Local bands "Rock the vote"

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    PINE ISLAND-They aren't affiliated with the national "Rock the Vote" organization, but the idea is similar. Get a bunch of popular local bands, supply some food and a couple of brief speakers and have registration materials ready so new voters can sign up. On Sunday, a group of Warwick youths brought in nine bands, two speakers and some snacks to the Polish Legion of American Veterans Hall in Pine Island for an event they call "Rock & Register." While there was some coming and going during the day, the pavilion behind the Legion hall held about 100 at the peak. The event was non-partisan, said organizer and master of ceremonies Garret Talbot of Amity. "We're not anti-war, not anti-Bush, this is a pro-voting show," he said. "We're trying to inspire youths to discourse about decisions that affect their lives." The bands played free. Admission to the event, along with water and snacks, was free. And, while donation cans stood on a couple of the tables, "we're not trying to make money, we are only seeking donations to defray the cost," Talbot said. The event was the first planned by the Amity Collective, a group that plans to discuss issues and do community work, said Thomas DeBruhl of Warwick. "We're trying to get youth organized for community activities, from voting and politics to Thanksgiving food drives," he said. Literature on the tables offered information on the draft, on problems with electronic voting and on the cost of war, among other topics. DeBruhl said that young people were free to bring material, and "if Young Republicans had wanted to come and bring their literature, they would be welcome." The bands alternated with members of Readnex (pronounced like Rednecks), a group of performance poets. While bands set up, the poets read, mostly in staccato, rap-like tones. Some numbers invited audience participation, with call and response lines interspersed with the verses. For instance, a each verse of a poem that contrasted visions of America's poor, America's middle class and the American dream ended with the line, "what do you see?" "I ain't seen nothing," the audience shouted back. The poets have a show of their own scheduled for Oct. 23 at Orange County Community College. The main adult speaker was Richard Bennett of Warwick, who urged young people to involve themselves in the political process in some way. He recommended Amnesty International. He noted that for Americans, voting is relatively easy, but for people in many parts of the world any form of protest or political action can lead to long prison sentences. He noted that virtually every country has signed the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, which includes free speech and the right to protest. "But many countries do not live up to it," Bennett said. "Amnesty's job is to publicize instances of violation of basic human rights and to press governments to respect them. The organization does not take partisan positions on American politics, he noted, so young people of either party could be comfortable working with it. Amnesty meets on the third Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. in the Tuscan Café in Warwick, which Bennett owns. Most of the bands were revved up to the point that the lyrics of their songs were indecipherable, but an exception was Kadd Stephens, a member of Homage to Catelonia. Sitting in the midst of the audience, Stephens had no amplification at all, yet every word was clear. The audience crowded in to hear him, and all conversation stopped. Stephens, a resident of Washington, D.C., had a somewhat different message about voting than the one Talbot had given from the stage. "Voting is defensive," he said. "Kerry isn't that much different from Bush, but he does have that going for him - he isn't Bush." Stephens' songs are strongly influenced by his experiences in Palestine and the racism he sees in Washington, which has had local laws that benefit its poorest residents overridden by Congress.