July 27, 2017; CNN
Robert Ritchie, the Michigan-born rapper-turned-country-star better known as Kid Rock, announced this week he is forming a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with the aim of promoting voter registration in the U.S. This was on top of a recent Twitter declaration that he is also considering a run for the U.S. Senate in Michigan. While critics have been quick to label both actions a promotional stunt designed at selling Kid Rock merchandise, he does join a long list of celebrity-initiated efforts at increasing civic engagement, particularly directed toward a younger generation of voters.
The 1990s saw the creation of Rock the Vote, which claims to be the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization geared at increasing the youth vote. In addition to building off the allure of pop music artists to make voting seem like a hot, sexy activity, Rock the Vote has been engaged in public policy around “motor voter” registration as well as building one of the first online voter registration tools in the country.
Another rock icon who submerged himself in the wonky world of civic engagement is Krist Novoselic, former bass player in the ’90s epic bearer-of-the-crown grunge band, Nirvana. Worldwide concert tours brought him into political arenas where he observed cultural differences in people’s abilities to engage in democracy, and he wanted to do something about it here at home. Those efforts led him to Fair Vote, a nonprofit organization best known for promoting ranked choice voting in elections. He now chairs the board and is a frequent spokesperson.
If Kid Rock is sincerely toying with running for elected office himself, he is likely making an informed choice to opt for the (c)(4) designation for his nonprofit, which will allow for greater political activity and even endorsement of candidates. According to Nonprofit VOTE’s 2016 “America Goes to the Polls” report, voter turnout of 18–29 year olds in 2016 barely hit 50 percent, and his home state of Michigan turned out 65.7 percent of eligible voters. This is activity for which the nonprofit sector has always been an important vehicle to engage citizens. So, with that, we say, “Welcome 2 the Party,” Kid Rock!—Jeannie Fox