Picture it: Philadelphia. 2000. N*SYNC’s It’s Gonna Be Me was simply another Billboard hit and not a meme, whale tails (thongs) flourished in the wild, and the generational gap between politicians and youth voters was wider than the flare on Christina Aguilera’s jeans.
Al Gore and George W. Bush were deep in their respective Presidential campaigns, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was working overtime to champion voter education and registration for young people. ….wait, what?
As America is abuzz over the idea of Dwayne Johnson eschewing his film roles and occasional WrestleMania appearance for his chance to run the country, let’s take a look back at the time he helped become the people’s champion…of voter registration, that is.
Here we see The Rock speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2000 as part of the Smackdown Your Vote! initiative, “a non-partisan voter registration campaign sponsored by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), Youth Vote 2000, Project Vote Smart, MTV’s Choose or Loose, and World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc.”
Johnson was personally invited to speak on the importance of voter registration – specifically those who had just turned 18 – by then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. In retrospect, yikes.
The Rock’s appearance was heavily criticized by L. Brent Bozell, founder of the Parents Television Council, despite the fact that he does not identify himself as a member of the Republican party like Johnson does:
George Bush should do what corporate America is doing in droves — disassociating itself with the vulgarity and violence the [WWE] weekly markets to over 3 million children. Over 30 corporate CEOs have pulled their sponsorship of WWF Smackdown! As the de facto CEO of the GOP, George Bush should make the responsible decision and do the same thing.
In the beginning of the video, you can hear Johnson addressing Bozell’s claim that whoever invited The Rock to speak must be on drugs, saying “If freedom of expression is a drug, then I certainly suggest that Mr. Bozell should try some.”
The PTC would keep up its (Monday Night) war with WWE over the course of the following year, organizing an advertiser boycott of Smackdown (including AT&T, Coca-Cola) and citing the company as the reason behind deaths in young children who watched and then imitated the violence portrayed on the show.
WWE, in turn, sued the PTC for libel — a suit that ended in a $3.5 million settlement and a public apology from the council.
In bi-partisan spirit, The Rock and Chyna showed up at the Democratic National Convention during that same election, but were not called upon to speak. Ultimately, Smackdown Your Vote! would end up registering 150,000 new voters during the 2000 election. The initiative continued on in subsequent elections, turning Candice Michelle into a political pundit and gave us this gem of a time capsule wherein Kelly Kelly explains mid-term elections and healthcare:
Fun fact: the young Republican arguing that it falls to business to provide healthcare and not the federal government grew up to be a public school teacher in New Jersey where 82 percent of the student body relies on free/reduced lunch programs.
The Rock continued bi-partisan campaigning to increase voter registration during the most recent election while taking a break from shooting his Jumanji, teaching his 2.1 million YouTube subscribers how to vote and threatening bodily harm if they didn’t. Regardless of his political affiliations, his continued commitment to this specific cause would be a feather in his cap for any future political aspirations.
And hey, if that whole becoming President thing doesn’t work out, we’re sure he’ll still be welcome in the New Jersey Legislature: