Rocking for Democracy

Today’s college generation has been criticized for its apathy regarding politics. One organization, however, taking advantage of the controversial 2008 campaign, is inspiring America’s youth to preserve democracy.

Not since John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a sit-in in their bedroom for a week have musicians been so active in politics. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization HeadCount is carrying the political activism torch ignited by musicians in the ’60s and ’70s. HeadCount has made it its mission to register voters and encourage people to participate in democracy. The Tampa Bay community will have a chance to participate in HeadCount’s cause when Pearl Jam comes to the St. Pete Times Forum on June 12.

Bassist Mark Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits and political activist and author Andy Bernstein started the organization, which aims to get today’s youth involved in politics through music. Since its inception in 2004, 60,000 people have registered to vote with HeadCount.

The organization wants to be about more than just registering voters; however. HeadCount seeks to tap into the community pulse of the live music scene and give every socially conscious music fan an avenue to become politically active.

“The first step is registering voters; the second step is going to be about the bigger picture. We want to be a place to turn for people that want to be active and that want to see a positive change in this country – whether it is about the upcoming election, politics in general or the environment,” Bernstein said. “We just want to promote a positive change and music is such an incredible outlet to do that.”

In 2004, HeadCount set an all-time record for voter registration on a concert tour by hitting the road with Dave Matthews Band (DMB) and registering more than 12,000 voters.

“We have teams in over 50 cities throughout the country. We want to reach out to people and music has provided us the perfect tool to do that. It is all a joint effort,” Bernstein said. “Without the blood, sweat and tears put in by the artists, board members, volunteers and everyone who supports us, this organization wouldn’t be here.”

The influence artists have over young fans is the driving force behind HeadCount’s mission. Composed of progressive rockers and avid supporters, moe. was one of the first bands to get involved with the organization. Lead guitarist and vocalist Al Schnier was the first person the co-chairs called when the idea for HeadCount was born.

“Early on I got a call from Mark Brownstein and Andy Bernstein – I was the first musician they asked to get involved. I told two friends and they told two friends and it turned into this. Music is a great outlet to express oneself. Whether it is for love, hate or, in this case, politics, you can find solace in music as an artist, as a fan and as a listener,” Schnier said. “Music has been intertwined with politics for generations, from the old folk singers to the new age rap and hip-hop artists. Many aspects and realms of music are doing their part. We feel obliged to be a part of this.”

As Election Day draws near, HeadCount hopes to register between 100,000 and 200,000 voters by targeting fans at the country’s largest music events. More than 50 regional voter registration teams will go on tour with about a dozen bands and reach out to attendees of mega festivals, including Lollapalooza, Mountain Jam, South by Southwest and Bonnaroo. With participating artists ranging from The Allman Brothers Band and DMB to Ani DiFranco and The Roots, no genre of music will be excluded.

Schnier said he believes in the influence younger generations have on the progress of democracy.

“Initially the goal is to get these kids registered to vote and to be active in democracy. After that, the sky is the limit. We want to be the backbone of social awareness. This concert-going fan base needs to have somewhere to turn in means of coming together and making a positive impact on the community,” he said. “Once a network is established we can do something really positive with it. It can be a network for people to trust and go to when they want to be active, whether it is about the upcoming election, the environment or any other aspect of humanitarianism. We see the bigger picture and can’t wait to be there!”

To sign up as a volunteer or get more information about HeadCount, visit