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'Old people' shirt hopes to bring out young voters

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 17, 2004
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To encourage young people to vote, free T-shirts that read, "Voting is for Old People" will be given to each person who promises to wear it while they vote on Nov. 2.

The T-shirts, produced by Vintage Vantage, were taken off Urban Outfitters' shelves in February after several individuals complained that the T-shirt discouraged young people from voting.

"Hopefully we can make some sort of difference in voter turnout, that's the main goal," said John Foster-Keddie, the founder of Vintage Vantage and creator of the T-shirt.

"If we make the experience of going to the polls a bit more fun, we're hoping we might get people out there who would've blown it off otherwise."

According to MTV News, the controversy over the T-shirts began when 21-year-old Kat Storemski, a Florida resident, saw the T-shirt while shopping at an Urban Outfitters in Orlando, Fla.

When she wrote a letter to the Youth Vote Coalition and stated that the T-shirt sent a negative message to young people, several people agreed with Storemski, according to MTV News.

After voter organizations, Harvard professors and others pressured the chain to stop selling the T-shirts, they were pulled from 57 Urban Outfitters nationwide, according to MTV News.

"The national media got ahold of it and turned it into a wild frenzy," Foster-Keddie said. "Most of the people we heard from, including our customers, thought the T-shirt was funny."

Foster-Keddie, a Yale graduate who started Vintage Vantage in 2001, said many people misunderstood and overreacted to the T-shirt.

"None of our T-shirts can be taken at face value, and the thought that a young person's opinion could be swayed by a T-shirt is insulting," he said.

"We're not trying to push our politics on anybody. We just want to encourage people to educate themselves about the issues and vote intelligently," Foster-Keddie said.

Some UA students said the "Voting is for Old People" T-shirts could have a negative influence on student voting. Others said that it should not be taken literally.

Danielle Roberts, a political science junior and president of the University of Arizona College Republicans, said the T-shirt is offensive and can be discouraging to young people.

"I think a lot of the time, the youth vote is not regarded as important which is why people are trying to get voter registration up among young people," Roberts said. "Others may not understand the irony (of the T-shirt)."

Alicia Cybulski, president of the University of Arizona Young Democrats and political science senior, said the stereotype that young people do not vote is also harmful.

"I didn't think it was appropriate because voting is for everyone," Cybulski said.

However, Cybulski said that Vintage Vantage's giveaway might be helpful.

"If it gets people to vote and it helps change the stereotype, then I'm for it," Cybulski said.

Despite the negative publicity, Foster-Keddie said that his company is doing well.

"The negative publicity has actually helped our (Web) site reach a broader audience," he said.

"Even if people came to the site with a negative mindset, I think it's pretty hard to get upset after looking around the site. It's pretty obvious that we're not at all malicious."

Foster-Keddie said he came up with the idea to give the T-shirts away while discussing the upcoming election with his staff.

"It dawned on us that we could turn this whole voting shirt frenzy around and really make a positive difference," he said.

More than 500 people have responded to the giveaway, but Foster-Keddie said he hopes the number triples.

"We want it to get huge," he said.

With a red, white and blue color scheme, including red baseball raglan sleeves, the T-shirt also has an image of a ballot box.

Foster-Keddie said participants must take a photo of themselves wearing the T-shirt while voting and then the photos will be posted on the Vintage Vantage Web site.

"They have to promise to take the picture," he said. "If anybody flakes, you can bet we'll send them dozens of e-mails making them feel like a horrible person for stealing from us."

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