Women in Music 2019

HeadCount Plans to Register Thousands of New Voters During March for Our Lives

Nathaniel Wood
Local Natives

Local Natives talk to Billboard about supporting the nonprofit's latest voter-registration initiative.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flood the streets of Washington, D.C., and more than 830 cities around the world on Saturday morning for March for Our Lives, a massive event in which organizers say they'll "demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today."

The march comes in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 14 students and three teachers, renewing the call for the federal government and states to pass commonsense gun restrictions. In addition to the student leaders' plea for bans on military-style AR-15 assault rifles and an age limit on purchasing such weapons, the music-oriented nonprofit HeadCount will be on the ground alongside the marchers in D.C. and at 2 dozen satellite marches nationwide to register voters at the events.

"Hearing [prominent MSD student leader] Cameron Kasky and the powerful speech from [classmate and fellow activist] Emma Gonzalez on CNN, where she ended with a call for people to register to vote, made it obvious that it was time for HeadCount to engage," the group's executive director, Andy Bernstein, tells Billboard.

HeadCount, which runs voter registration drives at live music events and festivals year-round -- from Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza to shows by JAY-Z and Dead & Company -- has partnered with the march to deploy as many as 1,000 volunteers in D.C. on Saturday; the organization has registered nearly half a million voters since 2004 at more than 100 concerts and festivals. Because HeadCount is a "very" nonpartisan group, Bernstein says they had not partnered with other massive recent marches, but because they are so focused on the ideas of civic engagement and voting, it seemed appropriate to step up for Saturday's march.

"Now we need to take everything we've learned in 15 years and apply it in one day," he says, predicting that if things work out, it could be the organization's largest-ever activation, and, possibly, the largest group of volunteers gathered to register new voters in recent history. Depending on turnout and the age range of potential voters willing to register, Bernstein says it's possible HeadCount could get 25,000 new voters signed up on Saturday. 

Among the list of artists supporting the effort is LA rock band Local Natives, who began working with HeadCount four years ago, ramping up during the tour for 2016's Sunlit Youth, where the organization had a booth set up at every tour stop to register voters in the lead-up to the presidential election. "Really one of the most important things we did is have HeadCount at our shows every night because tons of young kids who've never voted signed up to vote, it's so easy and amazing," says singer/guitarist Taylor Rice.

Keyboardist/singer Kelcey Ayer says the band supports stronger gun control and were very moved watching the way the MSD students ignited the debate around the subject. "It's hard to stay energized as we get older, and we know how hard it is to make change happen, but to see these kids take this issue in their hands, it feels like there's momentum we haven't felt in a long time," he tells Billboard. "If you can move the needle even just a little big every time it's completely worth it." 

While Local Natives can't join the March in D.C. because they have a previously scheduled show in Arizona on Saturday, Rice says the momentum sparked by the MSD student's push for change has inspired the band and he hopes that they ride the wave as far as possible to "change something that has been unchangeable for a long, long time." 

See the full list of HeadCount voter registration locations and information on how to volunteer below.

Anyone interested in volunteering in DC can sign up here, or in other cities here. In addition to DC, HeadCount is organizing voter registration drives at the following satellite march locations: 

Asheville, NC
Birmingham, AL
Chicago, IL
Houston, TX
Madison, WI
New York, NY
Pittsburgh, PA
Sacramento, CA
Seattle, WA
Atlanta, GA
Boston, MA
Columbus, OH
Indianapolis, IN
Milwaukee, WI
Philadelphia, PA
Portland, OR
Salt Lake City, UT
St. Louis, MO
Baltimore, MD
Charlotte, NC
Denver, CO
Los Angeles, CA
Nashville, TN
Phoenix, AZ
Richmond, VA
San Diego, CA
Vancouver, WA


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