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The Real Reason Rock the Vote is Falling Apart


Rock the Vote is in shambles. According to a February 7 LA Times article by Charles Duhigg, the organization is $700,000 in debt and has cut its staff from twenty people in 2004 to two today. Rock the Vote hasn’t had a chief operating officer since the last Presidential election.

Duhigg attributes the crisis to overspending in non-election years and to the opportunism of the music industry executives who dominate the group’s board and use Rock the Vote primarily to promote their own artists.

Rock the Vote has a more fundamental problem: It has hitched its star to politicians who are completely hostile to the needs and desires of the American people. For example, check out the political hacks it has chosen to bestow its Rock the Nation Award upon.

There’s Bill Clinton, who presided over the 1996 Democratic Party convention which removed universal health care from the party platform even though more than 70 per cent of Americans are in favor of it.

There’s Hilary Rosen, who was head of the RIAA at the time she was honored. Rosen rocked the nation by launching the war against file-sharing. Sharing music on-line is, to say the least, wildly popular.

There’s Hillary Clinton, who, despite the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, has called for sending 80,000 more of our sons and daughters to the slaughter.

In June 2005, the Rock the Nation Award went to John McCain, one month after the Arizona Senator was part of the 100-0 Senate vote to approve Bush’s war funding bill. In his acceptance speech, McCain introduced himself as “Funk Master McCain.” Since then, Funk Master McCain has kept busy campaigning for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose November ballot initiatives to cripple unions and give himself unsupervised power to gut social programs were soundly defeated by California voters.

In 2004, Rock the Vote, under the leadership of Jehmu Greene (who came to the organization directly from serving as Southern Political Director of the Democratic National Committee), registered 1.4 million voters in an effort to elect John Kerry. On March 2 of this year Kerry was one of 89 Senators who voted to make the Patriot Act permanent, even though more than 250 U.S. cities have passed resolutions calling for it to be abolished.

One of Rock the Vote’s few high points came in the early 1990s when the organization aired over 175 public service announcements in which artists gave their frank views on democracy. Our favorite was Ice-T’s. “I’m as anti ‘the system’ as you could possibly be,” he said. “We’ve got two options–the vote or hostile takeover. I’m down with either one.”

In other words, voter registration as a tactic can be useful when it’s part of an effort to transform the system. When voter registration is used as a strategy, what you get is Rock the Vote. It won’t be missed.

LEE BALLINGER is coeditor of one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, Rock and Rap Confidential, where this article originally appeared. He can be reached at:

For a free copy of the latest RRC issue, email your postal address to: RRC, Box 341305, LA CA 90034 or send an email to:



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