Keeping It Real

A. What percentage of college students in a recent Harvard survey did not identify as either Republican or Democrat?
B. In what year were 18-year-olds given the right to vote?
C. Which past presidential election had more eligible 18-25-year-olds than 2004 will?
D. How many new voters does Russell Simmons' Hip Hop Summit Action Network plan to register for 2004? (Answers below.)


Storming the PollsThese are the kinds of facts and figures that fill boxes, bubbles and charts in WireTap Magazine's new book, Storming the Polls: How to Vote Your Views and Change the Rules. And they are interesting. But offering more than just numbers, or even facts is what elevates the book from a charming reference manual to an effective pamphlet. The editors -- Jean Chen, Twilight Eve Greenaway and Julia Bloch -- make it clear from page one that "Storming the Polls," for and by youth, is preoccupied with drawing a bridge (think spray-paint on a brick wall) between the daily lives of youth and the act of voting.

The media, citing low voter turnout, are fond of repeating that youth are apathetic, lazy and hell-bent on taking democracy for granted. "Storming the Polls" isn't satisfied with pat conclusions. Rather, the book opens by contrasting these voter numbers with others to paint a distinctly different picture: Among youth (defined roughly as 18-25) one-fifth have participated in a march or demonstration; half have raised money for charity; and as many have boycotted a product due to the conditions under which it was made. Youth even volunteer in greater numbers than any other age group.

So why don't they vote?

A question involving so many cultures, communities, ideologies, sexual orientations and ethnicities, isn't easily dealt with in a single book -- let alone a slim one ("Storming the Polls" is a breezy 72 pages). The book could merely have devised a conclusion and followed with a series of carefully chosen arguments to support it. But this is not simply an analysis of youth voting patterns or a parental call for responsibility -- it's for youth. And a generation weaned on MTV editing, electronic music, and the connected culture of cell phones and the web speaks, sees and learns differently. Where others scold, WireTap celebrates.

Mimicking pop culture, "Storming the Polls" samples styles, perspectives and formats to "get the conversation started." Samples include an interview with Fat Mike of Punkvoter.com, the lowdown on the "sleeping giant" hip-hop vote, top 10 reasons to lower the voting age, and even a quiz to determine your "voting personality." Its success has everything to do with giving readers the room to build a picture of a complex system without discussing every last component.

"Storming the Polls" is ultimately a tune then, seamlessly weaving "nuts and bolts" information like voter registration with articles mapping the psychological and emotional territory young people explore in determining the contours of their politics. The editors highlight only what they call "the tip of the iceberg," inspiring the reader to want to dive into the vast and varied youth culture that lies beneath the surface. Or, at the very least, "to vote and give a shit."

Evan Derkacz is an Editorial Fellow at AlterNet.

AlterNet and WireTap are projects of the Independent Media Institute. Their editorial departments operate independently of each other.

(A: 38; B: 1971; C: 0; D: 2 million.)

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