In her acceptance speech as the Green Party vice presidential nominee in July, hip-hop activist Rosa Clemente said to applause "we can lead a nation with a microphone. Hip-hop has been that mic, but now the Green Party needs to be the power that can turn up the volume and blow the speakers out."
Green Party Convention attendees likely knew a lot about Green Party presidential nominee and former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, but unless they knew the difference between KRS-One and Ludacris, they probably hadn't heard of Clemente.
Clemente, a Puerto Rican South Bronx native, recently stumped in Las Vegas at the 3rd Biennial National Hip-Hop Political Convention, a project she co-founded in 2003 and that is backed by the not-for-profit National Black United Fund.
Clemente feels the Green Party can attract voters by bringing hip-hop political questions to bear on the presidential campaigns. The hip-hop agenda includes addressing the need for expanded criminal and economic justice and educational opportunities for non-wealthy Americans. For many in the hip-hop community, presidential politics should mostly concern expanding and guarding human rights -- the right not to be abused or singled out by the police, the right to affordable healthcare, to real protections against gender and race discriminations, the right to federal assistance in the wake of a disaster, for example.
"I wanted people to know that the hip-hop generation has an activist side," the 36-year-old North Carolina resident said. "It's not just about music, it's not about rappers," she added. "The artists help push the politics forward, but you still need people who are leaders. And hip-hop has that."
Clemente said that it is now her goal to bring the young, African-American, Latino, working class and often voice-less members of the hip-hop community into the political arena by urging them to register and vote Green this fall.
"We're asking to get 5 percent of the electorate so we can be at the table," Clemente said. "There's no reason that there's only two parties at the table."
The Green Party will likely be on the ballot in 36 states in November. Five percent of the national vote is a threshold for established party status in many states. If the Green Party meets that goal, its candidates will be more viable and therefore in a better position to negotiate with the two main parties to have their issues addressed. The Green Party in Europe started out with very little support decades ago but now routinely pulls down impressive vote totals. There were six Green Members of the European Parliament elected in 2004.
But 5 percent of the U.S. vote is huge. The Green Party received 0.1 percent of the national vote in 2004 and only 2.7 percent in 2000, when third-party big shot Ralph Nader was on the party's ticket for president.
Clemente said she's confident the hip-hop community will make the difference this fall.
"If hip-hop decides that they want to be at the table," Clemente said, "the hip-hop community has to go to the Greens, and we'll have our 5 percent of the electorate."
Image: 2 August 2008, Hip-Hop Convention, Las Vegas.