Buddha,” Andy Kaye

October 26, 2020; TMZ, KXAN, and The Hill

Jim Hightower, sometimes called America’s favorite populist, said this just before the 2018 elections:

Here’s a crazy idea: Make voting fun, a festive occasion for the whole family. In Australia, most polling places have barbecues. America’s democratic pageant doesn’t have to be a grinding obstacle course, an intimidating experience…or boring. After all, it belongs to us. Let’s make it better.

And in this election season, nonprofits in cities across the country are heeding Hightower’s call, with circus shows, free pizza, and line dancing (six feet apart) lifting the spirits of soon-to-be-voters patiently waiting for hours in the cold and in the heat, in lines snaking around corners and through parking lots, to exercise their most basic right in a democracy.

Some of these efforts are being sponsored by the Unstoppable Voters Project, a decade-old initiative to create the field of artistic activism so that artists struggling to make change are no longer thwarted by the lack of practical skills, and activists are no longer frustrated by the monotony of marches, petition drives and vigils. This election season, the Unstoppable Voters Project is supporting work in 14 states to celebrate voting rights and counter voter suppression, including:

Cirque d’Vote

You can’t beat this nonprofit’s tagline, “Bringing the best medicine to the undercircused everywhere” and indeed, Emergency Circus brings circus shows to the hospitalized, the homeless, the imprisoned in Syria, Puerto Rico, and burning California, to name just a few “undercircused” places. Now coming to seven cities in the US, their Cirque d’Vote project is determined to put the “fun” back in “fundamental rights” with clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and aerialists enlivening long voting lines.

And like all good nonprofits, they undergird their actions with scientific evidence. “Laughter has the power to ease stress, boost the immune system, and alleviate pain,” reads a quote on the organization’s website from the Mayo Clinic. Now, Emergency Circus has issued a nationwide call for circus artists to bring their talents to election lines across the country on November 3, 2020.

Float the Voice

Food and ice cream trucks decorated by local artists and lined with voter ambassadors are rolling into Detroit neighborhoods to educate about early voting and polling locations.

The Compton Cowboys

African Americans on horseback are mobilizing diverse cowgirls and cowboys in a ride to the ballot box in nine states, with the tagline, “Streets raised us, horses saved us.”

The Yes Men

A duo credited with creating the word “laughtivism,” or humor in activism, is doing a series of actions/stunts/pranks and releasing videos with the belief that:

  • When you laugh, you’re off balance and off-guard, and more susceptible to new information;
  • People like laughing and tweeters and journalists therefore tend to spread funny stories; and
  • Making fun of the less-powerful just isn’t funny, so good humor is biased towards progressives.

In North Carolina, artists are creating performances, designing billboards and bus ads and creating chalk pathways to early polling places with a focus on the approximately 100,000 formally incarcerated people who can now vote even if they have not paid all of their court costs and fees. Other efforts across the country to enliven the voting process are:

Joy to the Polls

“We have rampant voter suppression in the US,” says organizer and performer Nelini Stamp, as she and colleagues kicked off Vote Early Day last weekend with performers leading voting line-waiters in the cha-cha slide dance at a middle school in southwest Philly. “We wanted to figure out a way so while people are outside of the polling station, we can bring them a feeling of safety and a feeling of joy.”

Stamp is part of the non-partisan group Joy to the Polls and the campaign director for Election Defenders. “Music serves as a great de-escalator because it sets the tone…there were even some poll workers who came out with us when their shifts were done to get down on with us.”

Pizza to the Polls

Laughter, music—and yes, food. Pizza to the Polls was born in 2016 after long lines were reported at early voting locations across the country, sending 2,368 pizzas to 128 polling places across 24 states. Two years later at the midterm elections, this nonprofit raised $426,622 in donations and providing 10,820 pizzas across 41 states. This year, they’ve branched out, partnering with Uber Eats, restaurants, Levi Strauss & Co, and KIND to also send out food trucks in 25 cities. Spot a long line to vote? Go to https://polls.pizza/report and send a photo or link to a social media post to verify the line and estimate the wait time. Volunteers will then make sure pizzas are on the way.

We need to use voting, our most discernible democratic process, to lift our hearts, fill our stomachs and make us laugh—in addition to sending those people to office who will do the right thing and the smart thing again and again, leading us to a more just, equitable, sustainable and vibrant society. May every voting line on November 3rd have a line dance, a circus act, a pepperoni pizza, and a good joke about those in power.—Debby Warren