Dancing, Purging and Voting

tUnE-yArDs in concert. Credit: Flickr/mehantUnE-yArDs, the musical project of musical progeny Merrill Garbus, took over New York City's Terminal 5 on Friday night.  Starting at 9:45 PM and ending after an energetic encore around 11, the group filled the room with drum loops, ukulele, bass, saxophone, percussion, and Garbus' grabbing voice, creating an intense atmosphere that was nothing less than head-bobbing happiness. Garbus ended the pre-encore set with "My Country," a song that drove the audience to dance. Introducing "My Country," Garbus told everyone she wrote it to inspire them to vote. The audience's enthusiastic applause perhaps had more to do with the song's popularity than Garbus' political point, but her message was not lost.

The song begins:

My country, 'tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty. How come I cannot see my future within your arms?

Song lyrics are always open to a huge amount of interpretation. In "My Country" one finds words that incite young listeners to vote, and ones that capture their reluctance to do so. Either way, tUnEyArDs' performance of "My Country" Friday night felt like danceable, positively directed anger.

Will young voters matter, or won't they, in November? is in fact a question taken up by Heather Smith of Rock the Vote in an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer over the weekend. Talking about what she perceives as the current tendency of both the Obama and Romney camps to completely write off young voters, Smith quotes current wisdom she has heard from both parties:

Young people aren’t going to show up in November.

They’re not motivated.

They’re not going to make a difference this time.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/06/02/3284093/anti-voting-laws-wont-stop-growing.html#storylink=cpy

Smith finds such statements "troubling," "cynical," and "patronizing...to the next generation of Americans eager to shape their country’s future." She also finds them inaccurate.  

Smith explains that young people are voting in greater numbers, not fewer. According to Smith, 36 percent of voters aged 18-24 voted in the presidential elections in 2000, 47 percent voted in 2004, and 49 percent voted in 2008. In Smith's view, the obstacle to young people's political participation is not a lack of interest or motivation. She feels a major culprit is an increase in anti-voting laws that compromise young people's right to vote by making it harder for them to register and to cast a ballot. Smith says this trend is not only affecting young people, but older ones and minorities as well.

As with song lyrics, the intent and impact of legislation is also open to interpretation. Last week the Justice Department ordered the state of Florida to stop their non-citizen purge of the voter rolls. The order came down because the Feds believe that Florida may be violating the Voting Rights Act. Throw into the mix that The Miami-Herald found 58 percent of those flagged to be purged are Hispanic, and that Governer Rick Scott fired back today that his administration is “absolutely not” intentionally targeting minorities.

If there is one conclusion we can draw about "My Country" (the tUnEyArDs' song and the actual place), a controversy about voting rights is brewing, and that is a good thing. It would be far more troubling if such an essential democratic action went unchecked and unexamined.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/06/02/3284093/anti-voting-laws-wont-stop-growing.html#storylink=cpy