History of Rock the Vote
Founded nearly twenty years ago in response to a wave of attacks on freedom of speech and artistic expression, Rock the Vote quickly established itself as the premier organization representing the intersection of young people, politics, and popular culture.
Whether it’s Madonna wrapping herself in the flag for the first Rock the Vote PSA or Snoop Dogg launching our bus tour in 2004, Rock the Vote works with artists who really believe in and promote our mission.
Rock the Vote works with artists to grab the attention of young people, and engage them in building a political movement to fight for young people and the issues that affect their lives. Since its inception, Rock the Vote has run innovative and successful voter registration efforts. Rock the Vote was the first organization to introduce telephone voter registration as well as online voter registration and has run the largest young voter registration drives on record during the past 4 presidential elections registering, then educating and turning out millions of young voters over the past 18 years.
Today Rock the Vote represents the historic and groundbreaking 18-year intersection of music and politics, reenergized by the recent integration with Young Voter Strategies, a research-based organization that provided grassroots organizations and campaigns with resources and best practices for mobilizing young voters.
Incorporating best practices and a grassroots approach with Rock the Vote’s 70% plus brand recognition and entertainment platform lays the groundwork for an even more powerful organization in 2008 and beyond.
Rock the Vote Timeline
Rock the Vote takes on the war on voting. Restrictive voting laws that disenfranchise millions of young voters were implemented in dozens of states across the country. The new laws require voters to show certain types of photo identifications when casting a ballot, eliminate Same Day Registration, push back Early Voting, and restrict community voter registration activities. Through on the ground and online activation Rock the vote mobilizes its membership to fight back and advocate for laws that allow broader participation and access for young Americans. In addition, Rock the Vote released the first ever Voting System Scorecard that ranks all 50 states according to their laws and practices that increase voting and registration access and foster participation.
In December, Rock the Vote, League of Women Voters Florida, and FL PIRG file a suit in federal court in Tallahassee that challenges Florida's onerous new restrictions on community-based voter registration drives. RTV, LOWV FL, and FL PIRG ask the court to block Florida’s new restrictions on the basis that they violate both the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act.
On March 23, Rock the Vote launches its first ever Democracy Day celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. On Democracy Day, teachers in all 50 states commit to teaching RTV's high school civics education program, Democracy Class, in more than 1,200 classrooms. The program reaches tens of thousands of students directly and millions through marketing and promotion. The launch kicks off in Los Angeles off with Darren Criss, from Fox’s hit series Glee. Throughout 2011 Rock the Vote celebrates Democracy Class with students, educators, elected officials, and celebrities, including Rep. Jay Inslee, The New Boyz, Cali Swag District, Jermaine Dupri, Kat Graham, Shawne Merriman, and Jason Derulo.
Rock the Vote runs its largest midterm election campaign ever. The youth vote surges at college campuses when Rock the Vote is on the ground. At North Carolina Central University, voter turnout is 13 times higher than in 2006. At University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, voter turnout increases 31%. Voter turnout increases by 49% at University of Florida, and by 46% at University of Pennsylvania.
Rock the Vote surpasses our goal of 200,000 voter registration downloads from the website by 50% with more than 300,000 forms downloaded! RTV also establishes strong online partnerships with influential entertainment, media and civic groups such as Lady Gaga, Jason Mraz, Long Distance Voter, Electionland, Color of Change and New Era Colorado.
Rock the Vote runs a “Tweet the Vote” campaign with celebrities like Cali Swag District, Faith Hill, Maroon 5 and Pink. The campaign receives over 9 million impressions on artists’ pages. RTV also runs a “Vote Fearlessly” campaign and partners with celebrities like Kate Walsh, Dane Cook, Nick Cannon, JoJo, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and David Banner.
Rock the Vote educates young people on key issues including health care reform. RTV acts as a voice for young people and advocates for the provision in the health care bill that allows young people to stay on their parents insurance until they’re 26. RTV partners with Citizen and Funny or Die to run an ad campaign about health care.
In 2009, RTV also develops the Democracy Class program. The program educates high school students about voter registration, active citizenship and how elections affect their daily lives. Rock the Vote also redevelops the online voter registration tool to facilitate registration.
Rock the Vote runs the largest voter registration drive in history, using a combination of online, mobile and grassroots outreach resulting in more than 2.5 million individuals downloading a registration form.
