Voting Isn't As Important As Being Informed

by Michael Sharp

(Michael Sharp, a member of the national Advisory Council of the African-American leadership group Project 21, is a freelance writer and hydrogen plant operator in Freemont, Ohio.)

A New Visions Commentary paper published April 1997 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail, Web Reprints permitted provided source is credited.

"If you don't know anything about the issues, don't vote," said Bill Maher, host of "Politically Incorrect," at a Rock the Vote convention in Chicago.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've watched the commercials, and I've read the ads. They include Choose or Lose, Rock the Vote, and numerous other contemporary slogans designed to drum-up voter participation among the younger generation. The various spokespersons for these pitches happen to be current celebrities from the entertainment industry whose blossoming sense of civic responsibility is manifesting itself in the guiding of the Generation X'ers into the voting booth. At first glance this seems a very admirable goal, but upon further inspection the question arises: is this the most intelligent thing to do?

Please excuse my sarcasm. I know I run the risk of sounding selfish, self-centered and elitist by bringing this up, but I think these voter participation drives warrant at least a discussion, especially among our African-American entertainers, singers, rappers, actors and comedians. My problems with this voting drive are that the ads encouraging voting and their spokespersons don't address some major concerns about voting -- concerns such as issue awareness. In typical Hollywood fashion, these commercials are perpetuating the myth that all you have to do is vote and all will be right with America. While it is true that voting is the very cornerstone the principles of democracy are built upon and many of our ancestors have been denied voting rights and have fought and died in the name of suffrage, the underlying sentiment behind this concept is the individual's responsibility to know the issues. If a voter isn't aware of the issues, what good is that vote? Even if by happenstance that vote is genuinely in America's best interest, it's still not the most advisable method of accomplishing goals. This type of logic is the equivalent of jumping into the deep end of a pool without having the slightest idea of how to swim. There is a chance you may learn how to swim quickly but the odds of that happening are astronomical. Am I telling anyone not to vote? No way! Those who can vote have a responsibility to vote. What I'm saying is along with that responsibility is a responsibility just as important -- knowing the issues.

The purpose of this article is not to berate our entertainers who are doing what they feel is right. The purpose of this article is to get them to think, or at least acknowledge that their words and actions do have consequences. This is why I am taking issue with the brothas and sistas who are starring in these ads. I realize that their heart is more than likely in the right place; I just question their thought processes. Instead of Rocking the Vote, why not start off the process with Knowing the Issues? I happen to be of the opinion that entertainers, just like religious leaders, should remain separate from politics. If they are going to cross over, however, do so for the right reasons in the right way. If you're an African-American entertainer concerned about our communities, in particular our poorer communities, do a commercial about that. If entertainers are that concerned about civics, why not address the dilemma black people face when we are called to vote in elections that we historically have had no one to vote for that represents our particular needs? If entertainers are to use their fame as a political instrument, they should do so in a limited capacity. Use their fame to bring to light the issues, nothing more. Guide the people who follow you to look in depth at an issue, then let them make up their mind about it. It seems to me that these are the topics our artists should be concerned about. Miscommunication and an ignorance of the issues are the primary reasons why black folks are in the predicament that we are currently in. These entertainers should be motivating their fans to educate themselves about issues and to think for themselves rather than tell them what to do. It seems to me that they as artists should concentrate more on the truth of the matter than on it's appearance.

Let's face it: America is the greatest country in the world and our black ancestors are partly responsible for that accomplishment. Now the baton is handed to us. America will still be great but the question is: Will it be because of us, or in spite of us?



Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author and not necessarily those of Project 21.