GOP Pressures Rock the Vote to Stop Talking About the Draft

StoryOctober 19, 2004
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Last week GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie sent an extraordinary letter to the group Rock the Vote requesting that it “cease and desist” from promoting its campaign warning young voters that the government may reinstate the draft. Gillespie threatened to take legal action and said the group’s non-profit status could be in jeopardy. [includes rush transcript]

The head of the Republican National Committee has threatened to take legal action against the pro-voting group Rock the Vote and to challenge its non-profit status if the group continues to discuss the possibility that the government may reinstate the draft.

In an extraordinary letter sent last week that has received almost no media attention, Republican chief Ed Gillespie wrote to the group and accused it of “promoting a false and misleading campaign designed to scare America’s youth into believing that they may be drafted to serve in the military.”

Last month the group sent a mock draft notice by email to over 600,000 email addresses. Gillespie described the possibility of the reinstatement of the draft as an urban myth and as proof cited a statement by President Bush that there would be no draft.

Gillespie went on to write “As a non-partisan organization that enjoys the benefits of being formed under 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, you have an obligation to immediately cease and desist from promoting or conducting your 'Draft' campaign.

In response, the head of Rock the Vote, Jehmu Greene described the threat as a “textbook case of attempted censorship.” Greene wrote to Gillespie “By your logic, there should be no debate about anything that you disagree with. There’s a place for that kind of sentiment (and your threats), but its not here in our country.” We speak now with Jehmu Greene.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Egan, I want to bring in Jehmu Greene, who is president of Rock the Vote. Jehmu, can you describe your organization, and then what happened with this letter that you got from the head of the Republican National Committee, Gillespie?

JEHMU GREENE: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having us. Well, you know, the draft is a live-wire issue for young voters right now, and Rock the Vote’s street teams and young people across the country are talking to us about how students and young voters are talking about the draft. We have been working on this campaign for several months to just bring to attention of both candidates, both — to all of the candidates running for Congress, how important this issue is to this generation, and that they deserve an honest debate. Unfortunately, after we put out a campaign over our website and had number of public service announcements running, the chair of the Republican National Committee decided that this was not an issue that was relevant for young people. This was not an issue that he thought should be discussed, and has asked Rock the Vote to cease and desist. But talking to an organization that was founded on freedom of expression, and telling them to shut up, basically, is not something that’s going to work, especially with this generation, especially with an issue that’s so top of mind and so important to the young people who are seeing the war against terror being fought out on television and, of course, seeing it on the front lines.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid of being legally threatened?

JEHMU GREENE: We are absolutely assured that we are operating within the bounds of our 501(c)3 status. There are a number of issues that we have been talking about all year, not just the war and the possibility of a military draft, but young people’s need for health care and the financial stress that this generation is under because of the rising costs of college tuition, the — you know, amount of debt that college students are graduating with. And the draft is one of the set of issues that we have been, you know, really highlighting for the candidates and highlighting to this generation as these are the decisions that are going to be made by the people who are like elected to office and we need them to have an honest debate on all of these issues. This is not something that we’re concerned about that’s going to put the organization in jeopardy because at end of the day, we are just saying to the candidates, talk to this generation, talk to us about the issues we care about.

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