How One Non-Profit Is Teaming Up with Musicians to Register Voters

How One Non-Profit Is Teaming Up with Musicians to Register Voters

“It’s part of my job to spread awareness. What better place to do that than at my own concerts?”

April 14, 2016 2:00 PM

If you've gone to a music festival in the last 12 months, chances are you may have walked by a tent that says "HeadCount" on the front—or, at the very least, someone with a clipboard encouraging you to register to vote. There's also a possibility that you ignored them, because you were at a music festival and voting was the last thing you wanted to think about. However, HeadCount's working to change that, motivating music fans to register to vote at live shows across the country. With the help of team members and volunteers, HeadCount are changing the way people think about voting by working with musicians to promote democracy through voter registration.

Founded by The Disco Biscuits' Marc Brownstein and friend Andy Bernstein, the integration of music and democracy has always been at the heart of HeadCount—the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir even serves on its board of directors, overseeing the small staff based out of New York alongside Bernstein. Since its inception, HeadCount has registered more than 300,000 people to vote at festivals and concerts throughout the country. Staff members and volunteers are at about 30 to 50 concerts and two to five festivals a week, and they're constantly dedicated to using the power of music to promote participation in democracy.

But HeadCount's partnerships with musicians have truly made an impact when it comes to voting. "Sometimes you need help to convince someone how important voting can be," says Aaron Ghitelman, HeadCount's Communications Manager. "An artist who people already appreciate can make that easier." The visibility of the organization have been boosted in part thanks to artists such as Animal Collective, Kurt Vile, Wavves, Jason Isbell, Lucius, and Best Coast, as spreading the word about HeadCount's ethos has become a natural part of the artists' touring grind.

For Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, HeadCount has given her the opportunity to have her concerts double as a platform for education and politics. "A lot of young people don't necessarily think that their vote matters," she says. "I wanted to do something that would provide people with the option to say onstage, 'There's an organization here that can register you to vote,' and broadcast it all over social media." Cosentino hasn't been shy about her own political beliefs—she's been known to vocalize her love for Bernie Sanders, her hatred for Donald Trump in the form of "Fuck Donald Trump" chants, and her support for women's health issues—but at the heart of the matter, she just wants people to vote: "I would never want to tell anyone who they should vote for."

For Lucius' Jess Wolfe, seeing people show their support for candidates on social media—but not at the polls—was troubling. "Anyone with a click of a button can share articles, make fun of politicians, and support the coolest ones—but less people are standing behind these posts and their words," she explains. "Supporting someone online means nothing if you're not backing it up with a vote." The HeadCount team members have experienced firsthand that the difference that musicians can make is huge. "I was at a Disco Biscuits show and there was a kid who we asked to vote, and he just said 'No, no,'" says Ghitelman. "But when [Marc] Brownstein was holding the voting clipboard and he asked him, he grabbed a pen and registered."

Voting is a privilege we all have but don't use, and HeadCount wants you to use it. With their help, the hope is that more voters show up at the polls for one of the biggest elections in American history. "I've always said that, as a person with a voice, it's part of my job to spread awareness about things that are incredibly important," says Cosentino. "What better place to do that than at my own concerts?"

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