Imagine if voting was more like Burning Man. You could gather your crew, wear your favorite playa gear, and head to the polls accompanied by music, art, and shenanigans. Not only would you have a considerably better time, you’d bring joy to other citizens who are waiting in long lines to exercise their democratic rights.
This doesn’t have to happen in a parallel universe. A bunch of Burners from New York City have kicked off a participatory project that brings Radical Self-expression into the process of getting out the vote and going to the polls.
Inspired by participatory Burning Man culture, The Voter Party is a non-profit, non-partisan movement to increase voter turnout in the US using all the weird, magical, and playful things Burners know how to do.
Their mission is to motivate volunteers and participants in cities and towns across the US to use art, music, costumes, and tomfoolery to get out the vote in their communities.
And yes, YOU can get involved.
If you live in the US, you’re encouraged to rally your crew and bring joy to folks who are showing up to vote. Don’t forget to document and tag your activation so it serves as inspiration for your fellow Burners to get outside and do the same!
Wherever you live, The Voter Party is calling on artists of all stripes and styles to submit their work for exhibition in pop-up augmented gallery walks at polling stations across the US. You can share existing work, or create something brand spanking new to suit the occasion — it’s up to you!
Curious about the intersection of burning and voting? Learn why Megan Miller believes there’s nothing more “Burning Man” than casting your ballot.
Excerpts from: Vote Hard with The Voter Party
Burning Man Live podcast hosts Stuart Mangrum and Logan Mirto spoke with Voter Party co-founder Winkel about the initiative’s origin story, and how it’s all coming together.
We’ve transcribed choice nuggets from their conversation, below.
Or if you’re more into auditory experiences, you can listen here:
Logan: What made you get engaged with dealing with voter turnout and trying to encourage voter turnout? What made you get involved with something like the Voter Party?
Winkel: I’ve always been civically engaged, back to elementary school, middle school. One thing was definitely the existential dread of the idea of authoritarianism in our country.
But just generally speaking, you guys probably know in 2016, 100 million people in this country of voting age did not vote. And whether or not authoritarianism was online, that’s really bad. Civic engagement is such an important part of the Burning Man experience. I’ve always been interested in civic engagement and getting communities to engage with one another and forming communities.
I come from an event production background, which is obviously community organizing. I remember my first year at Burning Man, which I think was 2002. I was just completely blown away by the community and the engagement that people had with one another. And the fact that people come together for this beautiful, ephemeral experience and everybody works together, and everybody has a shared goal of beauty and creating art and creating community. I was completely blown away by that.
And then 2004, there were a lot of protests going on in New York City. There was the Republican National Convention, which was 2004. And there were anti-war protests against Bush. And I really wanted to get Burners involved politically, regardless of their politics. I just thought it was really important for people to get civically engaged outside of Burning Man, producing art, playing, making protests fun and engaging.
There are a lot of people who do that. There are a lot of Burners who are civically engaged. And they’re awesome. I found as a general rule, and this is probably more on the East Coast than it is on the West Coast, but it was really hard to get people engaged in politics and in civics. It was really difficult to get people civically engaged.
And I had this thought, “Well I would have changed the world, but I had to work on my art car.” So it’s always been a dream of mine to figure out how to mobilize Burners and artists and creative people and get them engaged to make the world a better place.
Logan: Tell me how your project works. As I understand it, your Voter Party project is working as an activator. It’s not that you guys are throwing events, it’s that you are serving as a touchstone or as an activator for other people who are interested in bringing up their level of engagement and encouraging others.
So if I want to, I approach your organization cause I want to get more involved. What is that you guys are providing?
Winkel: The way it works is: somebody signs up. We get in touch with them and we go through the process to figure out what their engagement is going to be.
Are they going to bring a ukulele to the polls? Are they going to bring hula hoops? Are they going to bring an art car? Are they going to bring a fire-breathing dragon? So yeah, we have a call with them. Then we put together what we’re trying to create. And this is all going to depend on how many people I get involved.
If it’s too many, it’s going to be a little bit difficult to scale, but it’s very important to us that people go to polling places where they’re going to make a difference. So we’re going to be sending people to the polling places where it makes sense for them to go. But we’re also, we’re looking to make little pods, pods and people pods.
