White collar and sneakers in tow, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, joined a panel of community influencers during the “Occupy the Vote”a plenary session at the 2012 National Urban League Conference in New Orleans. The Louisiana native who along with being a minister, is also a community activist and one of the most influential people in the hip-hop political life. He has served as the co-creator of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ “Vote or Die” campaign, a grassroots director for Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network in 2003 and 2004, and a senior consultant to Sean “Jay-Z” Carter’s Voice Your Choice. In 2008, Yearwood created “Respect My Vote!”, a voter registration and engagement campaign, with T.I. and Keyshia Cole as well as organizing a concert calling to end the torture at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.
Read what he had to say during this year’s conference regarding engaging voters and voter suppression. –yvette caslin
How should inactive and apathetic voters be engaged?
The first things to do to get more people who are disengaged to understand that you shape policy or policy shapes you. We need to approach our own community not in a spirit of charity, where we come to our community and say ‘I am here to help you,’ but in a spirit of solidarity. We go to our community and say, ‘If you fail, if you lose your home to foreclosure, it’s like I have lost my home. If you’re not voting, in essence I am not voting.’ It’s a different approach. If everyone on my block is not voting, it cancels my power and my community’s ability to be powerful.”
“One of the things that affects our community [New Orleans] is that we forget that this is where people came during Hurricane Katrina and I think to sit here and not understand the magnitude of how far we have come … how we have rebuilt, then we don’t see how far we are going. How quick we forget about people in New Orleans. If we forget that poor black people drowned in the richest country of the world, then we are missing a lot.”
Perspective on Voter ID Laws…
The cofounder of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Paul Weyrich, who died a month after President Barack Obama was elected U.S. President, said in 1980 when the voting populace goes down, our power goes up. He said that 30-something years ago; this is not a new strategy. If we sit here in 2012 thinking that we don’t need to prepare for 2016, 2020 and 2024, then we are mistaken. I love President Obama; I think he’s great. But this is his last election. It’s not our last election.