The following was written for The Huffington Post:
Nearly a year and a half ago, a record number of young voters turned out for the presidential election. Since then, civic-engagement organizations such as HeadCount have been fighting a sometimes difficult battle to keep young people excited about political participation.
It isn’t easy. The paralysis in Washington has soured even the wonkiest of the wonks and the most active of the activists. But it's times like these when groups like ours are needed the most. When mass disenchantment with government sets in, we need champions of democracy's timeless principals. To be effective though, we need to increase our creativity, focus more on issues and less on politics, and bring new voices into debates. We need to somehow make this fun again.
With that in mind, HeadCount has teamed up with the NRDC Action Fund and a large coalition of nonprofit and media organizations to try something new. We’re giving away music downloads in an effort to inspire people to speak out. Specifically, we’re offering a 17-track Best of Bonnaroo compilation featuring Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, and many others, to encourage Americans to tell elected officials how they feel about the climate change issue
The campaign lives at Music for Action. Anyone who visits the site can download the music for free, but they're asked to first email the President, their senators, or their local newspaper editors about climate change. Pre-written letters urge elected officials to make climate policy and clean energy a legislative priority – a broad stance shared among the participating musicians and their fans – who are, of course, also encouraged to argue any viewpoint. They'll get the music whether or not they speak up, ensuring that any communication is sincere and honest.
You may know HeadCount primarily as a nonpartisan organization that sets up voter-registration tables at concerts. Any you may be wondering why we’ve picked climate change as the issue to dive into, especially at a time when climate change skeptics appear to be gaining momentum.
One reason is that ever since the 2008 presidential election, we’ve been conducting surveys asking concertgoers what issues they felt most passionate about. The most popular answer was “sustainability and climate change.” So even amid controversy, our milieu evidently believes the issue should be a government priority. We see it as both our responsibility and opportunity to give this audience a louder voice in government.
Another reason is that we appear to be at a critical juncture on climate change, with the House of Representatives passing climate-related legislation for the first time last year and the Senate still fence sitting. If there’s ever been a time when the likes of Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, and their legions of fans can actually make a difference, it’s now.
HeadCount is a nonpartisan organization. That hasn't changed and never will. We don’t support candidates or political parties. We don't get involved, or advocate positions, in the finer points of the climate-change debate or any other issue. We believe people should make their voices heard, regardless of their opinion. But within those parameters, we're not afraid to say that government should address the core issues our community finds most pressing. So our board of directors – which includes Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and many of the music industry's top promoters and managers – voted unanimously last fall to launch this initiative and use the power of music to inspire action. In the end, only citizens can break the Washington gridlock and demand progress. Grassroots efforts are integral to articulating and amplifying this sort of demand . HeadCount knows of no greater tool to inspire citizens than music. We hope that you’ll join us in this movement.
Andy Bernstein is the co-founder and executive director of HeadCount.
(photo by C. Taylor Crothers)