How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office

adrienne brownAdrienne Maree Brown writes in such a personal voice, you think you're actually listening to her speak. In her essay, "I Hate Politics," you can just imagine her sitting across the table from you with a caffeinated beverage and talking about why people should vote. At the end, she grabs your hand and whispers in your ear, "Here's the real secret -- it's the normal people who make change possible. It's you and me. And now we know how."

The youth vote is hot this year, with everyone from Rock the Vote to Russell Simmons telling young people to get to the polls. Jumping into the frenzy is the League of Pissed Off Voters, a newly formed organization dedicated to educating and mobilizing progressive voters. The League has just released a collection of essays and success stories by a diverse group of authors, which Brown and William Upski Wimsatt ("Bomb the Suburbs" and "No More Prisons") co-edited.

"How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office" provides those wanting to change the world with plenty of examples to follow. Subtitled, "The Anti-Politics, Un-Boring Guide to Power," the book demonstrates how otherwise politically uninvolved youth can play politics on their own terms. And to show that politics can be fun and sexy, each essay is accompanied by a "political sex survey" which asks the author questions such as, "Which politician would be best in bed?" and "What superhero is needed to get us out of this situation?"

WireTap got a chance to talk to Brown, who has a long history of activism, but says she was never politically involved until recently, when the Bush Administration's policies of the last three years turned her into a voter organizer and political activist.

WireTap: At what age did you first vote and did you vote last election?

Adrienne Maree Brown:
I first voted when I was 22 -- in the last national election -- and it was my only time voting. My involvement with the book is definitely coming from the disengaged what-difference-does-one-vote-make pissed off young voter perspective.

WT: Why did you get involved with the League of Pissed Off Voters and what is your role?

AMB:
I got involved because I was in the right place at the right time. The harm reduction community [where I work] has been hit hard by this faltering economy and I was really upset by that. The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq took a lot of faith out of me, I was angry at my country, how could we let this happen? Since Bush "took" office it's literally like watching some weird 1984 disaster reel unfurl. I was diatribing all the time and feeling powerless.

Then Billy Wimsatt came up to me with a survey and I started getting his emails -- and I'm a Virgo first-born -- so I started editing them and sending them back. In the process I got convinced that since it didn't look like the people were gonna rise up in revolution against the madness or anything like that soon, we HAD to try to reclaim electoral politics for representative democracy.

stupid white menWT: What is the organization's desired goal or aim?

AMB:
To engage young people more deeply in the electoral process -- bring power and responsibility back into the realm of the average American; it's been locked up the white halls of the White House for too long. The non-profit will focus on the training element of that -- how do you get young people educated and trained to be voter organizers? How do organizations empower themselves to have an influence in the electoral realm? And then the for-profit is gonna be out there doing voting blocs and voter guides and really empowering people and focusing on candidates.

WT: How does voting connect with activism?

AMB:
Historically it depends when you check in. Around the time of my great-grandparents and grandparents, getting the right to vote was activism. Women, then blacks were fighting and dying for it. More recently, activism was a way of giving the finger to voting and the whole electoral process. You don't listen to us? Well fuck you, we'll just form our coalitions and we'll march and get heard in other ways.

And they are both naughty words really: Activism gets a bad rap as something for the crazies. And voting gets a bad rap as being too dorky and systematic, playing the game of the oppressor. But I'm a cool dork. Let's all be cool dorks -- voting activists launching an electoral revolution.

We have to reclaim both areas as civic duty in our lives. If you care about something you can't expect someone else to do all the work for you. You want us to not be at war? You have to elect someone who sees the military as a defense system, not a police force.

So now we live in a world where voting is activism and vice versa, and it's gotta be the hot shit. Eminem, Nas, Jay-Z and 50 [Cent] need to pick candidates and go on tour for them. L'il Kim needs to tattoo "Vote 2004" on her inner thigh. Chris Rock needs to make a political special. Britney and Hilary and Christina and Kelly and Mary Kate and Ashley need to do a little flesh calendar like Hottest Things About Being Voting Age to get young folks to salivate about electoral power. This activist says it's time we all did the dirty dorky deed and voted -- the future of the world depends on it.



Britney and Hilary and Christina and Kelly and Mary Kate and Ashley need to do a little flesh calendar like Hottest Things About Being Voting Age to get young folks to salivate about electoral power.

WT: Why did you become an activist?

AMB:
I was born. (laughs) Seriously I know there was a before but I can't really remember it. My parents were interracial in the 70s and I was raised to think about people first by content of character. But voter organizing is taking it to a next level for me, it's about giving people power. Returning to the original idea of democracy. Everyone I've ever looked up to, every single one, has been an activist in some way.

WT: What major campaigns or events does the League have planned?

AMB:
Our [Politics 'N' Pancakes] Brunch campaign is big and people determine when and how those events happen -- getting folks to sit in their homes and eat and think about the next election and learn skills that will last beyond the next election. Our book is dropping and there will be an accompanying nationwide tour complete with a movie and trainings that will reach hundreds of thousands of young people. Then there's the website, which is going to be a world unto itself. Indyvoter.org -- can you tell people to go sign up yesterday?

WT: Everyone is throwing the term "youth vote" around. What is your definition of it?

AMB:
Great question. For the League it's technically the 17-35 year old spread, NOT middle aged, NOT kids. On the other hand I think youth is very much a state of mind. We are getting our charge from the young folks, but anyone who is feeling the League vision, tap in, we need elders, we need voters-to-be.

