In early 2004 my boyfriend, Morgan, received an email from one of his favorite bands announcing that a new, music-oriented voter registration organization called HeadCount was looking for volunteers. He signed us both up immediately, and when I got home from work he was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. I was a few months out of undergrad, he was a year older, and we were Southern college sweethearts new to San Francisco where we were trying to become “adults” or do whatever it is you do in your 20s to find your way.
Little did I know at the time that Morgan’s action would define so much not only of our 20s, but our adult lives to date.
Some of you might not remember the mood in our country at the time, although it may feel familiar. America was completely polarized, and a controversial election left many distrusting democracy.
I remember not knowing how to engage, not knowing how channel my energy and outrage. In many ways I was frozen by the time, too young to be connected as an “activist,” too enraged to know who to trust, and just trying to pay my bills and establish myself professionally. But Morgan saw an opportunity for us to create positive change through our community – the live music community – when he signed us up that day.
Within a few weeks we were out at our first show – Steve Kimock and his band at the Great American Music Hall. They were happy to see us, thanking us for being there before the doors even opened. And then we got to register voters and talk about HeadCount.
I’m not sure what was the bigger rush that night, being so welcomed to be a part of the show experience or registering voters for the first time. Both are still my favorite parts of volunteering.
After that night we were hooked. Registering voters at shows gave us an outlet, and it connected us to our time and to the social movements that were happening all around us. Within the course of an evening I went from being overwhelmed to focused. What our country needed was to engage people on the big picture, we needed to get people to vote. We signed up to volunteer as often as possible.
Over the years, our volunteer team became our extended family and we remain close to many today. Morgan and I had some serious highs along the way – Relix did an article about us, we were a part of the first Outside Lands Festival, the first Treasure Island Festival, and our all-time favorite, High Sierra Music Festival, even started having a panel about music and action where I was a speaker. The energy was infectious.
In recent months I have again found myself feeling overwhelmed by the hatred and division in our country. I feel like that 22-year-old girl needing to retreat. There have been days when it has been hard for me to focus on my children, to do my job, to find my voice. But through HeadCount, I find myself time and time again. When I talk to a college freshman who is ready to make sure all their peers are registered; when I register a new voter; when I hear about a new artist who wants to support our efforts; when I talk to a volunteer whose life has been changed by working with us, I find myself. The people who volunteer their free time to promote democracy from every walk of life are what make America great. And I get to be a part of bringing them together from coast to coast. I am honored to know so many of these true patriots.
If you are looking for a community through which to promote democracy and channel your energy, I encourage you to sign up to volunteer with HeadCount today.