voter Registration legislation while a member of Congress. Hard to imagine that you two would be shy to deal with anyone; but if you are a little nervous about working with Rep. Cynthia McKinney, read this excellent article written by Greg Palast, "The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney", which dissects how major media outlets (National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have lied and repeated inaccuracies about statements allegedly made by Cynthia McKinney. I am sure that both of you can relate, as I am somewhat familiar with how both of you have been demonized in the media.
Dr. Lenora Fulani. It is very easy to argue that Charles Schumer would not be a U.S. Senator today nor would Michael Bloomberg be mayor of New York City were it not for the efforts and support of Dr. Lenora Fulani. Many credit Dr. Fulani's political party, The Independence Party, with providing Sen. Charles Schumer victory over Alfonse D'Amato (in the 1998 Senate race) due to the fact that Senator Schumer received 109,027 votes from individuals voting for him on the Independence Party line; as well as important campaign support. In New York City, the case is even stronger as Mr. Bloomberg won over 59,000 votes on the Independence Party's line while he defeated Mark Green, the Democratic nominee, by only 43,000 votes. In addition to the pure Independence vote, Ms. Fulani influenced a surprisingly high Black turnout for the liberal- Democrat turned Republican billionaire. She contributed to a near 30% Black voter turnout for Mr. Bloomberg - roughly 80,500 voters. By comparison, Mayor Giuliani, in 1997, received 20% of the Black vote - 57,500 votes. But perhaps more importantly, Dr. Fulani is a leading youth development specialist and the founder of the All Stars Project, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that creates and funds performance-based programs for youth and adults that has worked with literally tens of thousands of young people. She is the pro-bono co-executive producer of the All Stars Talent Show Network, the All Stars Project's youth anti-violence program, and co-director of the Joseph A. Forgione Development School for Youth, a leadership-training and career education program for young people ages 16-21.
I have spent countless hours in discussion with her about politics, race relations, voter apathy and how the political establishment undermines the aspirations of young people and all Americans - largely through the two-party system. I think that Dr. Lenora Fulani can well provide your effort with access to a popular and powerful grassroots network; an instructive example of how to get apathetic, cynical and disinterested youth involved with electoral politics; as well as invaluable insight into New York state politics and national independent politics. If you are timid about working with her consider the fact that Governor Howard Dean, Senator John Edwards, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and Rev. Al Sharpton, among the Democratic Presidential Candidates, have already engaged the initiative of Dr. Fulani's Committee For a Unified Independent Party, "Choosing An Independent President."
Rev. Al Sharpton. You should both know that after a private meeting with the Chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET), Mr. Robert Johnson, Democratic Presidential Candidate Reverend Al Sharpton announced that BET, in conjunction with the National Action Network (NAN), will launch a major drive to help register a million new voters by the Spring of 2004.
Right now, Rev. Al Sharpton has the spotlight on him as the premier national political leader in Black America. Over the next few months, as a presidential candidate; and beyond that time period, if he fails in his bid to win the Democratic Party's nomination; as head of the National Action Network, Rev. Sharpton can arguably have more influence over registering young people to vote than any other politician. This is because Rev. Sharpton understands young people and has developed linguistic precision in delivering his message to Black and Latino youth and the Hip-Hop generation. I have spoken with him about this, and can personally attest to his grasp of the dynamics that have left young people out of the political process - intentionally and by accident - and I am convinced that with the financial resources and organizational strength, that he is now accumulating, Rev. Sharpton could "single-handedly" register 1 million voters.
I think that you should consider partnering with Rev. Sharpton, not just in New York City where his influence is obvious, but in states like South Carolina, Louisiana, and inner-cities like Washington D.C. and Baltimore, where, as a result of his campaigning, it appears his influence and popularity is growing everyday.
Minister Louis Farrakhan.. I will never get out of my head, or my heart, the touching sound and sight of hearing and seeing a still handsome but in fact, very sick (he had noticeably lost weight), Minister Farrakhan, on February 28, 1999 - celebrating the Nation Of Islam's Saviours' Day - using what might have been virtually all his energy to deliver a powerful talk, "My Apologia," where he announced that he would go after what has been called the youth vote - those who are ages 18 to 35; seeking to register them to vote; organize them; and faithfully represent their interests in American politics. This of course, built upon the work the Minister had accelerated with the Million Man March in 1995, which most reasonable political scientists credit with the incredibly dramatic rise in Black male voters in the 1996 presidential elections. Here is how that phenomenon of Minister Farrakhan's influence on electoral politics was described in the Sunday, December 8, 1996 edition of The Washington Post by David Bositis, a noted political scientist at the Joint Center For Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C.:
The Farrakhan Factor
Behind the Big Increase in Black Men Voting
By David A. Bositis
Sunday, December 8 1996
The Washington Post
AGAINST THE trend of falling voter turnout in the United States, record numbers of black men and Hispanics cast ballots for president last month. In the case of black men, the sharp increase appears to be linked to the Million Man March organized in Washington last year by the black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. For the Hispanics, the growth resulted from a spurt of newly naturalized citizens of Hispanic origin and the prod of legal and political measures seen by Hispanics as aimed at them. Both groups voted heavily Democratic and if the present trend continues they could prove decisive in states with large blocs of electoral votes.
