P. Diddy's appeal to youth: "We will attack all of your senses"

Published July 20, 2004 10:09PM (EDT)

If you're old enough to vote but young enough to know what "pimp your ride" means, P. Diddy wants to "overwhelm you and excite you" into voting this November. Sean Combs, the rapper turned music mogul turned non-profit founder, launched a get-out-the-youth-vote campaign today called Citizen Change, with the stated goal of "educating, motivating and empowering the more than 42 million Americans aged 18-30 that are eligible to vote on November 2nd." Will P. Diddy triumph where MTV only met with minor success? Getting youth to vote isn't easy, but where issues fail to excite, money and merchandising might help.

Judging from its unveiling at an event at New York University, Citizen Change will have plenty of both. Combs says that he will utilize all of his "God-given talents as a marketer to market this election" and "make politics fashionable." Today's event was the NGO version of bling-bling, with balloon sculptures, slick graphics flying across flat screens and James Carville in sunglasses and a green suit. Combs assembled his own "coalition of the willing," an entourage of socially-conscious celebrities including 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher, Ben Affleck, Jay Z and Ellen Degeneres, some of whom modeled the campaign's silk-screened T-shirts bearing the slogan "Vote or Die," produced by Combs' own clothing line Sean John as well as Ecko and Phat Pharm.

Although Combs has some former Clinton aides working for him, including Carville, he insists his efforts are bipartisan and that he has already spoken to Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie about getting more Republicans involved. The music and fashion mogul has also been hitting up his friends, using "all my relationships to mobilize the power brokers" in the entertainment and sports industries. Citizen Change has already forged alliances with the Black Entertainment Network, media conglomerate Clear Channel and MTV's turnout-promoting Choose or Lose.

Combs thinks that his effort to market the presidential election will attract the "largest youth and minority voter turnout in history." His plan to make it happen? "We will attack all of your senses," Combs says. That means huge "Vote or Die" signs on street corners, a new P. Diddy album about voting out before November and a last-minute celebrity blitz in swing states in the days leading up to the election, including trips on Combs' own campaign jet.

Will any substance make it through all the flash? P. Diddy thinks so; he says he's just trying to address youth in a language they understand. He claims that one of the main reasons for low voter turnout among America's youth is that politicians aren't addressing the issues that affect young people in a manner accessible to Generation Y. "It's like if you speak English and you're watching Telemundo," he said. It's safe to maintain some skepticism about Combs' "rock and awe" campaign, given the challenge ahead of him. But if catering to the materialist instincts of 18-30 year olds is really what it takes to fight their political apathy, then more power to P. Diddy. It certainly can't hurt.

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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