Rock the Vote partners with celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Anne Hathaway to increase voter turnout for the third consecutive election cycle, nearly 6% points since the 2004 elections.
Rock the Vote integrates with Young Voter Strategies to bring research and polling expertise to the organization. Young Voter Strategies, a nonpartisan project in partnership with The Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University, worked to provide the public, parties, candidates, consultants and nonprofits with data and research on the youth vote as well as best practices to effectively mobilize young people.
Rock the Vote joins with 15 other nonpartisan organizations, including the PIRG’s New Voters Project, Black Youth Vote! and League of Young Voters, in a project to register 350,000 young voters funded by the The Pew Charitable Trusts. The collective effort surpasses its goal and registers over 500,000 young people to vote.
Partnering with AARP, Rock the Vote launches the “I Y Social Security” campaign to educate young people on the value of the government’s Social Security program. The campaign includes dozens of town halls across the country involving everyone from Community Street Team members to elected officials.
Rock the Vote honors the Black Eyed Peas with the Patrick Lippert Award, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are awarded the Rock the Nation Award, and former President Bill Clinton receives the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rock the Vote launched its 2004 campaign by partnering with CNN to produce "America Rocks the Vote," a Democratic presidential candidates forum at Faneuil Hall in Boston. This debate was considered by many to be the liveliest and most informative of the entire race.
At its peak in late September of 2004, nearly 40,000 people came to Rock the Vote's website in one day to fill out voter registration forms. The total online voter registration downloads for the 2004 campaign exceeded 1.2 million. Rock the Vote’s partnerships with over 1000 web partners, cutting-edge media campaigns, and successful brand marketing made it all happen.
15,000 Community Street Team members reached out to their communities, empowering under-30 voters to make themselves heard on November 2nd. The Rock the Vote Bus Tour makes its way across the country, visiting college campuses and public events, registering voters and educating young people on the issues that affect them daily. Through these efforts, Rock the Vote registers 200,000 people on the ground.
Rock the Vote instituted a Voter Call system through which volunteers made Election Day reminder calls to our Online Voter Registration list in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon. Rock the Vote also sent out millions of emails to our list promoting GOTV.
As a resource for people of all ages with needs of all kinds, the Rock the Vote website in 2004 saw dramatic increases in traffic across the site as the election neared. In January 2004, the site saw 3.4 million hits; by July, it had reached 8 million hits per month. In October, the Rock the Vote website had 27.4 million hits from people registering to vote, learning about the issues, and finding ways to get involved. According to an online Polimetrix survey with 20,000 participants, over 45% of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed had visited our website in the months leading up to the election.
Our innovative project with Motorola signed 118,000 young people to receive political information and GOTV messages through their cell phones. Our daily messaging in the final days of the campaign included celebrity voicemails that explained how to find a polling place via the web or through an automatic patch-through to 1800MYVOTE1.
Rock the Vote and MTV honor Alanis Morissette and Peter Gabriel with the 10th Annual Patrick Lippert Awards. Chuck D. is presented with the Founders’ award. The evening features performances by Vanessa Carlton, Robbie Williams, Public Enemy and the Flaming Lips.
Rock the Vote announces a partnership with Ben & Jerry’s Homemade ice cream to register new voters.
Rock the Vote launches its new online voter registration tool to make it simple and fun to register to vote.
In communities across the country, Rock the Vote Community Street Teams are organizing young people and registering hundreds of thousands of voters.
Rock the Vote’s Community Street Teams expand to 35 cities with 1,274 young people volunteering nationwide. They contribute 8,264 hours of volunteer time at hundreds of community festivals, concerts and parades.
Rock the Vote registers over 200,000 new voters with its Community Street Teams, online voter registration, Secretary of State Birthday Card program and other partners.
Rock the Vote supplies over 150 organizations and schools nationwide with free voter registration kits that include registration forms and instruction manuals, stickers and Rock the Vote Every Day resource guides.
Rock the Vote partners with 85 radio stations nationwide, including 65 Radio One stations, airing Rock and Rap the Vote PSAs and “Get Out the Vote” messages by artists.
Rock the Vote reaches millions of young people online, distributing voter registration and mobilization flash pieces, and posting online banners to seven sites with over one million impressions.
