Heather Smith, Rock the Vote board chairwoman, was doing what she does best at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, this week: Donning a #TrendUrVoice T shirt, she stood in the rain on Thursday registering voters alongside both the famous (actress Rosario Dawson, chair of Voto Latino) and the newly converted (student volunteers). “Our strategy is just to go where the young people are,” she says of the Rock the Vote presence at the music and media conference.
That strategy has worked for the nonprofit since its inception. When Rock the Vote was founded in 1990, MTV was one of the surest ways to reach young people. In the last 23 years, however, dozens of new media outlets have hit the scene, while political campaigns drew major stars to political fundraisers and celebs started to take on their own causes.
Rock the Vote had to motivate and mobilize millennials, making them feel that voting, like music, is something that is a part of their identity. “We moved from LA to Washington, DC so we could be in the middle of all this and say, ‘Hey, pay attention to us. Start talking about these issues,’” she says. Rock the Vote has also branched out to launch new programs like Spin the Vote for electronic dance music fans. “The strength of our democracy really does depend on the participation of its citizens,” Smith said, emphasizing the importance of redefining citizenship in our country before heading back in the rain. “It’s showing up on election day and everyday in between.”