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Redeeming the Youth Vote

Conservative and Christian groups in America are cranking up their efforts to get conservative youth voting. This year, many of them are using the same tactics as the non-partisan and openly left-leaning groups doing voter registration and mobilization.
As November inches closer, reporters and pundits everywhere are predicting a close and spirited presidential race. Young voters, like much of the country, have been polarized over the war in Iraq and a sluggish economic recovery. Until this month.

Since earlier this year, Newsweek Magazine has been polling voters between the ages of 18-29. GeNEXT polls, as they are called, are meant to be a representation of young voter's attitudes toward the candidates. This month, for the first time in the history of the polls, GeNEXT found that more than half of the youth they polled (55%) disapprove of the president's performance. More specifically, 60% of young voters say they don't like the way the president has handled Iraq and 56% of the same voters are displeased with Bush's plans for healthcare, the environment, and education.

All the more reason, then for conservative and Christian groups in America to start cranking up their efforts to get conservative youth voting. It may seem obvious, but much of these efforts are being made through fundamentalist Christian organizations, groups who believe in re-electing a president who is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and unafraid of biblical references in his speeches. This year, many of them are using the same tactics as the non-partisan and openly left-leaning groups doing voter registration and mobilization.

Take the Christian Youth Project, for example. The group formed this year, and clearly has a conservative agenda, although they do not explicitly endorse Bush. Instead, they couch their goals in broad sweeping language, describing the left as "the anti-God, anti-family left' and the right as "the quiet majority.'

The coalition describes the media as a mouthpiece for Democrats, and predicts a saturation of negative coverage towards George Bush in the mainstream news near the election. They are currently fundraising to run a newspaper ad in battleground states that attacks Senator John Kerry's record in the Senate, accusing him of voting too liberal. According to the group's website the Project is also planning a "highly targeted and sophisticated strategy in 10 of these states to identify newly eligible Christian youth and help those in the military or in Christian colleges apply for absentee ballots, and turn out voting-age Christian high school students and new graduates."

By enlisting an army of "new young citizen leaders' the group is clearly taking cues from groups like The New Voter's Project, the State PIRG-sponsored grassroots youth voter mobilization effort to date, and the veteran Music Industry darling, Rock the Vote.

Speaking of Rock the Vote, 2004 has also seen the arrival of a new non-profit Christian campaign called Redeem The Vote, which borrows heavily from the RTV model, using music to raise voting awareness. Redeem the Vote also claims to be non-partisan, asking open-ended questions such as, "You finally have the chance to save the world. What will you do with it?'

The group has yet to directly attack John Kerry or the Democrats but Redeem the Vote founder, Dr. Randuy Brinson did recently appear on the Pat Robertson show, as well as a slew of other "Family-oriented' programming. Vince Lichlyter, the lead singer of Christian rock band Jonah 33, recently accompanied Brinson in an interview with "Family News In Focus' radio program.

"If Christians don't step up in their term, as far as the voting goes, and make their voice be heard," Lichlyter told their audience, "I think the church in general, as a whole, is going to feel the effect."

Jonah 33 is not alone in their concern about the effects of a Democratic win. Building 429, Down Here, Jeremy Camp, The Katinas, and others have agreed to help Redeem the Vote encourage young people to register and vote at different religious festivals and concerts across the nation.

Other conservative Christian groups are launching their own voting strategies. The Christian Coalition of America, one of the largest right-wring, Christian, and grass-roots organizations in the country, has created "Citizenship Sundays,' encouraging Christians to reach out to members of their church, asking their peers to vote in the fall. However, the group does not specifically target young people.

The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, does. Aiming to register three million young people to vote by the 2004 election for the White House, Reggie the Registration Rig is an 18-wheel truck, complete with multi-media capabilities, an X-box, and a sound stage.

The monstrous campaign vehicle is being driven by Republicans Deke and Christine, a couple from Omaha, Nebr. The vehicle hauls across the U.S, stopping at places like speedways, swapmeets and pro-wrestling events. The campaign's website offers a web cam to track Reggie's destinations and postcards from Reggie's various destinations.

Then there are the conservative punk rockers. Conservative Punk is an organization created by Michael Graves. Graves sang in Jerry Only's (the original bass player for the legendary Misfits) reincarnation of the Misfits, or the "Newfits' as the project is sometimes called. The movement critiques the leftist ideals that have often pervaded the punk rock movement. "I believe this is an age of extremism and in it teen angst is being used as a political tool,' Graves states in an editorial he wrote on Conservativepunk.com.

The movement also hopes to register young people to vote and give a voice to right-wing punks who may have been too fearful to make their voices heard in a predominantly leftist music and cultural scene. ConservativePunk.com features right-wing tidbits and news, cartoons, and columns by conservatives within the punk scene. However, Conservative Punk does not appear to have seen the same level of celebrity support as Punk Voter, the National campaign launched by NOFX front-man Fat Mike. Punk Voter has many of punk rock's most influential heavyweights behind it, such as Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Subhumans, and Jesse Michaels, who led the influential group Operation Ivy in the late 1980s. The first in a series of Punk Voter's two CD compilation Rock Against Bush Volume 1, has sold over 200,000 copies so far. There's no word yet on whether Conservative Punk will release their own compilation that is pro-Bush.

Though many conservative groups are trying to influence young people to vote for Republican in November, John Kerry and the Democratic Party are backed by an impressive amount of star-power. Just a small sampling from the list includes: Dave Matthews, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Delong of Blink 182, actor and funny guy Chevy Chase, Jon Bon Jovi, Ben Affleck, and Sarah Jessica Parker. And while many conservatives bash Hollywood, it might be those in the movie and music who can influence and appeal to youth.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Conservatives got hip to the power of the youth vote. The fact that many of these efforts have cropped up this year suggests that it's not just the liberals who see this election as pivotal. Either way, if things go as planned, 2004 could see a record number of youth – of all political persuasions – showing up at the polls.
Brian Fanelli, 20, is a peace and global justice activist. He is also a student at West Chester University majoring in comperative literature with minoring in creative writing and journalism.
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