Having spent twenty years of my life as a GOP campaign consultant and Capitol Hill communications director, I’m frequently ribbed by Republican friends and colleagues – mostly at parties – about serving as a HeadCount board member. They assume that because HeadCount plays a high-profile role registering new voters and increasing civic participation at music festivals and concert venues across the country, my HeadCount affiliation is at cross-purposes with my politics.
But that’s one of the many cool things about HeadCount: My politics – like everyone else’s – is irrelevant, as the organization itself is politically agnostic. My own personal guidepost as to where I’m coming from is simple: Every new voter registered – at a festival, NASCAR event, college campus, or wherever – is a good thing. Period. End of story.
We don’t concern ourselves with who a newly-registered voter supports; empowering participation in the electoral process is the sole imperative.
My own background? Yeah, it’s a bit different. I became a Republican at 17 when I investigated why so much of my $2.35 hourly dishwashing wage went to something called “FICA” taxes. As someone who spent many an hour working restaurant jobs for pocket money, a “less government and more economic freedom” philosophy made sense to me. This strangely coincided within months of my first Grateful Dead show (5/7/77). Besides blowing my mind, the band, to me, represented a uniquely American brand of freedom where frontiers are vast, personal possibilities endless, and one is free to live one’s life by its own design.
Long story short, I inevitably found my way to Washington, got involved at the bottom rung of GOP politics as an intern at the RNC, and then took a detour – spending most of the early 80s seeing shows instead of attending classes. That story is for another day. But while I was personally active in politics at a young age, I found the vast, vast majority of those I met at shows had zero interest in voting, the issues of the day, or anything else related to civic or political engagement. No problem – it’s a personal decision – live and let live. But I couldn’t help notice.
So now, a few decades and many political campaigns later – I’ve had the fortunate opportunity and pleasure over the past six years to work with this terrific HeadCount team – the most positive, inspiring and aspirational group of activists I’ve ever had the pleasure to be associated with.
I’m especially pleased with HeadCount’s recent six-show “The Future is Voting Tour” featuring My Morning Jacket guitarist, Jim James along with Kam Franklin of The Suffers, Benjamin Booker, Made of Oak and Linqua Franqa. Each stop – Austin. TX, San Marcos. TX, Milwaukee, WI, Athens. GA, Indianola. IA and Urbana. IL – combined solo sets from Jim and the other musicians combined with a non-partisan forum for federal, state and local office-seekers. Three of the forums were held on college campuses where Republicans, Democrats and Independents engaged in a civilized, respectful, discussion. Imagine that.
At the opening night Austin show, Jim beautifully articulated to the crowd what the tour was all about, explaining the need to bring respect back to the dialogue:
“There’s a way for people to talk, honestly, and hear each other out. I know there’s a middle and I know that if you really sit down with someone different than you, and look them in the eye, and feel their truth – and they feel your truth – yes, you might walk away agreeing to disagree with topics A, B and C – but there’s going to be a whole lot of stuff in the middle that we’re going to agree on. And that’s how we can change the world.”
Beautifully said, Jim.
Thank you for making the tour a huge success – on every level.