Dear Mr. Kendrick Lamar,
I want to address your recent comments regarding why you do not exercise your right to vote. You cite contradictions and lack of control of world events and affairs as reasons not to vote. You have a right to your opinions, but your statements were foolish and dangerous.
Now that you have been pushed into the public spotlight, you are burdened with being a role model; whether you are tactful and responsible in your new role is up to you. You have an influence and reach that is phenomenal: Your music is on the top music blogs, you have fans all over the world, and most importantly, you deliver meaningful messages. When you are a rapper, it’s almost certain that you are a trendsetter. People, the youth especially, will follow and listen to your every word and some might emulate your behavior.
In 2012, voting and politics are “cool.” Elections, especially presidential elections, have become mainstream events; they have even become more closely associated with hip-hop culture. Jay-Z, Diddy, and Young Jeezy have all asserted messages in their music urging their fans to vote. In 2008, hip-hop was instrumental in improving voter participation in election campaigns, motivating young people to get out and vote.
According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau tracking voting trends in presidential elections, voters ages 18-24 were the “only age group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout in the most recent election, reaching 49 percent in 2008, compared with 47 percent in 2004.”
If timing is everything, then your words do a disservice to the disenfranchised communities of America, especially now, during an election year. This seems odd, especially since your music paints vivid pictures of the issues plaguing the world, specifically poverty issues.
In your seminal work, “Section .80,” you rap, “Everybody can’t drive Benzes so I make it my business to give them my full attention.”
When people aren’t getting the attention they deserve from politicians, they have to demand it.
Politicians have a job, and at the end of every term, they are faced with reelection. The two main resources politicians need to create a successful campaign and win an election are money and votes. In disenfranchised communities, there might not be money, but there are votes. Voting demands attention from the top.
For years, community organizers have developed strategic ways to get people to vote. One way is by having community leaders (like you) get the message out about the benefits of voting.
Many times, people stop believing in the American Dream when it seems like it is unattainable, but by voting, they have a say. People in low-income communities can vote for candidates who have an interest in raising the minimum wage, for example.
Even if you do not vote, please encourage your listeners to do so. Voting is a right community members must exercise to have a say in how their communities operate. If communities do not make decisions about their communities, someone else will make these decisions for them.
Vote for the black citizens who were, at various points in history, threatened, intimidated, maimed, raped, and killed for wanting to vote. Vote for the women who fought tooth and nail during the suffrage movement to cast a vote. Vote even for people in other countries across the world who are still revolting and rising up against tyrant political systems to get a chance to get their voices heard.Vote for the people who cannot vote: the mentally ill, the incarcerated, and the youth who are not old enough to vote.
Music educates people, and as a teacher, you must be cognizant of the lessons you are teaching.
By not voting, you further exacerbate and make definite your claim that you have no say in how the world is run.
Jamar Thrasher received his undergraduate degree in political science and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College for Public Policy and Management. Thrasher is also a partner at Kennedy Blue Communications, a communications firm based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or @jdthrasher on Twitter.