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IN THE FREE WORLD
MUSIC FOR AMERICA PERFORMERS GET OUT THE VOTE IN CITIES AC
YROSS THE NATLI
By Puja Kumar
Daily Arts Writer
O n February 15, 2003, thousands of people gath-
ered to protest a possible war on Iraq. In New
York, more than 250 people - including two Uni-
versity students - were arrested. Opinions were voiced,
front-page news was made, but the Bush administration
barely nodded in acknowledgement to the dissenters and
on March 20, 2003, American missiles struck Baghdad.
A few guys in their early twenties who were at the New York protest were dis-
heartened by its ineffectiveness and, concluding that the only way to change things
is through direct involvement, formed a political action committee in March to back
up Democratic presidential-hopeful Howard Dean.
In less than seven months, this small PAC, which spread Dean's word at New
York parties and concerts, extended to Seattle and Colorado. In October of last year,
the PAC morphed into the non-profit organization Music for America. In just over
a year, MFA has managed to hook up with all kinds of musical acts - including
Usher, Kanye West, Le Tigre, Beastie Boys and The Faint - and register one mil-
lion young voters.
At shows, MFA takes its place among merchandise tables and, besides registering
voters, offers local and national awareness information. Local issue cards, which
expose problems - bizarre voting laws, for example - of a certain area are distrib-
uted at these tables. Shows, since they operate as a sort of cultural center, seemed a
perfect target for MFA's goal of politicizing culture.
Founding member and web site technologist Josh Koenig views shows as a superb
venue for political advocacy. "On a purely tactical level, concerts are a great place
to do politics because they happen often; they're a place where people gather and
where there's a stage where a message can be sent out and it's pretty easy" Koenig
notes that MFA isn't the first organization to employ these kinds of logistics: "One
of the things we thought of when we first started out was, one of the most powerful
institutions on the radical right is the Christian Coalition. And they have this great
network of places where people gather, and there's this place where a message is
given, and there's tables around afterwards where you can pick things up, and it's
Reading a bit like a liberal Cinderella story - the first MFA
shows featured a member's dad and boyfriend's bands - MFA
also seems like something too obvious and practical to have been
formed so recently. Koenig comments on the necessity of MFA:
"There was kind of a need for it; nobody else was really stepping
up. Rock the vote doesn't do the same volume of events that we do.
They do great work, but they rely on a small number of big events,
a lot of advertising, and a web site to register voters. They register
a ton of people, which is awesome, but they don't have an in-your-
face kind of presence at a lot of places."
Over the past year, many artists have joined forces with MfA.
Rock trio Yo La Tengo changed the name of their tour to Patriot
Act: Yo La Tengo's Swing State Tour. MFA also inspired Death
Cab for Cutie's new T-shirt design.
Many MFA shows are hosted in Detroit and Ann Arbor, and the
group has a working relationship with The Blind Pig. State coor-
dinator Jennifer Suh remarks, "I think it's been a lot easier in Ann
Arbor because it's a historically aware place," but also points out
that youth in general respond well to MFA: "I find that young peo-
ple everywhere are pretty interested."
MFA's current focus has been registering and
mobilizing voters for the upcoming election, but
they don't plan on losing momentum after Nov.
2 has passed. MFA wants to decentralize even
more, work more closely with artists, and create
communities that can swing local elections. MFA
Graphic designer Nica Lorber advocates maintain-
ing local communities. "Everything we do is very
grassroots and peer-to-peer ... it's very acces-
sible," Lorber comments. "It's kind of holding
your friends accountable and really developing
communities; that's what we're about."
Photos courtesy of Music for America
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Def Jux Jams during the Music for America tour.
Artists use their music as a mode for encouraging large masses of youths to vote.
Music for America has organized more than 2000 shows in one year in order to get out the vote.
The Groove Brothers support the Music for America cause.
Concerts aren't the only way to reel in the crowds. Parties serve to amass the youth crowd as well.
From small settings to large crowds, MFA artists work to get out their message.0...........