Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


T-shirt sparks debate about political, voter apathy among young people

As Urban Outfitters stores nationwide hastily removed a vintage-style T-shirt that read “Voting is for Old People” from their shelves last Friday, the local branch of the mega-retailer had little to worry about. Upon receiving the T-shirt in one of their earlier shipments, the managers of the State Street Urban Outfitters had deemed the shirt inappropriate and shipped it to another store branch.

“It was a shirt that just wasn’t cool in any way,” said Alex Einsman, a manager at the Urban Outfitters on State Street.

The T-shirt, which pronounces its message using a disco-era font and a graphic of a hand placing a ballot in a box, incited a national buzz of criticism and debate. While the 25-year-old Yale graduate who designed the T-shirt told the New York Times he only meant to poke fun at young people’s apathy, many critics felt the T-shirt was encouraging young individuals not to vote by hinting that voting is not “cool.”


In a press release, Urban Outfitters said they decided to discontinue the T-shirt because there was a “continued misunderstanding” about the intended message of the shirt.

“Urban Outfitters is a company primarily made up of young women and men who are obviously very concerned with the future of this country. We are optimistic, open-minded and outspoken — our manner is the antithesis of apathetic. We have no interest in discouraging anyone, much less young people, from voting,” Urban Outfitters said in the press release.

Although Amy Schye, a manager at the Urban Outfitters on State Street, said the store has carried controversial T-shirts in the past, she said store employees at the local branch felt this T-shirt would not go over very well on a campus as politically active as Madison.

“I’m sure some people would have gotten upset,” Schye said, adding she is not overly surprised the national Urban Outfitters chain decided to stop selling the T-shirts.

Schye said the shirt was never even put out on the floor of the State Street shop.

“We just asked to get it transferred out of our store,” Schye said.

Einsman said Urban Outfitters stores can decide on an individual basis what items they want to carry, so the decision not to carry the shirt was not a big deal. He added that the Urban Outfitters on State Street has a lot of merchandise other chains of the store don’t carry, while occasionally there are certain items the store on State Street doesn’t have that other stores do.

However, Einsman admits employees did see the potential downfalls of carrying the T-shirt.

“I could see it as being more of a problem than anything,” Einsman said.

Local organizations react

Indeed, some groups had taken issue with certain aspects of the T-shirt when it was on the market.

“It’s certainly insulting,” said Ben Manski, co-chair of the National Green Party and a second-year University of Wisconsin law student. “But I think young people are smarter than whoever designed this shirt.”

Manski said he understands that the artist designed the shirt as a commentary on the voting habits of young people. However, he emphasized that the stereotype of the apathetic young person is no longer accurate.

“This T-shirt is a little bit behind the times,” Manski said, adding the high level of youth activism, particularly in cities such as Madison, directly contradicts stereotypes of young people as voters who don’t care.

Don Eggert, co-chair of Students for Kerry, agrees. He said local students had a strong presence during the Wisconsin primary election.

“In the three campus wards, we were able to get almost 2,000 students out to vote. I’m confident that in November, with everything on the line, we’ll see a very high turnout,” Eggert said.

Eggert also said he feels the message of the T-shirt won’t affect young people on the University of Wisconsin campus.

“That message is a cynical message,” Eggert said. “And on a university campus like this one, students are just the opposite — very idealistic.”

Evan Mitz, a Madison representative for the New Voters Project, said he hopes UW students realize the message the T-shirt conveys is an out-of-date cliché.

“The perception that ‘Voting is for Old People’ is derived from politicians who ignore student issues and students who vote at a dismal rate,” Mitz said. “When more students vote, politicians will give more attention to student issues.”

Mitz also pointed out that the number of young people who do vote has been on the rise.

“In the last election, the 18-24 demographic only voted at a 36 percent rate nationally. This year, the voter turnout rate in Madison for the presidential primary rose from 24 percent four years ago to 45 percent,” Mitz said.

In addition, Mitz said the shirt may also have a positive side to it.

“These shirts can also be seen as a symbol of campus dialogue. As voting issues become the center of campus discussion, more students will become politically aware and involved,” Mitz said.

Frank Hennick, co-chair of Students for Bush, had not seen the T-shirt but had heard about it. He said while it was unfortunate someone was trying to make money off of such a T-shirt, he didn’t think the shirt would have much of an impact on young people.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a T-shirt. It’s a stupid T-shirt, but it’s still just a T-shirt,” Hennick said.

National groups protest, offer their own T-shirts

Before Urban Outfitters decided to pull the “Voting is for Old People” T-shirt off the shelf, organizations across the nation lashed out at the retail chain for selling the shirt during an election year.

MTV news featured a young woman upset with the T-shirt who crossed out “old” and wrote in “all,” making the shirt read “Voting is for All People.”

Moe Wampum Inc., an online clothing retailer, officially designed and produced a “Voting is for All People” T-shirt.

The grassroots organization sent an angry letter in protest of the T-shirt to the chairman of Urban Outfitters.

An organization called Mobilize America’s Youth launched an online petition calling for a national boycott of Urban Outfitters.

And the Oregon Bus Project, which works to get young people politically active, designed and distributed its own T-shirt, which reads “Vote, F*cker.” The shirt has simple block letters with a red star in between the “F” and the “C”.

Jefferson Smith, chair of the Oregon Bus Project, said the organization wanted to reach young people with a T-shirt that would really grab their attention. He said although the profanity on the Oregon Bus Project’s T-shirt may be offensive to some, at least this T-shirt encourages young people to vote.

“I like to think our form of speech was equally stupid (as Urban Outfitters’), but it was stupid in a good way,” Smith said.

Smith said the idea behind the “Vote, F*cker” T-shirt originated nearly two years ago when he and some friends began talking late one night about voting apathy among young people. Frustrated that so many young people seemed disinterested in politics and voting, Smith and his friends contemplated calling people at 2 a.m. and shouting, “Vote, F*cker!” into the phone before hanging up. Smith said the idea was that although people would be irritated by the call, they might think about it and consider voting.

“But we didn’t do this. We thought it was maybe a bad idea,” Smith said.

However, Smith said he and friends started thinking about the phrase again recently with the emergence of the “Voting is for Old People” T-shirt. He said they decided to counter Urban Outfitters’ T-shirt by distributing one of their own emblazoned with the phrase.

While Smith said the Oregon Bus Project has not been advertising the T-shirt, he said people have been calling his office about it and the website has had a lot of traffic.

Smith said there is “absolutely no question” Urban Outfitters pulled the T-shirt off the shelves because of heavy pressure from organizations across the nation and bad press. But he emphasized Urban Outfitters is not doing enough by simply discontinuing the shirt.

“It’s not enough to be silent. They need to send signals in a positive direction,” Smith said.

Smith also said it is important to realize it is impossible to say “all” young people are apathetic. However, he pointed out that while 35 percent of young people across the nation volunteer, only 6 percent of that number volunteer for political causes.

“Too many people who care about other things think they shouldn’t care about politics,” Smith said. “Young people will clean a beach, but they won’t support a candidate who will require the beach be kept clean.”

Smith said this lack of interest by young voters is a sign of a greater social climate in the United States.

“We’ve trained them not to be involved,” Smith said. “They’re not caring about all the things we need to care about.”

Despite the controversy that has surrounded the “Voting is for Old People” T-shirt, Smith said the shirt was beneficial in that it created discussion about voting and political activism among young people.

“It gave us a good opportunity to talk about a really important issue,” Smith said.

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