The idea behind Rock the Vote was simple: get young people to vote for politicians who wouldn’t censor music.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, facing a wave of music censorship that included Parental Advisory stickers on records to the arrest of rap performers in Florida, political operative Steve Barr and Virgin Records exec Jeff Ayeroff launched Rock The Vote.
The organized movement behind Rock the Vote focused on the “Motor Voter” bill, which would allow people to register to vote at the DMV when they got a driver’s license, and to register by mail. In short, they wanted to encourage young people to engage in the voting process by making registration easy and welcoming.
After a successful petition drive in 1992 (with help from REM), the Motor Voter bill passed Congress, only to be vetoed by president George H.W. Bush. Bush’s opponent in that election year, Bill Clinton, took up the cause of the Motor Voter bill, and signed it into law when he became president as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Here is video from committee hearing for the National Noter Registration Act in congress, April 17, 1991, showing 19-year old MF DOOM (Zev Love X) with his partner Onyx from the group KMD. They’re sitting with Rock the Vote co-founder Steve Barr, speaking to Sen. Wendell Ford of Kentucky.