Slogans are the bread and butter of many political campaigns, but it seems it takes a flashy political statement to fight another. According to MTV’s online news page, under pressure from voting organizations, a group of Harvard professors and others, including hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, Urban Outfitters pulled a retro-style T-shirt sporting the slogan “Voting Is for Old People” from its 57 stores in North America.
The shirt was created by T-shirt maker Vintage Vantage, headed by 26-year-old Yale grad John Foster-Keddie, who says the tee was intended to be an ironic jab at “all of us who’ve been so apathetic in the past.” In a statement to MTV News, Keddie said. “So we’re banned in the USA, just like 2 Live Crew! We think it’s hilarious.”
Months before retail outlet’s ironic anti-voting T-shirt hit shelves, the Oregon Bus Project developed the slogan “Vote, F*cker.” Originally suggested as a late-night prank call exclamation to college students, it landed on a limited run of T-shirts then evolved into a phenomenon.
When the Vanguard approached Urban Outfitters outlet at 2320 N.W. Westover Rd. in Portland’s “trendy-third” shopping district, employees had been ordered not to comment, except that the shirts “were to be destroyed.”
So “Vote, F*cker” worked, right? Jennifer Yocom, director of operations for the Oregon Bus Project, said, “their anti-voting shirt appeals to a sort of anti-establishment market. You don’t want people to protest the current power structure by deciding not to vote. You want them to protest by voting.”
Yocom viewed Urban Outfitters’ action as irresponsible, not comical. “Any marketer knows suggestion permeates the public. Especially this year it’s so important that politics are taken seriously.”
Oregon Bus Project started as a political action committee to elect progressive candidates. It is funded by individual and group donations but hold no formal coalitions with like-minded organizations like punkvoter.com.
“We’re about stewardship, planning for the future and not blaming our parents for our current problems,” Yocom said. “I think that’s one of the biggest farces. If you’re not participating, you can’t complain about the result.”
“Our generation thinks of government as ‘us versus them,’ which is OK,” Yocom said, “but we fail to realize that the fourth branch of government is people.”
Jefferson Smith, a Portland attorney and Oregon Bus Project founder, told the Oregonian that he blames apathy on a shortage of candidates who can excite and engage young people, a feeling that individuals can’t make a difference and the dominant role of money in politics.
Though conceived in 2002 and introduced on shirts last December, the slogan was a timely antithesis to “Voting Is for Old People.” “We’d like Urban Outfitters to carry both shirts and see which sells best,” Smith said. “We could call it a ‘shirt-off.'”
“Vote, F*cker” T-shirts are available for $24 postpaid from www.votefcker.org or contact Oregon Bus Project at 503-233-3018.