On February 15, 2003, thousands of people gathered to protest a
possible war on Iraq. In New York, more than 250 people —
including two University students — were arrested. Opinions
were voiced, front-page news was made, but the Bush administration
barely nodded in acknowledgement to the dissenters and on March 20,
2003, American missiles struck Baghdad.

Beth Dykstra
Artists use their music as a mode for encouraging large masses of youths to vote. (Photos courtesy of Music for America)
Beth Dykstra
Music for America has organized more than 2000 shows in one year in order to get out the vote. (Photos courtesy of Music for America)
Beth Dykstra
Def Jux jams during the Music for America tour. (Photos courtesy of Music for America)

A few guys in their early twenties who were at the New York
protest were disheartened by its ineffectiveness and, concluding
that the only way to change things is through direct involvement,
formed a political action committee in March to back up Democratic
presidential-hopeful Howard Dean.

In less than seven months, this small PAC, which spread
Dean’s word at New York parties and concerts, extended to
Seattle and Colorado. In October of last year, the PAC morphed into
the non-profit organization Music for America. In just over a year,
MFA has managed to hook up with all kinds of musical acts —
including Usher, Kanye West, Le Tigre, Beastie Boys and The Faint
— and register one million young voters.

At shows, MFA takes its place among merchandise tables and,
besides registering voters, offers local and national awareness
information. Local issue cards, which expose problems —
bizarre voting laws, for example — of a certain area are
distributed at these tables. Shows, since they operate as a sort of
cultural center, seemed a perfect target for MFA’s goal of
politicizing culture.

Founding member and web site technologist Josh Koenig views
shows as a superb venue for political advocacy. “On a purely
tactical level, concerts are a great place to do politics because
they happen often; they’re a place where people gather and
where there’s a stage where a message can be sent out and
it’s pretty easy” Koenig notes that MFA isn’t the
first organization to employ these kinds of logistics: “One
of the things we thought of when we first started out was, one of
the most powerful institutions on the radical right is the
Christian Coalition. And they have this great network of places
where people gather, and there’s this place where a message
is given, and there’s tables around afterwards where you can
pick things up, and it’s called church.”

Reading a bit like a liberal Cinderella story — the first
MFA shows featured a member’s dad and boyfriend’s bands
— MFA also seems like something too obvious and practical to
have been formed so recently. Koenig comments on the necessity of
MFA: “There was kind of a need for it; nobody else was really
stepping up. Rock the Vote doesn’t do the same volume of
events that we do. They do great work, but they rely on a small
number of big events, a lot of advertising, and a web site to
register voters. They register a ton of people, which is awesome,
but they don’t have an in-your-face kind of presence at a lot
of places.”

Over the past year, many artists have joined forces with MfA.
Rock trio Yo La Tengo changed the name of their tour to Patriot
Act: Yo La Tengo’s Swing State Tour. MFA also inspired Death
Cab for Cutie’s new T-shirt design.

Many MFA shows are hosted in Detroit and Ann Arbor, and the
group has a working relationship with The Blind Pig. State
coordinator Jennifer Suh remarks, “I think it’s been a
lot easier in Ann Arbor because it’s a historically aware
place,” but also points out that youth in general respond
well to MFA: “I find that young people everywhere are pretty

MFA’s current focus has been registering and mobilizing
voters for the upcoming election, but they don’t plan on
losing momentum after Nov. 2 has passed. MFA wants to decentralize
even more, work more closely with artists, and create communities
that can swing local elections. MFA Graphic designer Nica Lorber
advocates maintaining local communities. “Everything we do is
very grassroots and peer-to-peer … it’s very
accessible,” Lorber comments. “It’s kind of
holding your friends accountable and really developing communities;
that’s what we’re about.”

7: Rockin’ in the free world

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