For the United States as a whole, according to Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, who monitors these things, the total number of voters declined from 104.4 million in 1992 to 95.8 million in 1996, even though there were 5 million more registered voters than four years ago. Turnout fell to 48.8 percent of the voting-age population from 55.2 percent in 1992. This was the lowest rate since 1924.
At the same time, Voter News Service exit polls found that the proportion of black men in the total voting population increased from only 3 percent in 1992 to 5 percent this year. The change represents approximately 1.5 million more black men who voted in 1996 than in the last general election. The same polls found that Hispanic voters also increased from 3 to 5 percent of the total with similar numerical gains.
The black male turnout is all the more remarkable when it is noted that almost half a million fewer black women voted this year than in 1992.
Another interesting aspect is that rise in the black men's vote made the overall black vote more Republican than otherwise: There is a political gender gap among African Americans just as there is among whites. Black women were 11 percentage points more Democratic in their presidential vote than black men, 89 to 78 percent. The comparatively large black Republican congressional vote -- 18 percent -- is likewise undoubtedly attributable to the increased number of black male voters.
The 1996 electoral map suggests the increasing importance of black and Hispanic voters in a national election. Clinton carried five of six states that have both large black and Hispanic voting-age populations, including three of the four largest states. ...
In some respects the 1996 election represented something of a watershed for the black and Hispanic vote, suggesting their future importance as voting groups, Clinton should reflect on their importance as he plans his second term; I have no doubt that Al Gore is doing so as he looks forward to the year 2000.
Mr. McMahon, Mr. Simmons can better inform you of the impact that the Million Family March, in 2000, had on the thinking of the Democratic Party and specifically the Gore-Lieberman campaign. Mr. Simmons did share some of that with me in a discussion he and I had earlier this year. I have heard anecdotes of the impact it had on the Republican Party. I would be happy to share with both of you my experience in interacting with members of the campaign staff of Senator Lieberman, while covering the presidential race for BlackElectorate.com. What I saw and heard, I think, speaks volumes for the real and potential political influence of Minister Farrakhan and the respect that the Lieberman-Gore campaign showed for him, all while being pressured to distance itself from the stated desire of Senator Lieberman to meet with Minister Farrakhan prior to, and after the 2000 elections.
Now, cancer-free and healing, Minister Farrakhan would be a valuable source of insight, wisdom and support for your tag-team effort. Perhaps you can visit him at his farm.
The Power Of An Event. While I certainly understand and appreciate Dr. Benjamin Chavis' view (who would know better than a man who served as the chief organizer of the Million Man March?) regarding my suggestion offered to both of you regarding the possibility that you would hold a political convention among the youth of America before the 2004 elections; I think it would be a mistake for you to not hold a major event, conference or convention sometime next year before the 2004 national elections. As you both know, events and marches do not necessarily make for movements all in themselves; but rather serve to dramatize and popularize the issues that are championed by movements. And I think that is what young people desire and would respond to. And who better than two cultural geniuses and businessmen, like the two of you, along with Dr. Chavis, who are so skilled at hosting events that attract tens of thousands, at one time, to arrange for the greatest gathering of young people, regarding political participation to ever take place in the United States Of America? Mr. McMahon, on March 27, 1987, you helped to break the world indoor attendance record for a single event with WrestleMania III, attracting 93,173 people to the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. And in addition to numerous sell-out concerts that Mr. Simmons has promoted and organized; there is the key supporting role that was played in 2000 with the Million Family March, which is said to have attracted 500,000 people to the Washington Mall. I understand the concerns for violence, logistics and even the cost of such an event, but both of you have the networks to manage risk, organize the event, and defray the costs.
I think it would be very powerful and productive to your cause, if you would consider having a major Hip-Hop concert in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of WrestleMania to be held, March 14, 2004 in New York City at Madison Square Garden. WrestleMania XX would be an almost perfect time to have a major political gathering. But if you are looking for better weather, perhaps you could both convene a major Pro Wrestling and Hip-Hop extravaganza, combined with a youth political convention in Atlanta, Georgia - next Spring or Summer - in order to promote, dramatize and achieve the goals of "2 Million More in 2004." This would allow Mr. Simmons to have that "Woodstock of Hip-Hop" that he has so desired around Atlanta; but which has been frustrated by... well, politics, of all things.
I hope that you both receive this "little" letter of advice in the spirit of sincerity, humility, respect and admiration in which it was written.
My Very Best Wishes For Your Success,
Monday, October 27, 2003