With little more than 20 days leading up to the presidential election, a cohort of MIT student groups came together to organize a voting extravaganza well-suited for physical distancing. Get Out the Vote Fest was a virtual music festival — self-described as a “voter mobilization festival” — featuring headliners like Yo-Yo Ma and Bren Joy, as well as myriad artists across the United States. The event took place on Sunday, Oct. 11, just before MIT observed its first official Indigenous Peoples Day. According to junior Yu Jing Chen, the vice president of the MIT Undergraduate Association (UA) and key coordinator for the event, it all started as a way to encourage and celebrate voting in communities of color.
“The festival was a compilation of artists, speakers, local politicians, and community organizers of color to highlight their work and really mobilize communities of color to get out and vote in this election,” Chen explains. “Because of the many barriers that stand in the way of voting and cause many communities of color to be underrepresented at the polls, this was really meant to instill that pride and that energy in getting out the vote. It was our way of bringing together this really celebratory moment to mobilize people.”
Despite being spread across the country and the globe this semester, a host of MIT student groups helped organize the event to celebrate and advocate for voting ahead of the November elections. The groups ranged from the Undergraduate Association Public Affairs Committee to the Latino Cultural Center to the MIT Asian American Initiative (AAI), a club founded by Chen. “That’s actually kind of where this idea started,” Chen says of AAI. “We kept asking ourselves: What do we want to do to mobilize the Asian vote?” The original idea was to center the event around Asian artists and speakers to highlight the work and advocacy happening in the Asian community, while affirming the necessity of the Asian vote.
As the UA vice president and a member of the Chinese Students Club, however, Chen works closely with many different groups on MIT’s campus, and thought the event would be more impactful if opened up to a broader audience.
Ultimately, the event was co-hosted by six MIT student groups, including those mentioned above as well as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Chinese Students Club, and voting advocacy group MITvote. MITvote held a concurrent Zoom throughout the festival to educate students about the importance of voting and to offer nonpartisan information about the mechanics of voting this November, including important voter registration deadlines and instructions on how to vote by mail or in person. With further support from the South Asian Association of Students and the Black Students’ Union, this nontraditional music festival was designed to be “an event of education, solidarity, and celebration,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
In opening the event, MIT President L. Rafael Reif spoke about the value of civic engagement: “This evening’s festival is a wonderful celebration of one of our most essential rights as Americans — the right to have a voice in our government.” From local artists to community organizers and speakers across the United States to the event’s headliner, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, it was a night of exhilarating live performances and singalongs, with a focus on community and conversation leading up to the election. Approximately 1,000 viewers tuned in to Get Out the Vote Fest, Chen says, and organizers hope to make it a standing MIT tradition. “We all just came together for this mission,” Chen says. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
So, what’s next? Whether voting in person or by mail this year, MIT has resources to help ensure community members’ voices are heard. Visit the MITvote website to check on voter registration dates and guidelines and to ask questions about your state’s ballot.
“There is so much power within people, in these communities. It really takes a ground-up effort to inspire that mobilization,” Chen says of the Get Out the Vote mission. “Especially for communities of color, policies impact these groups disproportionately. For us not to have a say in that would be a disgrace. It’s about instilling a belief in ourselves as a community to be able to make a difference in the vote. It’s also a responsibility.”