Obama taps music industry to encourage community service


The White House earlier this summer announced the United We Serve campaign, an ambitious project aimed at inspiring people to become involved in community service while also promoting economic recovery.

Recognizing that music has the power to move millions, President Barack Obama turned to the music industry to take a lead role in building momentum for the campaign.

Acts such as the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl JamFoo Fighters, Jack Johnson, and more have already rallied behind the cause. Whether bysending out e-mails to fans, placing banners on MySpace pages, or mentioning United We Serve from the stage, musicians have helped the White House turn community service into a hip opportunity.

Michael Martin, president of EFFECT, is the man building connections between the music industry and United We Serve. He spoke recently with HeadCount about the goals of the initiative and how the music industry has been a positive force. Excerpts:

How did the United We Serve campaign come about and what is the underlying goal?
The United We Serve campaign came about from an initiative that President Obama and the First Lady put together, and the purpose of it is to create an initiative that makes it really easy for everyone to get involved with volunteering in their communities. It's about community service, and it's focused on three primary areas: environment, education and health care... This is the first year of this and our vision is to have this be an annual summer initiative. It's very exciting, because I think it's a very visionary program.

Why team up with the music industry?
The music industry is, I believe, the best megaphone possible for this. Number one, people who are listening to music at concerts are active. Number two, their hearts are open. Three, they're touring around the country... We've had great success with getting artists to make requests of their fans and we've had a tremendous response rate. Up to a 30, 40, 50 percent response rate.

What kind of energy has the music industry brought to the campaign?
The music industry has been able to take this concept, which could be viewed as square and uncool, and by its endorsement and involvement has made it cool and hip and has made it the cool thing to do. It's really a testament to pop culture, to artists, and their fans. With a little bit of encouragement and support, people are able to get out and have an impact. I know from past experiences, people's lives have been changed by volunteering. I think that's what's exciting about this. We're never going to know the millions of connections that have formed.

What have musicians specifically done to support the United We Serve campaign?
Dave Matthews Band sent out a blast to its entire fan club, saying 'Hey, we're getting involved with volunteering this summer in our communities, we are encouraging you to do this, we are encouraging you to go to United We Serve and do this.' We have a lot of artists that have this up on their Web sites. You go to Jack Johnson's Web site, for example, and it's up there. You go to Pearl Jam, it's up there. We have a whole list of artists who have it up there. Death Cab For Cutie sent out a great e-mail blast to their base. Foo Fighters is doing it, Kenny Loggins, Ben Harper.

How does economic recovery play into all of this?
The premise of this is that there are large percentages of recent grads who are unemployed, yet there are plenty of services that are needed in our communities. The thought is that by providing this vehicle with which individuals can get involved in their community, that it kick starts everything else. Instead of people sitting around watching TV and getting depressed, they're actually coming on, doing meaningful things, making connections, and having an impact.

For more information about United We Serve, visit http://www.serve.gov. There you can find volunteer opportunities right in your home town, or you can create your own service project.