WT: How do you view the partnership with youth?

AMB:
I would say crucial. Anyone who isn't paying attention, who doesn't have youth on her radar, is basically a fool at this point. Who picks up the work, who is the legacy, who lives in the world we create? Really youth are always the central population in any body of people anywhere in the world. If the young people are disengaged or disempowered or ignored -- in other words, not brought to the table -- then you are dealing with a crisis.



Anyone who isn't paying attention, who doesn't have youth on her radar, is basically a fool at this point.

WT: Why should youth trust a youth movement organized by adults?

AMB:
I don't think they should. I think youth should trust a movement that spans from young people through adults. I think youth should trust adults who place youth in decision-making roles. Our span within the organization right now is 16-35 I think, interns to director.

WT: What potential does a youth-adult partnership hold?

AMB:
It's absolutely necessary. I think it can't be stressed enough that both sides have to be fully engaged. The older generation has to be willing to work, impart their wisdom and share responsibility. The younger generation has to realize that a lot of foundation is already laid; a lot of strategies have been tested and proven successful or failures. We have to grasp that there is wisdom in those adults, particularly if they comprehend that they need to work with us!

WT: Why do you think youth are apathetic about political involvement?

AMB:
I don't want to point fingers, but media giveth and media taketh away. This past year of media has really tapped youth away from politics. It was already such a blow when Bush the Lesser ended up President, and before we could catch our breath there was 9/11, and before we could heal there was war, and now it's like, well what the hell can I do, throw my nubile young soul in front of that radical right snowball? For the majority of young folk the answer is No! So instead young people turn to TV and magazines and movies and video games and celebrities and all that.

The Patriot Act passed under the veil of NBA Finals. Joe Millionaire's battling ladies were engaged in the only war given fair coverage. And hey, people need entertainment, I am not against reality shows, I watch them sometimes. But what about reality news? That would be so cool. And what about entertaining politics? My girl Aya De Leon talks about how voting should be as exciting as an athletic event.

WT: What has been the greatest obstacle facing the League? The biggest success?

AMB:
The biggest obstacle is shaking off the routine ways progressive people start to work together -- figuring out what progressive even means anymore. We don't have much time and don't want to be reactionary and don't want to step on toes or reinvent wheels -- but we want to have a measurable effect quickly. It's damn near impossible and we are DOING it.

I think the biggest success is that we exist and we have a vision: We believe in creating social support to strengthen families. We believe in fostering a spirit of shared responsibility and community. We believe in bringing all voices into the public dialogue. We believe in protecting our right to privacy and our freedom of choice. We believe in making real opportunities available to all. We believe in using government to invest in the public good. We believe in being respected and respectful citizens of the world.

Having a vision means we have broken with a reactionary tradition. We know what we are for, in addition to what are against -- that is the first step towards realizing our goals.

WT: Which races are more important, local or national?

AMB:
This coming year, the national election is the most important, not just for American citizens but for the entire planet and any other species in the universe that we haven't met yet.

But generally those local elections are very important too. We have people living outside the bi-partisan stranglehold in a forming utopia called New Paltz, New York, where a young Green, [Jason West], came into power. He's making sound environmental decisions obviously, but also he's really representing the people, the young people too. That happens in pockets all over the country -- it needs to happen in more places. That kind of representation that you can touch and smell and feel is important.

WT: What is your opinion on the youth outreach programs of the various candidates?

AMB:
Dean and Kucinich have done a great job getting young people to respond. The use of MeetUp.com and other web spots is brilliant. Is this political focus deserved? Damn straight. We are the voting mass -- or at least we should be. We're young -- we aren't settled in our ways yet, we have passion and energy and firepower and mobility... we have the most at stake, it's our world, old people just live in it. (laughs) Every single candidate should be courting the youth vote, asking us what we want, and then building their platforms around that.

Of course they have no reason to yet, so I commend those who have courted us. But that's what the League is doing. We're making ourselves the most important population to win for any candidate.

WT: What is the League doing to educate potential voters?

AMB:
Several elements of our programming are education focused: the website, www.indyvoter.org, will have tons of ways for people to tap in and get educated, plus the brunch curriculum will be up there, which is nothing more than simple briefs on a variety of political subjects that you can shoot the shit with your friends about over brunch or dinner.

Then there's the tour de force: progressive voter guides. We already had two in Cincinnati and New Orleans, and there will be more. These are guides written by League individuals to just give some peer-to-peer knowledge about the candidates and issues up for vote. So many folks never make it to the voting booth 'cause they don't even know what's being voted on, or once they get in there it's all a confusing mess. But we're about making it all common knowledge.

WT: What advice do you have for those who will vote for their first time in 2004?

AMB:
Don't wait 'til you've voted to think of yourself as a voter. Go to indyvoter.org, tap into the network, download the progressive voter guide for your area or write one. Start talking issues with your friends over brunch, throw parties to raise funds for the candidate that least offends your heart, find out what the dynamics are for your state -- can you vote third party, do you need to vote Democratic?

Organize your friends -- your town even -- to vote as a bloc for the issues that matter most to you. Wake up election day and call five friends and remind them to vote and check in with them later to make sure they did it. Or go together. If you have a car arrange a car pool. See if there's a local candidate that could use your help. Volunteer to be an exit poller. Don't wait for life to happen to you. Go make it HAPPEN.

Check out IndyVoter.org for more information about the League of Pissed Off Voters.

Arturo Perez is a 23-year-old editorial intern for WireTap.

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