Performer and political activist Wyclef Jean was in Newark on Friday to attend a “Rock the Vote” event at Essex County College. The event entitled “uWork Behind the Music” is part of an effort to raise awareness among voter-aged youth about the importance of voting and civic engagement. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider had a chance to speak with the Grammy-award winning artist about the youth vote in the year’s election.
In his get-out-the-vote message to a crowd of young voters recently, he challenged anyone who felt voting didn’t matter.
“At times, they get frustrated because they don’t feel that their vote counts and once I heard them speak, I explained to them how important voting is,” said Jean.
In 2008, there was an upsurge in the youth vote which was largely attributed to the excitement of the Barack Obama candidacy . Four years later, there is skepticism about whether the youth will turn out in full force. According to Jean, the youth vote will again be a factor this November. He added that voters who may feel let down by unfulfilled campaign promises view the Obama presidency in the context of the legislative process.
“The main thing is that there is enough youth that understand … that if you want a bill passed it has to go through a congress,” said Jean. “The youth has seen Barack Obama attempt a bipartisan front many times and I think they will show up in big numbers to vote.”
He added that even his Republican friends and family members feel Obama is the right person to steer the country forward at this time.
“He used everything from healthcare to making our country safer and the idea is if he gets four [more] years, I definitely believe he can do much more,” said Jean.
Polls have continually shown a gender gap, with female voters favoring President Obama over Mitt Romney by a significant margin. Asked about Romney’s appeal to young voters and whether there is a youth gap that favors Obama, Jean said there is a general likeability about Obama that attracts young voters.
“They just could relate and could identify with him much more. I think in the case of Romney, there’s a lot of catch-up to play here.”
Jean, who is a native of Haiti, uses his early experience in his native home which was at one time under a dictatorship to underscore the hard-fought right to vote.
“If you don’t exercise the right to vote … people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, different people that have sacrificed their lives to make us be in a position of independence, we’re doing their souls a disservice,” he explained.
President Obama’s debate performance last week was widely derided by political pundits and late night comedians alike. Jean’s advice to Obama going into the remaining two debates is to connect more to the American people.
“He just has to focus on telling the American people … this is where my policy is going and this is where I feel job creation is going — just a clear message this is where we need to go as Americans.”