So they’ll actually meet other people. It’s like a nice little community thing. There are organizations that are actually putting together calendars of all of the places where people are going to be, because there are nationwide efforts. There are many other really wonderful organizations that are doing similar things.
So there are going to be calendars that will show people where everybody’s going. And we want to put together little pods of people. And say, okay, you’re going to this polling place for two hours. You’re going to go to this polling place. So we’re gonna swap people out. So it’s not 10 hours of somebody doing a recorder solo.
Um, by the way, anybody, if you play recorder, please don’t sign up. Nobody likes recorder.
Stuart: Come on, come on. Radical inclusion.
Winkel: What I meant.
Stuart: They came from my recorder. Then they came from my accordion. They came from my bullhorn. But when bullhorns are outlawed, only outlaws will have bullhorns.
Logan: So what I’m hearing is that you guys aren’t doing outreach.
You guys are not directly trying to attract other people. People contact you. If they are wanting to up their game, if they’re wanting to bring a bigger presence or a more collective presence, or they want to bring more energy or enthusiasm to the thing, they can come to you. You’ve got a rule set.
You’ve got connections with other groups that are doing this and you can connect them with a larger body of people that is bringing enthusiasm and bringing a little more organization to the experience. Is that correct?
Winkel: Yeah, we’re, we’re definitely doing outreach. We’re doing focused, paid outreach, especially in swing states.
That’s where we really need to focus our attention. People are definitely reaching out to us, but we want this to be a movement. We want this to be something that goes beyond this election. Because yes, this election may be an existential threat, but it’s always been my dream to make something like this happen.
So yeah, we’re not stopping. We’re going, we’re going all the way. We’re going to stop in 2030 though, that’s it.
Logan: 10 years.
Stuart: So if we back up a little bit, you talked about having people decide which polls to go to. Are you saying that going to my local polling place is not necessarily the best thing for me to do? Where do you think people can have the most impact doing this kind of work?
Winkel: If your polling place is the only place that you can go, by all means do that. There are long lines everywhere right now, but especially in neighborhoods where there are predominantly people of color. We’re definitely trying to focus on polling places where it will make a difference because there are going to be long lines. But again, that being said, the whole idea is just to make voting fun.
So if you want to go to your polling place and you want to make voting fun there, that’s awesome. Also, you can do this while you’re going to vote, right. Go to your polling place, wear a costume, bring your ukulele, bring your dog in a costume, bring the philharmonic… Whatever it is, go somewhere. Make it fun.
But we are trying to focus attention on polling places where it will actually make a difference. Even if there are not long lines, just the idea that there’s fun, celebration, entertainment. And I hate the term Instagramable and I hate the term buzzworthy, but the Instagramable nature of it and the fun environment, people are going to put it up on social media and draw other people who aren’t even there who may not have been planning on voting.
It’s very likely that they’ll actually come out and vote because they want to see the fire breathing dragon, or they want to see the seven-year-old’s recorder a concerto. (Uh, nobody wants to see that.)
Stuart: So in this crazy world that we’re in, this is the weirdest election ever because of the pandemic. It’s got to have a lot of impact on your work and on your plans and just voter turnout in general. How have you been coping with that?
Winkel: Absolutely. Not only has it made it way more difficult to get people involved, but there have been, you know, numerous “How dare you. It’s dangerous.”
So we have a guidebook that teaches people. Everybody knows COVID safety, but it’s a guidebook on COVID safety: staying safe, keeping your crews safe, keeping other people safe, how to deal with other people if they’re not wearing masks.
But yes, you’re spot on. It has definitely been a barrier to entry for a lot of people because yeah, they’re afraid to go interacting with people in public. We actually do have things that people can do from home. There are a lot of ways, just generally speaking, not just with our organization, but there are so many ways that people can participate from home.
We are getting people to do friend banking. Friend banking is the same as text or phone banking, but you get in touch with your friends. We have all of these Instagram filters and Facebook frames and stuff that you can convince your friends to put up, telling other people why they think voting is so important this time around or why they think voting is so important in general.
Stuart: Just get out there. Winkle, thank you so much. You’ve given us a lot of ideas and a lot of techniques. And I think our listeners, a few of them might’ve been tipped over the edge to help get out the vote. They can find out more at thevoterparty.org. Thanks again for coming on the program, we really appreciated having you here.
Cover: Get Out the Vote Activation, courtesy of The Voter Party