When I say to hip-hop kids that perhaps we shouldn’t vote for John Kerry, the universal first response is raised eyebrows. Then come a flurry of questions, mostly critical and heartfelt ones. These are reactions I’ve come to be expect, especially from a left leaning emerging voting bloc. This election year, the emerging hip-hop voting bloc-the potential group of young voters regardless of race, age, sex and class who routinely make hip-hop artist go platinum almost overnight-has reared it’s head like no other. Many hip-hop voters even those well over 18 are coming to participate in the electoral process for the first time. We’ve mostly remained out of the process but are now eager to flex within it. The hip-hop voting bloc may be America’s only hope of saving our democracy from what it’s become, a playground for the wealthy and corporate elites. But if we aren’t careful, we’ll be eaten alive by a fine-tuned machine that welcomes us in the door, gracefully escorts us to a seat, entertains us to the max, secures our vote and leaves us scratching our head after November 4th, asking, what just happened? Better still, what was our role in making it happen? Which brings us back to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Senator Kerry seems like a nice guy. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, something he wears on his sleeve, sometimes annoyingly so, but understandable in an election year when the sitting president took the easy way out. A Yale graduate; in the Senate for two decades; the father of two daughters. You gotta love him. On the personal political record tip, he now says he’s for affirmative action, although in 1992, in a lecture he gave at Yale he described it as “reverse racism” and “divisive.” On his voting record in Congress, his Republican critics hit the nail right on the head: Kerry tends to talk out of both sides of his neck. More troubling than his doublespeak is Kerry’s insider elite background. Of the 40 millionaires in the Senate, he’s the richest, worth over $160 million. This doesn’t include his wife’s family net worth, which is estimated at nearly $1 billion. Wealth aside, Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, feminist advocate that she is, defected from the Republican Party to become a Democratic just last year. This and more regarding Kerry, is the stuff that makes you go, hmmm. But when it comes to the hard decisions that will come after the election-from administration appointments and to advancing policy changes, it is no longer simply the Kerry show. As such, the Democratic party’s track record and it’s corporate elite associations are a better indication of what Kerry will do to help or hurt us rather than Kerry himself. So don’t get caught up in how good Kerry (or his daughters) looks or what he says he’s going to do from jobs to affirmative action. Just as any other president if elected he’ll be beholden to a ton of agendas. Somewhere in the process is a way of getting our issues on the table. But we aren’t there yet. More important it’s what we do between now and November as much as on November 4th that could determine if we as a voting bloc will ever arrive. In this election, just as it’s been for the last several decades Democrats are not offering the hip-hop generation anything to get excited about. Even when the Democratic Party is speaking out on issues that matter to hip-hop voting bloc, when it comes to outlining solutions, they aren’t willing to go far enough. As brilliant as Barack Obama was during the recent Democratic National Convention, and as inclusive as John Edwards tried to be, both did what they were supposed to do. They were given a national platform to rouse our emotions, but charged with the pretty transparent task of not departing too far from the script. In June the first ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention convened in Newark, New Jersey. Delegates from around the country worked diligently to create a national agenda of issues that matter to the hip-hop voting bloc. In short, the agenda calls for universal healthcare, living wage jobs, reparations, education reform, and an end to mandatory minimum sentencing, among other critical human rights concerns. Attempts to present the agenda at last month’s Democratic National Convention were at best lightly entertained, but ultimately ignored. National Hip-Hop Political Agenda aside, not two minutes, not one minute of Democratic National Convention airtime was given to the hip-hop voting bloc’ s issues. Contrast this to stem cell research, a debate hardly in need of a public hearing. This isn’t to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t pay lip service to issues like higher paying jobs and education reform-both issues that matter to hip-hop voters. However, not any of their proposals go the distance that most hip-hop voters require to see substantive change in our lives that we can measure on a daily basis. For example Democrats propose raising the minimum wage to $7/hour. They also call for a tax credit of $1000 to offset college tuition costs. Any hip-hop generationer can attest to the fact that $7/ hour is hardly a living wage and