Rock the Vote launches a 34-city national voter registration bus tour sponsored by 7UP. At each site, young people venture into Rock the Vote’s Soap Box, giving them the opportunity to sound off on political issues.
Rock the Vote honors the Dave Matthews Band and Destiny’s Child at the 9th Annual Rock the Vote Awards. Aaron Sorkin is given the Rock the Nation Award and Rock the Vote board member and President of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, Pam Horovitz, is presented with the Founders’ Award.
Rock the Vote honors Mary J. Blige and Carlos Santana with the Patrick Lippert Award at the eighth annual Patrick Lippert Awards. Reverend Jesse Jackson is given the Rock the Nation award and Rock the Vote board member and President of the MTV Group and Chairman of Interactive Music, Judy McGrath, is presented with the Founder’s Award.
Rock the Vote launches 15 Community Street Teams across the country. Street Team members are Rock the Vote’s way of bringing activism back to the streets to mobilize and increase youth political participation. Community Street Team members conduct peer-to-peer organizing activities through organizing tactics and guerilla street marketing.
One hundred twenty young people serve as Street Team members this year and together they contribute over 3,000 volunteer hours to Rock the Vote activities. They participate in 242 field activities, collect 31,565 hate crime petition signatures, distribute 79,000 “Fight For Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination” guides, and register 4,000 young people to vote.
MTV and Rock the Vote partner on MTV's “Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination” (FFYR) campaign. Rock the Vote provides grassroots support to the FFYR campaign, and creates Community Invasion events off the TRL tour attended by thousands of high school students.
Rock the Vote partners with the Los Angeles County Commission for Human Relations to work on a public education campaign to combat discrimination and intolerance and build an infrastructure for youth to develop interpersonal skills, cultural sensitivity, peace building and peacekeeping skills.
Rock the Vote relaunches its online voter registration application on its newly redesigned web site at www.rockthevote.com, registering almost 165,000 new voters. For the first time, visitors to the site can apply for absentee ballots, with over 20,000 young people using the service.
Rock the Vote hits the road on a 25-city, four-month bus tour, educating and registering new young voters nationwide.
Rock the Vote partners with Russell Simmons’ 360HipHop to create Rap the Vote 2000, asking members of the hip hop community to "Register. Vote. Represent."
A series of new print PSAs telling young people to "Piss off a Politician" and vote are produced and run in national magazines including Rolling Stone, Vibe, Young and Modern, and The Source.
Rock the Vote partners with the Southwest Voter Participation Project and produces television PSAs that target young Latinos and encourage them to get out the vote. The spots run on MTV.
Rock the Vote partners with GLAAD to produce a series of print public service announcements featuring The Murmurs, JP Pitoc, and Jason Daniel Roberts that target gay and lesbian youth.
Rock the Vote partners with MTV to distribute an internet flash piece, reaching over eight million young people with a “Yes or No” issue campaign.
Rock the Vote registers over 500,000 new voters with its radio partners, volunteers, concert tours, bus tour, and web site.
Rock the Vote and MTV record a series of “Get Out the Vote” phone calls by Stephen Jenkins of Third Eye Blind, Jewel, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys, Rah Digga and MTV’s John Norris. The calls reach almost 200,000 young people in the days before the election.
Rock the Vote honors Bono and Sting with the Patrick Lippert Award at the seventh annual Patrick Lippert Awards. Rock the Vote board member and President of the Recording Industry Association of America, Hilary Rosen, is presented with the Founder’s Award, and President Bill Clinton is given the Rock the Nation award.
Rock the Vote produces a series of PSAs featuring the true stories of young people who have taken the initiative to create positive change in their communities. The spots air on Fox, ABC, MTV and TBS.
"I’m a Politician", a series of PSAs developed by Rock the Vote, run in national magazines, including Vibe, Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Thrasher, and Allure. Tower Records distributes posters from the campaign nationwide.
Rock the Vote develops “Use Your Power to Rock the Vote Every Day,” a guide to political activism, and distributes it through record stores, community organizations and schools.
Neil and Pegi Young, Wyclef Jean, KROQ - Los Angeles and KKBT The Beat - Los Angeles are awarded Patrick Lippert Awards at Rock the Vote’s sixth annual benefit. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is honored with the first Rock the Nation Award for her dedication and commitment to young people and communities around the world.
