Great Britain

Joy to the Polls: the group performing for Americans as they line up to vote

As hundreds of people queued to vote early in Philadelphia this weekend, a group of performers had a special tactic to keep peoples’ spirits up.

A collective of artists and activists have being performing on line while people wait to cast their ballots, hoping to bring a little joy to an election season which looks to be rife with voter suppression, intimidation tactics and long waiting times.

And so far, it has been well received. A video of performers doing the Cha Cha at a middle school in south-west Philadelphia slide has been drawing praise from the likes of Ava DuVernay, Wanda Sykes and Sarah Cooper.

Ava DuVernay (@ava)

I love us so much. We rise. Always. https://t.co/bEySCGf2hr

The non-partisan group Joy to the Polls pointed out that in a year when a global pandemic and rising racial tensions may put people off voting, it’s more important than ever to encourage people to come out to vote.

“We have rampant voter suppression in the US,” says Nelini Stamp, an organizer and performer for Joy to the Polls. “We wanted to figure out a way so while people are outside of the polling station, we can bring them a feeling of safety and a feeling of joy,” she said.

Stamp mentions negative stories which have the potential to put people off voting this year – from armed militias standing outside polling booths, to poll worker shortages, to fears about standing in line for hours alongside strangers during a pandemic to cast a ballot.

“It [all] could scare people from voting. So our approach is to try and focus on the positive, to ask ourselves, how can we be as positive as possible within a really scary situation?”

To do that, they have been working with artists who will be performing outside voting locations across the country on election day. As well as raising resources for artists hard hit by the pandemic, they will also be on hand with personal protective equipment, water and music.

“On election day there will be two, three, four-hour lines. So we want there to be an act that comes around and performs for 20 minutes, and gives the voters something to look forward to,” explains Stamp.

Joy to the Polls has also partnered with the Election Defenders to train people in de-escalation tactics, so that voters feel safe from any intimidation. Dancing is just one way of doing that: “Music serves as a great de-escalator because it sets the tone,” explains Stamp. “It was super beautiful! There were even some poll workers who came out with us when their shifts were done to get down on with us.”

It’s some much needed joy in an election season that has so far been fraught with tension.

“Some people are like, ‘Oh it’s just a long line who cares,’ but that’s not the case at all,” says Stamp, telling a story of an elderly woman who waited standing up for over an hour with her cane on the weekend. “People should not have to wait in long lines just to exercise a fundamental right,” she says.

But despite all of that, Joy to the Polls is keen to keep the focus on voting, not fear.

“It’s understandable why people feel a lack of hope, or a lack of agency right now. But we are just trying to say, you know what? If we can make people feel good for 30 minutes in a two, three, or four-hour line, if we can help people show face and motivate more people to go out and vote? That is all worth it at the end of the day.”

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