NEW YORK — As political press conferences go, it was unusual to say the least. Backed by a DJ and surrounded by chanting kids and giant monitors, P. Diddy vowed to make voting "sexy" on Tuesday as he announced his newest exploit, a voter-awareness campaign called Citizen Change.
Referring to himself as "Citizen Combs," the media mogul/athlete/actor/fashion designer said Citizen Change's goal is to champion the cause of youth and minority voters, or as he has dubbed them, "the forgotten ones" — a group comprised of the more than "42 million Americans age 18 to 30 that are eligible to vote on November 2."
According to Puffy, Citizen Change will be a nonpartisan organization aiming to "educate and empower" groups that Diddy sees as not adequately represented by politicians and thereby not well-represented at the polls. The burden of changing this trend is not for the nation's leadership alone, he said. "We cannot hold [politicians] accountable if we don't hold ourselves accountable."
The dilemma of voter apathy and subsequent disenfranchisement has been addressed by many other groups, but the man who invented the remix is characteristically mixing it up. He said he would make voting appealing in "the same way we make a Biggie album, a Sean John shirt, or a Spider-Man movie hot, cool and sexy." Citizen Change is going to hit the streets and "go into your world ... saturate the marketplace and overwhelm [the voter]."
Diddy has teamed up with fashion designers to create T-shirts that he aims to use to "make politics fashionable." "People use fashion to create a statement all the time," he pointed out. Now he hopes they will be making the statement "Vote or Die," which is emblazoned across the Citizen Change tees that Tyson Beckford proudly modeled at the press conference.
But Citizen Combs isn't satisfied with just getting people to sport his motto. "We will attack all your senses," he declared, announcing additional partnerships with television shows, Web sites and a "coalition of the willing" of more than 100 celebrities.
During the press conference, questions arose regarding his motives, and Puffy denied that he wants to swing the election one way or the other, asserting that he is "just doing this 'cause it is the right thing." "God has blessed me with these talents [to inspire young people and make things hip] and I don't know why. I am not trying to make this the Puffy show, I'm trying to light the spark and start the flame."
Despite his insistence that the group is nonpartisan, its staff consists of mostly liberal political advisors, such as James Carville, the outspoken liberal co-host of CNN's "Crossfire." The group plans to split its time "50/50 for both candidates to speak to the people." Puffy has already sat down to talk with Democratic candidate John Kerry (see "Ass-Kicking P. Diddy Meets With Kerry, Young Republicans"), and he began talks with Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie on Monday night.
Toward the end of his address, Puffy issued an open call to all other leaders interested in joining him, specifically imploring Republicans to become involved, saying, "I give you my word that this is not about the party, it's about the people."
There are "people dying inside because of no education, and literally dying because of no healthcare," he said, assuming a grave tone. "If I'm scaring you, then good, 'cause that's how serious that is."
Though he puts up a good front, Diddy admittedly still has a lot to learn when it comes to politics. When asked about his last voting experience, he sheepishly admitted that he hasn't voted since 2000. But rather than view this fact as hypocritical, he cast it as a plus: It just goes to prove that "I'm not talking from the outside," he said.
Diddy explained that he needed details about the issues and candidates explained to him, an experience he thinks young people and minority voters also desire. "It's like if you only speak English and you are watching Telemundo — that's what CNN seemed like to me."
In the coming months, Diddy and Citizen Change will be working with MTV's Choose or Lose campaign to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions, to produce a show about hip-hop and politics, and ultimately to get 20 million young people to vote on November 2.