Rock the Vote expands both its focus and organization and rewrites its mission statement accordingly, dedicating itself to protecting freedom of expression, and helping young people realize and utilize their power to affect change in the civic and political lives of their communities.
Together with MCI and the AARP, Rock the Vote "Rocks the Ages" with NetVote ’98, a voter registration and information web site designed to register and get Americans of all ages to participate in the political process.
“Rock the Vote Every Day,” a public education campaign designed to empower young people to change their communities through civic participation, is funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Together with its partner organizations, volunteers and radio partners, Rock the Vote helps register over 250,000 new voters during the ’98 Congressional election season.
The Beastie Boys and Salt-N-Pepa accept Patrick Lippert Awards at the fifth annual benefit.
Rock the Vote partners with Rhino Records to produce “Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote,” including performances by Joan Osbourne, Isaac Hayes, The Roots, Etta James, John Popper and more.
Rock the Vote fights anti-First Amendment legislation in communities nationwide, working with a national network of volunteers to educate youth on the issue and to mobilize young people to voice their concerns.
Rock the Vote’s Fourth Annual Patrick Lippert Awards honor Sheryl Crow, LL Cool J, radio stations Q101/Chicago and Jam’n 94.5/Boston, and Steve Young and the NFL Quarterback Club.
Rock the Vote receives the Computerworld Smithsonian Award for Innovation in Technology in recognition of its 1996 telephone and Internet voter registration programs.
Rock the Vote debuts the first program to register voters by phone, 1-800-REGISTER. Closer to the election, Rock the Vote converts the number into 1-800-ROCK VOTE to give callers the number of their local elections office to request absentee ballots or locate their polling place.
Working with MCI, Rock the Vote develops the first web site to offer on-line voter registration, dubbed NetVote ’96.
Rock the Vote goes on the road with the MTV "Choose or Lose" Bus and registers almost 40,000 voters. Rock the Vote registers over 500,000 new voters through radio partners, volunteers, concert tours, MTV’s Choose or Lose bus, 1-800-REGISTER, and NetVote ’96.
Radio Rocks the Vote, a program intended to engage youth in the Presidential election, is launched. The Ford Foundation awards Rock the Vote a grant to evaluate expanding the program into non-Presidential election years.
Rock the Vote and MTV publish 200,000 copies of a free non-partisan voter guide, educating young people about the issues and candidates in the 1996 election.
Chuck D of Public Enemy and Hootie & The Blowfish are honored at Rock the Vote’s Third Annual Patrick Lippert Awards.
Rock the Vote produces the Peabody Award-winning "Out of Order: Rock the Vote Targets Health," a series of short dramatic films focusing on health care issues and featuring up-and-coming stars Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Joey Lauren Adams and Amy Smart. The Second Annual Rock the Vote Patrick Lippert Awards honor Pearl Jam and Queen Latifah.
Rock the Vote creates and distributes over one million free copies of “Rock the System: A Guide to Health Care for Young Americans,” a pamphlet on health issues affecting young people.
The First Annual Rock the Vote Patrick Lippert Awards is held in memory of Rock the Vote’s founding Executive Director, Patrick Lippert, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993. R.E.M. accepts the inaugural award, honoring those making a significant contribution to our common future through extraordinary achievements in empowering young people.
On May 20, 1993, President Bill Clinton signs the Motor Voter Bill into law, highlighting Rock the Vote’s role in the bill's passage during the White House bill-signing ceremony. Rock the Vote partners with activist groups to lobby for the National and Community Service Trust Act. The bill, designed to encourage volunteerism, is signed into law by President Clinton on September 21, 1993.
Rock the Vote produces public service announcements (PSAs) with various artists including R.E.M., En Vogue, Aerosmith, Queen Latifah, Eddie Vedder and others. The PSAs air on networks such as MTV, VH-1, BET and Fox. Rock the Vote also partners with the National Association of Secretaries of State to produce additional PSAs for local television broadcast.
Fox Television broadcasts a one-hour, Peabody Award-winning Rock the Vote television special hosted by Queen Latifah and featuring Michael Douglas, Madonna, Robin Williams, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock and others.
Rock the Vote and its partner organizations register 350,000 young people and help lead over two million new young voters to the polls. On Election Day, these young people reverse a 20-year cycle of declining participation with a 20 percent increase in youth turnout compared to the previous Presidential election.