Last night, Downtown New York's finest headed Boom Boom Room-ward to celebrate Downtown for Democracy and OHWOW's new joint tome, The Pocket Guide to Politics. The guide, helmed by Audrey Gelman, a D4D board member and Scott Stringer's press secretary, and published by OHWOW's Aaron Bondaroff, was created as a primer for their creative friends, many of whom were at the Kanon Vodka-sponsored party -- from Theophilus London to Lena Dunham to Mia Wasikowska to Andre Saraiva. According to Gelman and Bonderoff, most of their artist/filmmaker/actor/musician buddies are interested in politics, but aren't sure where to begin. The book is a mix of basic facts and helpful charts, mixed with artwork by Andrew Kuo, Nate Lowman, Terry Richardson, Casey Neistat, Tim Barber, Aurel Schmidt, Dan Colen and Alex Kalman, among others. We emailed a few questions to Bondaroff and Gelman about the book, and they were kind enough to respond.
How did the Pocket Guide to Politics come about?
Aaron Bondaroff: Years ago, I did an event with Downtown for Democracy to get young people to register to vote. They've now re-grouped in advance of the upcoming presidential election and approached me to get involved. Truthfully, I didn't understand politics 100% and really wanted a breakdown of it. That's where the concept of the book came from -- a general need for an educational tool... Cliff Notes on the subject. I felt it would help a lot of people to understand politics, to have a guide like this, with contributions from so many downtown artists to make it more visual.
What exactly is the history of Downtown for Democracy, and what happened to it up until this point?
Audrey Gelman: Downtown for Democracy was founded in 2003 by a group of artists who wanted to involve the creative community in the 2004 presidential election. Through art auctions, benefits, readings, and concerts, D4D raised over $1.5 million in less than 12 months and used that money to register hundreds of thousands of new voters, air television ads, train field staff, and mobilize volunteers in grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts in Pennsylvania and Ohio, reaching young people and creative professionals across the country. A broad coalition of artists, writers and designers contributed work to support D4D, many of whom are back in 2012 to help relaunch the organization. D4D disbanded in 2006, mostly because many of the founders kept the organization going through volunteer efforts during late nights and on weekends.
Who is your target audience? The book details some very basic facts about politics. Were you guys surprised about how little your friends actually knew about the workings of the American political system?
AG: Many of our friends tell us they don't get involved because they don't know where to start -- that's why we wanted to create a resource that laid out the basics of American government and politics, not unlike a mini civics textbook. Our target audience are the people in our community -- many of whom we grew up with, work with, who want to engage in a dialogue about current events and political issues, but feel they've been out of the loop for too long.
What do you hope a reader of this book will do right after he/she finishes reading it?
AG: Register to vote.
What are some things members of New York's creative community can do in the upcoming election season to make a difference?
AG: Give a what. For decades, political scientists have established that when our peers encourage us to get involved, we listen -- simply put, social pressure is directly correlated to voter turnout. If the creative community puts itself out there and demonstrates a genuine interest in political action, the millions of young people it influences will follow suit.
If last year's unofficial motto/image of the Obama campaign was Shepard Fariey's "Hope," what do you think this year's should be?
AG: One of best things about D4D was that it inspired artists to incorporate current events into their work. Shephard Fairey actually credits D4D with inspiring him to create the now-iconic Barack Obama "HOPE" poster. We're encouraged by how many people have taken to the streets to make their voices heard, but we believe that the the motto for progressives this year should be "WHERE'S THE PLAN?" The Tea Party had a plan to dominate the 2010 elections and capture numerous House seats. That's why Downtown for Democracy will be partnering with CREDO, a progressive PAC to spend the money it raises on unseating "The Tea Party 10" -- the ten most radical members of this movement who were elected two years ago.
There's not much mention of the Occupy movement in the book. How come?
AG: We believe the Occupy Wall Street movement has had a tremendously positive impact on the dialogue in this country -- it influenced lawmakers to begin talking about income inequality, the consolidation of corporate wealth while middle class families lost their homes, jobs and hope. Andrew Kuo's pie chart captures the dilemma that many have when questioned about the movement; while many of its features may be offputting, their message cuts to the very essence of what's wrong in American society today and what needs to change. That change can be effectuated in many different ways, but we're all working together to achieve it.
You guys had a big fun party at The Standard last night. Do you think adding some glitz and glam and hipness to politics is important?
AB: It's more about gathering people to pass information to one another -- in this case, the book. We are here to spark a conversation about politics and let the community know that we have a responsibility as creative minds to make decisions and inspire each other to maintain our creative freedom.
Photos by Benjamin Lozovsky/BFAnyc.com