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Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-712

@U2, February 28, 2016
By: Sherry Lawrence


off the record, from @U2

In 1992, U2 created “VOTE BABY” bumper stickers and pins for fans. During the American ZooTV Outside Broadcast shows, they were reminding fans to get out and vote in the upcoming election. “VOTE” would appear in the subliminal messaging during “The Fly,” after all. The mocking of President George H.W. Bush from the stage in 1992, and Bill Clinton engaging with U2 during things like the band’s Rockline radio interview, could have swayed votes for sure during the election.

U2 wasn’t the only band pushing for the youth to vote in 1992. The Rock The Vote campaign was in full-swing with R.E.M., Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others encouraging the key 18-25 demographic to register and vote. At the time, MTV had a powerful platform to reach that key demographic of young voters.

Now, 24 years later, we have a slightly different landscape with social media taking up the charge to engage those who may be voting in their first ever presidential election. Many current artists have shown support for Rock The Vote, but I’ve yet to really see how they’re organizing the message to get out there and vote in the 2016 election. Even though I’m now fully immersed in middle age, I recognize the importance of the youth vote -- especially with the current presidential primary season. National Public Radio has identified 10 states where the 2016 presidential election can be decided by millennials.

I live in a “Super Tuesday” state where we will be voting in the presidential primary on March 1.  Like many Americans, I’ve been watching the debates and doing the fact checking on the candidates and such. This is the first election in a very long time where I have deep doubts about what the future holds. I don’t know if this is middle age talking or if it is because of the nature of current events. The theme of “It’s your world – you can change it” on the screen during “The Fly” feels so remote as it’s hard to get past the flaws of whoever ends up as the leader of my country.

I know that celebrity endorsement shouldn’t sway a vote, nor should it be interjected when it’s not asked for. If there was ever a time for Bono to share his unique perspective on this process, it would be now. This is why the rumors of a possible U2 North American mini-tour in the fall are of particular interest as it would provide a “VOTE BABY”-style platform like it did in 1992. Although they may not be reaching the 18-25 year old demographic, they could sway the voting of the older middle-agers like myself – especially in those 10 states where the youth vote could make all the difference. I understand that his views might impact the advocacy he does on behalf of the ONE Campaign and (RED), but this election feels like the work of those two organizations will be impacted by whoever wins the presidency.

Tricky times, for sure. I may have one vote, but I hope that enough Americans like myself who have the privilege to vote exercise our responsibility to actually go to the polls and vote.

If the 2016 presidential election cycle is too depressing, then maybe the 2016 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates should provide just the antidote to believe that we really *can* change the world. In this year’s letter, they highlight “opportunities we see to overcome these often overlooked challenges” and encourage high school students to take up the fight on behalf of those who don’t have the ability to do so.

They write, “Poverty is not just about a lack of money. It’s about the absence of the resources the poor need to realize their potential. Two critical ones are time and energy. More than one billion people today live without access to energy. No electricity to light and heat their homes, power hospitals and factories, and improve their lives in thousands of ways. Likewise, a lack of time creates obstacles too. It’s not simply the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. It’s the crippling effect of having to perform the backbreaking work that needs to get done when there’s no electricity.”

When you combine the efforts of The Gates Foundation, ONE Campaign, and many of the other organizations that are all focused on achieving a common goal, it’s encouraging to see what progress can be made.

Tame Impala won Best International Group at last week’s BRIT Awards for its album Currents. Not surprisingly, many were a bit miffed that U2 didn’t win the award. It actually started trending when NME’s Sam Moore wrote a blog article about U2 fans venting their displeasure on social media. Any seriousness Moore had in the article was quickly removed when he quoted @fakebono. So, was the miffed U2 fan really a thing, or was he looking for something to write about and decided to take on U2 fans? Sure, we may not be as well organized as Beyonce’s Beyhive or Taylor Swift’s Swifties, but we are just as passionate!

And finally … The ZooTV Tour began on Feb. 29, 1992. Only 7,251 were in attendance for the show, so if you thought getting Dublin tickets were tough in 2015, try getting tickets for opening night in Lakeland, Florida! In honor of the launch of one of the most influential tours in U2’s history, here’s the full opening night show.

Have a great week!

©@U2/Lawrence, 2016

Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.

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