Love, Hate & Voter Registration in Times Square

Behind every voter registration, there's a story.

HeadCount registered over 10,000 voters yesterday, National Voter Registration Day. We did it by unleashing the power of hundreds of musicians and comedians on social media, and hundreds of volunteers hitting the streets in 51 cities around America.

But I want to tell the story of just one volunteer and one voter registration.

Times Square, New York City. MTV brought back TRL for an episode, calling it “Total Registration Live.” We brought 60 seniors from nearby LaGuardia Arts High School (The “Fame” school, for those who remember the ‘80s) to help register voters, and maybe get their faces on TRL.

The students were awesome volunteers but it was hard. New Yorkers aren’t always friendly and tourists can be even worse. Right away a few came back with stories of rudeness and ludeness. But one interaction went beyond anything a HeadCount volunteer has ever encountered.

wasimaWasima, a student in the group who wears the traditional Muslim hijab, asked a man if he’d like to register to vote. His response was so awful it’s hard to write. He said, “I’m voting for Trump to get people like you out of this country.”

A teacher who was standing nearby quickly ushered Wasima away from the man. Wasima was upset, but not inconsolable. She kept going.

As the rest of the LaGuardia volunteers got some camera time with Kendall Jenner as part of the TRL broadcast, she kept registering voters.

Then, we looked over and she was registering a new voter. A young man, a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke.

The moment didn’t seem to mean anything special to him, or Wasima. He needed to register to vote and she was happy to help. Neither seemed to be thinking about what was on each other’s heads, or their different religious backgrounds. There was instant trust and it was really no different than any of the other 259 interactions that led someone getting registered in Times Square yesterday. He completed the form, thanked her and walked away.

Her teacher, though, started to cry, and we all took a second to recognize the beauty of the moment.

I want to thank Wasima and all the kids from LaGuardia who registered voters with us yesterday. And I want to thank everyone who has ever volunteered to register voters for HeadCount or anyone else, because it’s hard work and means dealing with a lot of rejection and sometimes worse.

No one should ever have to deal with the kind of bigoted words that Wasima heard yesterday. But watching her register that one voter in Times Square reminded me that courage and kindness will always overcome hate.

There’s a story behind every voter registration, and this one I’ll never forget.