With apologies to a better-known predecessor, Brett Kimberlin and Jeff Cohen could have called their organization Rock the Vote Harder. Instead, the two Bethesda residents settled on the Justice Through Music Project. But the title of the group’s new DVD does maintain an echo of the MTV mantra: It’s called Rock Your Rights: Vol. 1.
Cohen, a 40-year-old entertainment attorney, “wanted to give youth a voice,” explains Kimberlin, who became the group’s director and now runs the project himself. “He felt that most of the organizations out there were full of adult-speak. They’re all sanitized. They’re afraid to address certain issues.”
The result is a Web site, www.jtmp.org, that Kimberlin calls “loaded with content” and a DVD that’s loaded with opinions. The 40-year-old musician and activist interviewed band members and area adolescents—filmed at American University and Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School—and interspersed their remarks with clips of performances, mostly shot at local venues. In addition to Kimberlin’s own group, Epoxy, the lineup includes D.C.’s Darkest Hour, Richmond’s Strike Anywhere and Lamb of God, and Delaware’s Boy Sets Fire. There are also a few older or less punk-oriented acts, notably the Indigo Girls, Cypress Hill, the Violent Femmes, and Dilated Peoples.
The commentary isn’t always profound. Many of the musicians merely advocate getting involved, registering to vote, or otherwise giving a damn. One fuchsia-haired high-schooler fatalistically opines, “Statistically, everyone ends up doing drugs.” Another young commentator, an ex-drug-user, expresses support for anti-drug laws, and one more endorses the invasion of Iraq. Such right-leaning judgments are rare on Rock Your Rights, but Kimberlin says they’re welcome.
“We’re a [nonprofit] organization,” he notes. “We’re nonpartisan. We try to give some balance. To tell you the truth, we couldn’t find any bands that support most of the issues that the current administration espouses. I just couldn’t find ’em.”
Kimberlin, who conducted all the interviews and shot some of the live footage, even sought a video clip of George W. Bush speaking to young people about voting. After consulting the White House, the Republican National Committee, and C-SPAN, he had to settle for the president at a fundraiser. “The footage of Kerry, by contrast, he’s at a school, sitting with kids, telling them about the importance of voting.”
“I want everybody to get involved,” Kimberlin says. “Only 32 percent of kids voted in the last election. We’re hoping to double that.” To that end, Justice Through Music has produced audio and video public-service announcements that will be played on WHFS-FM and MTV this fall, is planning one or more voter-awareness concerts, and has “already registered thousands of people to vote,” according to Kimberlin.
Partially underwritten by in-kind donations from Rockville’s Video Labs and Baltimore’s SEC Media, Justice Through Music has also begun distributing Rock Your Rights free to schools nationwide. So far, Kimberlin says, feedback has been favorable. “A lot of these teachers feel, like I do, that kids have been ignored. I want these things to be shown in the schools and then everyone to start arguing about the issues.
“Civics and political-science classes,” he adds, “are kind of dry. This is going to spice things up a little.” —Mark Jenkins