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October 2004
Changing Our World, One Vote at a Time
The Satya Interview with Adrienne Maree Brown


Photo courtesy of Adrienne Maree Brown

Adrienne Maree Brown, 25, is a writer, activist, and singer living in Brooklyn. She is co-editor of How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office, the anti-politics, un-boring guide to power. Previously the Program Manager of the Harm Reduction Training Institute of New York and co-founder/director of the Conscious Movements Collective, she currently runs a national training program focusing on electoral basics, electoral reform, and issue-based and campus organizing as Program Director of the League of Young Voters. How to Get Stupid White Men Out Of Office (Soft Skull Press) is the tipping point for an unprecedented historical time when the developing youth-led political movement, from Seattle to peace to sweatshops to immigrant rights to hip-hop, has awakened and begun to flex its cultural influence. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to talk with Adrienne Maree Brown about the book, her roll in the League of Young Voters and the upcoming election.

Have you always been an activist?
As long as I have been an adult I have been—I haven’t been a voter organizer the whole time, I started only a year ago. I got pulled in through creating the book; my long-term work has been working with HIV and AIDS with young people and drug use education. Teaching people safe ways to avoid overdose and things like that.

That’s tough work. Made even tougher under the Bush administration. It all ties in with the election…
Absolutely. Basically any issue that people have been working on for the past couple of years has a space at this election. We have all faced budget cuts and have seen funds heading down the drain. And we have all seen just how little this administration cares about young people. I think that we are not going to get a different outcome until we start pushing for a different outcome, whether it be more funding for AIDS awareness, or revamping our education system. Being a much more vocal presence is extremely important.

How did you become involved with How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office?
I was in the right place at the right time. The harm reduction community had been hit hard by this faltering economy and I was really upset by that. The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq took a lot of faith out of me, I was angry at my country—how could we let this happen? Since Bush “took” office it’s literally like watching some weird 1984 disaster reel unfurl. I was diatribing all the time and feeling powerless. Then Billy Wimsatt (a journalist and activist, and representative of the League of Pissed Off Voters) came up to me with a survey. I started getting his emails and editing them and sending them back. In the process I became convinced that since it didn’t look like the people were gonna rise up in revolution against the madness soon, we had to try to reclaim electoral politics for representative democracy.

I have seen the book How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office linked with several different organizations. How is everyone related?
Basically, we are all sister organizations rooted in the same set of values. We just take those values and use them to serve different functions. For example, the League of Young Voters is considered the training organization. Their primary focus is to train people under the age of 35, all across the country, with different voter organizer skills. They base the training on models that young people have already been using, as well as community organizing models. The League of Independent Voters, basically the next step, coordinates field campaigns—they work to establish people on the ground as field organizers. Then you have the League of Pissed Off Voters, who serves as the political action committee of the ‘sisterhood’ and concentrates on endorsement plates.

That’s quite a groundbreaking activist network. Do you see How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office as the official how-to manual for changing the world?
No, it’s not really a manual for changing the world; it’s examples of how individuals have changed their world. And from reading about it, people will immediately be able to start bringing about change. As young people, people of color, we have to come to realize just how much the odds are stacked against our families and ourselves. It is increasingly harder to pay for school as students; the issues we deal with as a result of being minorities are increasingly more evident and it is increasingly more difficult to be taken seriously as a young person. All of these challenges stacked against us give us more reason to speak out. If we don’t do it, no one will do it for us.

How are you currently working to get people involved?
We have tons of ways for people to tap in and get educated, plus the brunch curriculum, which is nothing more than simple briefs on a variety of political subjects that you can shoot the shit with your friends about over brunch or dinner. Then there’s the tour de force: progressive voter guides. These are guides written by League individuals to give some peer-to-peer knowledge about the candidates and issues up for vote. So many folks never make it to the voting booth ‘cause they don’t even know what’s being voted on, or once they get in there, it’s all a confusing mess. We’re making it all common knowledge.

Why do you think youth are apathetic about political involvement?
I don’t want to point fingers, but media giveth and media taketh away. This past year media has really tapped youth away from politics. It was already such a blow when Bush the Lesser ended up president, and before we could catch our breath there was 9/11, and before we could heal there was war, and now it’s like, well what the hell can I do, throw my nubile young soul in front of that right radical? For the majority of young folk the answer is No! So instead, young people turn to TV and magazines and movies and video games and celebrities and all that. The Patriot Act passed under the veil of NBA Finals. Joe Millionaire’s battling ladies were engaged in the only ‘war’ given fair coverage. Hey, people need entertainment, I am not against reality shows, I watch them sometimes. But what about reality news? That would be so cool. And what about entertaining politics?

What is your personal desired goal?
My objective is to simply engage young people more deeply in the electoral process—bring power and responsibility back into the realm of the average American; it’s been locked up in the white halls of the White House for too long.

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