My friend John has recently been tinkering with activism: When he's bored at work, he's been duplicating Kyle Goen's infamous poster with a picture of President Bush that says "Elect a Madman, You Get Madness" and local artist Scott McKenzie's Bush "i lied" stickers onto copy machine sticker paper, as well as making his own stickers with images of the prez and captions like "Bushit." Our friends are all over them; he can't keep enough around the house.
McKenzie thinks it's great that people like John are helping proliferate his political agitprop. "I wish more people would," he told me. "The whole reason behind it was so that people would do that."
Thing is, my friend John is 27 and he's never registered to vote. He's not even sure he'll vote in the upcoming presidential election, despite his aversion to George W. Bush.
That's some shit I just don't understand. Me, I've voted in every presidential election I was eligible for, except the first in 1992 (I was living in Berkeley, sleeping in an alley off Telegraph Avenue, for that one -- that's a whole 'nother column). Local politics fascinate me. I've been known to show up at city council meetings in Tempe, where I live, to see what they're doing with my tax money, and often watch them at home on cable on Thursday nights.
In an otherwise unbalanced and patriarchal society, voting is the one arena in which I and all my fellow hooligans are considered equal to the rest of America. It's the loaded derringer in my pocket.
Not that I know everything about politics. Shit, I voted for Nader last time around, mistakenly thinking that I was taking some sort of progressive stand. And I'll never understand some of the political anomalies, like how former Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano could be a gay Republican -- to me that's like being a black slave trader. But nonetheless, I go to the booths and wing it.
The night before Dubya came to town two weeks ago, I was playing poker with John at his house, trying desperately to persuade him to vote this time around. It's amazingly simple; you can register at www.servicearizona.com. I've never had to wait in line at my polling place, a mere two blocks from my house.
John's reasoning was that Bush is going to win anyway, why bother? Fuck the man, fuck the system.
First of all, across the board analysts are saying that Arizona is one of the crucial 18 swing states this year, and polls show the candidates in a dead heat. Besides, simply saying "Fuck the man" and not voting is the biggest cop-out of all. You want to fuck the system? There's no better way than to turn out to vote en masse -- and that won't even get you arrested.
I confess, I'm enamored of the current political season. I spent most of the Democratic National Convention glued to C-SPAN, getting worked up by reverends Jackson and Sharpton, smoking a joint while listening to Barack Obama's inspiring keynote address, and getting blasted on a great Cabernet Sauvignon while John Kerry gave his rousing acceptance speech. I realize that most of my demographic -- rebellious, dope-smoking, heavy-drinking bright youngsters -- don't get into that kind of thing. But to me, these are life-and-death issues these guys are talking about.
I have no idea what it'll take to get John, and many of my other friends who are similarly apathetic, out to vote.
At least I'm not the only one out there trying.
The progressive political action committee MoveOn.org has partnered with Barsuk Records (home to Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf, and John Vanderslice) to release Future Soundtrack for America, a fund-raising effort to benefit progressive causes like Common Assets and the Sierra Club. The disc is sure to be a big seller -- it's got Death Cab doing a previously unreleased song, Jimmy Eat World covering Guided By Voices' "Game of Pricks," Bright Eyes playing "Going for the Gold" live, a new Tom Waits song, and a new, bitter version of the late Elliott Smith's track "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free."
Besides the compilation, there's the Punk Voter tour that's been crossing the nation, and additionally PunkVoter.org has released the Rock Against Bush comp CDs. Also, bands like Death Cab, Jurassic 5, and Bright Eyes are participating in MoveOn.org and America Coming Together's swing state fund-raising concerts.
Now, I'm not convinced that because a bunch of good bands contribute songs to a politically motivated compilation, a bunch of indie-rock kids are going to turn out to vote. But I think it's a good sign that maybe this election cycle all of the eligible but not previously engaged young people will come out and let their voices be heard.
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One day not long from now, members of our generation will be the ones running for office. Those old fucks like Dick Cheney will blow their pacemakers sometime soon, and our high school classmates will be vying for positions of power. With any luck, this generation's more progressive values will be reflected in our governments.
That'll only be possible if I can get my jackass friends like John to register and show up at the polls. I'm still convinced I can get him out there, but goddamn it's taking some work.
Shit, I might run for office someday. Would that be enough to get you to vote?