While the grotesque behavior of the nation’s president continues to dominate our collective bandwidth, it’s easy to forget all the good that’s being done in this country.
It was only a few weeks ago that we had a history making midterm election that saw Democrats flip over two dozen congressional seats, wrestle away the House of Representatives from Republicans as well as the introduction of a fly new class of young, energetic and diverse Democrats.
One of the most vocal fighters for Amendment 4 (Voting Rights Restoration for Felons) was The Hip-Hop Caucus, a national, nonprofit organization with the goal of promoting political activism for young people using hip-hop music and culture.
That’s the technical explanation. However, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, knows there’s a deeper and unique power in an organization that many write off as just a means to use rap music to relate to youth.
“This past election showed the power of women, particularly women of color, in our democracy” he explains. “Having Amber Rose as a lead spokesperson for the Respect My Vote Campaign showed not only women voting but leading a campaign to get out the vote.”
Amber’s recent #RespectMyVoteInstagram post was indeed a key voting campaign for the hip hop community, and her top ten reasons to vote, were an important strategic move for setting the agenda of what was important for the hip hop community this election cycle according to Yearwood.
However, one of the biggest stories of the midterms was Florida’s Amendment 4. The initiative which will provide former felons with the right to vote, re-enfranchising nearly a million and a half people. That’s the biggest enfranchisement in U.S. history since women's suffrage almost 100 years ago.
For a decade, the Caucus has been activating on behalf of disenfranchised voters, traveling the country educating young voters on the voter suppression tactics used to silence them, as well as informing former felons of their current voter rights.
Over the past 10 years, Respect My Vote! boasts to have engaged millions of people during election cycles throughout the United States. It has help set the stage for major cultural shifts towards awareness, activism, and empowerment.
This couldn’t be happening at a better time as it’s being predicted that By the 2020, 27 percent of the U.S. electorate — nearly 54 million people — will be between the ages of 18 and 29.
These are millennials and Generation Z’ers who only represented about 20 percent voters in 2016. They’ll be guiding the future of our elections for decades soon and the HHC looks to meet them where they are.
According to Yearwood “Our work on the ground with HBCU’s, mobilizing young people to get out the vote was important...not only get out the vote but also ensure that young people votes were counted and protected and have the resources they need for voter/election protection.”
These young people are fully aware of issues, from wage gaps, to voter suppression to how people of color are disproportionately impacted in the areas of health because of legislation that allows factories to be built in areas of color, for example.
The music angle is simply a small piece of their work and functions as a sort of pied piper approach to gaining numbers.
The campaign, who has partnered with public figures including T.I., Charlamagne Tha God, Keke Palmer, Vic Mensa and hundreds of other artists and organizations.
Reverend Yearwood knows how powerful the culture is, as he was one of the co-creators of P. Diddy's 2004 "Vote or Die" campaign.
“We know how powerful our culture is, and we believe that our culture can have an impact in solving the global crisis of climate change” Yearwood tells us.
“We recently started the Hip Hop Caucus Think 100% platform (www.Think100.info) which will help to educate and get more people involved in this important fight, also, we will continue to fight for a stronger democracy, and continue to get out the vote with our Respect My Vote campaign leading up to the 2020 general election”
Anytime celebrities, especially rappers, get involved with politics, there’s always a risk of the message being muddled up with an publicity stunt, a common misconception about the organization.
“The biggest misconception about the hip hop caucus is that we are not serious about shaping policy” explains Yearwood. “Which is the furthest thing from the truth, we understand that whoever shapes policy, gets to shape our future, which is why everything we do is connected to policy and we are very serious about ensuring that our community is engaged in the policy making process.”
Photo: Mindy Small/FilmMagic