Last night at New York’s Webster Hall, the Roots headlined the non-profit group Why Tuesday?’s #LetsFixIt event, a concert and rally calling on Congress to remove unnecessary burdens to the democratic process to increase voter turnout. Closing the night, however, they had the difficult task of following a major opener: The sons of three men who helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Why Tuesday? co-founder Bill Wachtel, Martin Luther King III and Robert Kennedy Jr.
Founded in 2005, Why Tuesday? aims to raise turnout by – among other things – opening the polls on Saturday rather than Tuesday. Revealing how arbitrary the current system is, they note that it was instituted when the U.S. was an agrarian system, and farmers needed a full day to travel into town and vote.
“My father used to say that a voteless people is a powerless people, and one of the most important steps we can take is that short step to the ballot box,” Martin Luther King III told the audience before Robert Kennedy Jr. reflected on the importance of the vote in the struggle for Civil Rights.
“This imposing of a second class citizenship on an entire race of American citizens was maintained and enforced through a system of official corruption and unofficial intimidation designed to keep black people from voting,” Kennedy Jr. said.
Now, he continued, “voter purges” – like voter ID laws in 30 states – aim to keep dissidents away from the ballot box while corporate powers play politics: Since the Supreme Court granted corporations legal personhood in the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling, “a tsunami of corporate money has poured into the political process.”
The Koch Brothers, he said, are spending $290 million this year alone on campaign contributions, “not because they love our country,” but because “they want profits”: “The best way for them to get profits in these days is to use our campaign finance system as a system of legalized bribery to get their hooks in public officials and then use that public official to… give them a competitive edge.
“We gotta get the money out of politics and the people back in,” he said to applause.
Why Tuesday? plans to celebrate the passing of the proposed Vote 2.0 Act, the stated purpose of which is “to ensure that the right to vote is universally enjoyed by all those eligible,” on August 6th, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
“If Congress can’t get its act together, we’re gonna get its act together for it,” said Wachtel, rousing the audience to chant “Hands up, don’t shoot” in a speculative nod to how more political participation in Ferguson, Missouri, could maybe have elected a different mayor and sheriff, creating a police force more representative of the neighborhood.
From there, the Roots took the event home, kicking off their set with John Legend collaboration “The Fire,” a track Questlove had previously called their “modern-day Rocky-like sports anthem.” Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” followed, and 40 minutes later they closed the event with fan favorite, “The Seed (2.0).”