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Rock The Vote

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Two of our three children, Nicholas and Willa, are working full time for Rock The Vote through the election. To be fair, our other child, Teal, is the only one of the five of us who has a real, full-time job, so we all need her where she is.

The other two are traveling the country, the swing states really, putting on concerts and registering voters. Here are a couple of reports from the road:

Willa Brown:

It's 8.20am, and we're awake again. The staff of the Rock the Vote Road Trip is bleary-eyed and confused, standing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express, Clearview, an hour outside State College, PA, home of Penn State.

Two hours ago, we arrived in State College -- a town charmingly honest in its name. We parked our bus, a sixty-foot whopper equipped with four voter registration booths, two merchandise counters and a small, dingy lounge. Our motel is 50 miles from State College, which is why we only got two-hours sleep before heading out to register voters at a 10am tailgate before the big game. The big game, it should be noted, is really big. My U.S. college had 2,400 students, so this is new for me. My brother went to a real, live University, but it was still nothing like this. The 100,000-seat stadium was packed.

This is what we do now, my brother and I, along with a handful of other underpaid, over-motivated staffers. We drive town to town -- mostly in our old Volvo or the rented mini-van that chases the Rock The Vote bus. Both cars tailgate the tour bus, trying to get close enough to pick up its weak wireless reception, so we can register voters. We don't honestly care whom they vote for. Seventy to eighty percent of young people vote Democratic, but as far as Rock the Vote is concerned, we're non-partisan.

Thirteen million 18-29 year-olds are without health insurance, and well over a million of us have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's not hard to understand why these issues are discussed without reference to us -- the 18-29 year-olds, the 1/5 of the electorate who fall into the category of "youths." Traditionally, campaigns don't focus on us, because politicians think we don't vote. The thing is, they are wrong. In 2004, according to the US Census Bureau, 81.6% of registered 18-29 year-olds voted. 81.6%!

This year, Rock the Vote has registered over 1.6 million young voters. These are first-time voters. For many of these voters, the concept of voting is alien. For the first time, they are involved.

So we rolled out of bed two hours after arriving and drove to Penn State, exhausted and half asleep, because -- among the thousands of students that are thronging to the game, a little tipsy and a lot tired -- there are some who have never thought of voting, some who have never considered filling out a form, some who believe that politicians will never listen to them anyway. But we are 1/5 of the electorate, and in ten years we will be 1/4. It's time for us to be heard. Right now it's time for ten sleep-deprived, un-showered, unshaven weirdos to get more of us registered and that's just what we'll do.

Nicholas Brown:

9:45pm - Driving into Pittsburgh can throw a cynic for a loop. We think of this mountain city as an industrial wasteland driven by coal and steel. It may well have been, but when you come through the tunnel and catch the sunset glinting off the bridges of the spired city below, you can't help but think of Oz or Atlantis. That is, unless you are Gary, our bus driver.

"I hate this city," he announced.

Gary's hatred comes from a long-ago football injury that some irate Pittsburgh Steeler fan inflicted on a Cincinnati quarterback. It's a grossly unfair way to judge an entire city, but after four hours in traffic on the randomly reconstructed streets of Pittsburgh, you have to sympathize a bit with Gary. While I did not keep an exact tally, it seems that we took somewhere between four-and-five-hundred detours in a long and frustrating attempt to get back onto the highway before we finally moved through the city and reached our hotel.

Yesterday, we made two forays into the city itself: the first to the Pittsburgh Pirates home field to register the Sunday afternoon masses at PNC park and the second to host a concert at Pittsburgh University. The concert in question was headlined by local hip-hop artist (hip-hartist) Wiz Khalifa with performances from Trevor Menear, and Donora.

The concerts were lovely. And we did good work. Voters registered: check. Concert performed: check. But the real highlight of yesterday was the certain knowledge that today was a rest day. Today was a day of rest and we are thankful for it. Tomorrow we head to Akron.

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