Stars promote youth voting

The walls of the National Press Club’s main ballroom reverberated Monday with the voices of professional wrestlers who vowed to “lay the smackdown” on voter apathy.

The World Wrestling Entertainment held a press conference to promote its voting initiative, Smackdown Your Vote!, giving away free T-shirts and temporary tattoos to youth groups in attendance.

“The youth vote is back,” said Gary Davis, vice president of corporate communications for the WWE and executive director of Smackdown Your Vote!

The phrase “laying the smackdown” is a popular refrain of WWE superstar The Rock, who did not attend Monday’s event.

Standing in front of a semicircle of college students wearing gray T-shirts with “V-O-T-E” emblazoned on the front, Davis introduced a group of WWE superstars and representatives from the New Voters Project, MTV’s “Choose or Lose” and record executive Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Action Summit.

The groups were also on hand to introduce a National Voter Issues Paper titled “The 18-30 VIP,” a booklet outlining the major issues candidates will be focusing on in the election, such as the economy and post-war occupation of Iraq.

“We love America and know the future lies with young people,” WWE superstar Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw, dressed in a tan suit and yellow tie, spoke about his love of America and the civic responsibilities that entails.

If young people vote in the upcoming election, said Bradshaw, they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

“(The) future of America is awesome,” he said.

The project’s slogan, “20 Million Loud,” refers to the 18 million young people who voted in the 2000 election plus the 2 million people that Smackdown Your Vote! hopes to mobilize for 2004.

Several groups, including GW’s Graduate School of Political Management, have joined the WWE in its campaign to register young voters in dozens of states.

WWE superstars Chris Nowinski, Shaniqua and John Cena expressed support for the voting drive.

“Young people care about more (important issues) than PC or Mac, and boxers or briefs,” Nowinski said.

He cited specific issues he believes relate to young people, including the makeup of the enlisted personnel serving in Iraq – 70 percent of the occupation force is between the ages of 18 and 30, he said.

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony member Layzie Bone, representing the Hip-Hop Action Summit, said it was important that young people be “heard as voters so we have an impact this year.”

Conference participants also talked about the importance of “The 18-30 VIP” in encouraging young people to vote. Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters, said her group would be asking VIP-related questions at a nationally televised Democratic debate.

While one person’s vote might not make a difference, said Maxwell, there are 40 million young people in the United States who will play a big role in determining the outcome of the election.

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