that a $1000 tax credit won’t put a dent in the college costs. Our generation came of age victims of a deteriorating public education system, working class jobs without benefits, rising college tuition costs and ever increasing limits on financial aid. We also saw far too many of our friends and relatives head off to prison after casting their lot with the drug game, even as they knew the odds were stacked against them: their motto was live a little rather than not at all. Repairing at least some of the damage done to youth in the 80s and 90s is part of the critical distance that Democrats should go for our vote. And the name of the game is politics, not the-Republicans-are-too-evil so-we-can’t-really play-the-game. Taking the position that the Republican Party should be avoided like the plague allows us to fall right into Democratic Party’s trap; they don’t have to work for our vote because they already have it. Likewise, we shouldn’t allow the current anti-Bush mania to sidetrack us. Being anti-Bush is not reason enough to vote for Kerry. Being anti-Bush, as it’s being played out, is an emotional response designed to get us on someone else’s bandwagon. At best, being anti-Bush is a political sentiment, not a political perspective. The anti-Bush crusade of course, has it’s roots in the Democratic Party. The anti-Bush movement ironically was spawned by campaign finance reform, in the form of 527 non-profits. 527 groups have been around for 4 years, but have now taken on a new importance. Mostly these are Democrats who have found a creative way to keep in the game all that lovely unlimited so-called soft money outlawed by the BiPartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Essentially, the anti-Bush 527 committees are not just anti-Bush, but pro Kerry, even if it’s illegal for them to say so. At the end of the day, they are Democratic party footsoldiers and these wannabe hip-hop voter svengalis aren’t seeking the hardcore change that the country needs, which inspired our generation to delve into electoral politics in the first place. Neither should we buy into the tired argument that a vote for Nadar is a wasted vote. Also, we shouldn’t be duped by the reasoning that somehow if you’re anti-Bush and didn’t vote for Gore in 2000, then you’re personally responsible for the Iraq War. Again an twisted attempt to put hip-hop voters on the Kerry bandwagon. An August 15, 2004 New York Times article about Ralph Nadar’s campaign (“The Secret Shame of the Nader Booster,”) quoted president of Appleseed Recordings Jim Musselman, asking the rhetorical question, “We get to choose from seven different types of Coca-Colas in the supermarket, but we should only have two choices for president?” It’s an important question that gets to the heart of why we shouldn’t vote for John Kerry. Democrats aren’t giving us any real alternative. Kerry isn’t the lesser of two evils, he’s maybe the lesser of two evils-maybe he won’t do us as bad as Bush, but we don’t know for sure. If Kerry has such a wonderful America in store for us, why is it that this Democratic presidential campaign is focused not on Kerry ‘s merits but on Bush demerits instead? It’s time to put Democrats on notice that there are enough swing voters willing to go at least a second if not third way, write in our candidates or withhold our votes altogether. This is the only leverage we have at this point as a voting bloc to get our issues on the nation’s agenda. At some point too this will require hip-hop voters to get involved in the electoral process beyond simply voting. First we must support the political work of organization’s like Citizens Change, The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, the Hip-Hop Civic Engagement Project, the National Hip-Hop Political Assembly, L.I.S.T.E.N. (Local Initiative Training & Education Network), The Urban Think Tank Institute and The League of Pissed Off Voters. Second we have to get involved in the various local hip-hop activist efforts across the country working to mobilize voters and organize youth at the local level-from the Ohio-based B.U.I.L.D. (Blacks United in Search of Local Democracy) to the Denver-based Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition. Finally, we must adhere to the adage “put your money where your mouth is” and financially contribute to campaigns, candidates and or organizations that advance our issues. These efforts, along with a strategic use of our vote, is the only way to get the issues that matter to the hip-hop voting bloc nationally debated in the same way the prescription drug benefit and gay marriage have captured the nation’s attention. If we do this we can and will see in our lifetime substantive change on issues that matter to us. To settle for anything less is to certainly condemn our emerging political movement to the history books of “what could have been” and “if only.” In the meantime, to vote for Kerry just because is nonsense. Bakari Kitwana is the author of The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis is African American Culture, co-founder of The National Hip-Hop Political Convention and an organizer of The National Hip-Hop Political Assembly.