Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Vote or shut up?

(This is the English version of the blog I posted yesterday in Spanish.)

If the 2004 P. Diddy-driven “Vote or Die” campaign can be criticized for a sloppy slogan and design, the just-launched campaign for the youth vote in Puerto Rico, “Vota o quédate calla’o,” is equally (if not more) sloppy.

A bit over two weeks ago, this TV commercial aired in Puerto Rico, featuring Daddy Yankee, baseball player Carlos Delgado, singer Janina, volleyball player Karina Ocasio, basketball player José Juan Barea and Rocky “The Kid.”

Here is a hasty transcription/translation of what the commercial says:

There are more than 700,000 Puerto Ricans between the ages of 18 and 35. In 1980, elections were decided by 3,000 votes. In 2004, by 3,500 votes in 8,000 poll sites. Less than one vote per poll site made the difference. One vote per poll site! That means that your vote is worth a lot. So much so that, with it, our country's history is written. You have until January 19 to register. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Or stay silent.

I didn’t know about the commercial until I read an excellent article by Rafah Acevedo in this week’s Claridad titled “Voto cuando las gallinas meen...”. The title is a play on the popular saying about children being allowed to speak only when hens pee… in other words, never. In the article, Acevedo says that, though the campaign claims to be stimulating youth to use their right to voice their opinions through the vote, in the end, the campaign actually silences young people.

I love the peeing chicken illustration and the author’s critical perspectives. Click here to read the entire article.

I’ll give the campaign the benefit of the doubt and assume that there are good intentions behind it. Of course it sounds great, that whole business about getting young folks motivated to be involved in their country’s affairs, to exercise their right to vote. But what happens when the candidates are a bunch of liars, thieves and clowns? What happens when our only option is to choose among candidates that are (to quote my currently favorite Tego song) “ni fú ni fá”? What are we asking young people to do? To be thankful for the opportunity to choose among two or three weak candidates since that is their only chance to intervene in their country’s affairs?

But that’s not true! Voting is not the only (or, often times, even the best) way to voice our concerns or participate in positive social change.

That phrase they picked as the campaign’s slogan is horrible, but an excellent example of how the campaign is misleading: “Vota o quédate calla'o.” Do they mean that not voting is like not speaking, something like “Vote or be silent”? Or do they actually mean “Vote or shut up”? (As if, if you don’t vote, you have no right to an opinion about what goes down.)

Since this campaign seems to take its cues from its “Vote or Die” U.S.-based predecessor, here are some critical approaches to the older campaign: Radio commentary by Davey D and a video featuring artists M-1, David Banner, Juvenile and others:

I confess that, if things keep going the way they are here in the States, this year (for the second time in my life) I’ll grit my teeth and vote for the president for the same reason I voted in 2004: I don’t like Democrats, but I fear Republicans.

But that is simply my (somewhat tragic) decision based on strategy to vote for the lesser of two evils.

I won’t hold it against anybody if they don’t vote, as long as they do it because they care and not because they don’t. And, most importantly, I hope that if they don’t vote, they make sure they DON’T SHUT UP.

1 comment:

raquelzrivera said...

From the comments posted on the myspace version of this blog (

Peace Dr. Raquel,

You already know where I stand on this one (remember Chicago?). It's ironic that people unjustly locked in a cage think they can negotiate with the Warden for the keys to their freedom. For Puerto Ricans taxed without representation, we're stupid to think that we have a stake in this. When the U.S. economy falls, PR will be forced to go for self and it won't matter who is president.

Posted by David on Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 3:57 AM
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Raquel Z. Rivera

Oh, do I remember Chicago?! (For readers not there: Talib Kweli spoke at the Hip Hop and Social Change Conference. When he said he didn't vote, half the audience was appalled, the other half (self included) applauded. The conversations that followed were CRAZY.)

Thanks for the trip down memory lane, David... and for the years (and counting) of illuminating conversation.

Posted by Raquel Z. Rivera on Friday, February 01, 2008 at 7:01 AM
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Thanks go out to you for being a scholar who isn't alienated from the culture she studies.

Posted by David on Saturday, February 02, 2008 at 7:10 AM
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I'm happy to report that I've been voting since becoming eligible in the early 90's. Voting in this particular election appears to be more critical than any other time in history. It is my hope that people don't just talk about voting, but actually go out and vote. Even if one is frustrated with the pool of candidates, it's best to pick the best person for the job than letting the wrong person get in...again. At any rate, great post.

Posted by Lor on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 4:06 AM
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