Despite the harrowing, end-of-days feeling that often surrounded the 2020 presidential election — what felt to many, and to one candidate in particular, as a battle for the very soul of the United States — New York City exploded with music. On a Manhattan street corner during Election Day, the singer Patti Smith apologized to a gathering crowd; she’d need to remove her mask to deliver a stripped-down performance of her song “People Have the Power” with the guitarist Lenny Kaye. Uptown, outside the Apollo Theater where Harlem residents arrived to cast their votes, the rapper Busta Rhymes zipped through a rowdy, two-song set in his characteristically high-speed flow.
Videos of the performances shot through social media like fireworks, bright images of fun and play that cut through the partisan muck to deliver a message of encouragement for voters. Though they seemed guerrilla in style, the show-stopping serenades were actually organized by Joy to the Polls, an initiative from the Frontline Election Defenders to transform civic engagement into a celebration. The November concert series took place outside polling centers in cities around the country, with shows from Offset, Mulatto, Vic Mensa, and more. And though the general election has been decided, the work doesn’t stop there — remember, voting is a habit, like brushing your teeth.
Now, Joy to the Polls is bringing that same energy down to Georgia, where the state’s runoff election will decide which party takes control of the Senate. Neither Democrat nor Republicans won a majority in Georgia’s November 3 Senate races, making this decisive followup particularly critical. If Republicans win one of two open seats, they will maintain their majority, making it difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to push through progressive legislation. Democrats must win both seats to take the chamber.
To encourage voters in the Peach State to get to the polls, Rick Ross, Moneybagg Yo, Kap G, and plenty of other all-star artists will deliver electrifying performances at undisclosed polling centers — you’ll have to show up for a chance to catch them live. Joy to the Polls is one of 16 primarily youth-led grassroots organizations working in Georgia to mobilize young voters that received part of a $160,000 donation from MTV. The music kicks off with early voting on December 18 in Atlanta and runs through the runoff Election Day on January 5.
“In the face of a global pandemic, and other challenges designed to suppress the vote, the people are fighting back with joy,” Nelini Stamp, the creator of Joy to the Polls and campaign director for Election Defenders, said in a statement. “Together, we will continue to make voting more accessible and a celebration for all.”