By Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinel, Oct 08, 2004
There’s a lot of testosterone on stage for tonight’s Vote for Change shows in Orlando and Kissimmee, which makes the presence of Tracy Chapman all the more timely.
Chapman, a late addition to the Springsteen/R.E.M. bill at TD Waterhouse, is joining the tour for just one show, but she couldn’t be more pleased that it’s in Florida. She thinks the state is crucial in the presidential election, especially after the voting controversy four years ago.
“I see the role that I’m playing in the same way I see so many other people after the election of 2000,” she says. “I felt motivated to do more than cast my own vote.
“The election was decided by such a slim margin, and there were so many voting irregularities in 2000, people coerced out of the polls, issues with the machines, people stripped from the voting rolls. Maybe if each of us does something, we can make a change.”
Chapman’s motivation has already inspired her recent “Western Swing State Tour,” a five-city trek to register voters in Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and Arizona. The shows were organized with help from Drivingvotes.org, an organization devoted to registering Democratic voters in key states.
Chapman is convinced that turnout, rather than undecided voters, will ultimately put the next president in the White House. She is encouraged by a recent New York Times story about an increase in traffic at voter registration sites.
“As a musician, I have a way to bring people together with my music,” she says.
It’s hard to define how politically motivated concerts might affect potential voters. Rock icon and Orlando resident Roger McGuinn doesn’t think music ought to be used to change someone’s vote.
“Musicians should be doing music,” he says. “I think it kind of subverts your art if you start getting political with it.”
Chapman doesn’t want to preach to anyone.
“I didn’t go out to tell people how to vote,” she says. “Most people know who they want to vote for. They’ve made up their minds on the issues, and it’s just a matter of convincing some people who have decided to sit out the voting process that it’s worth being counted and being part of it.”
Chapman’s music has touched on social and political causes throughout her career, including anti-apartheid movements on college campuses where she launched her career in the 1980s. None of that can compare with the intense feelings she has seen in this election year.
“All of the other causes in some way are all political,” she says. “If it’s talking about human rights issues or it’s something related to the economic issues, ultimately it’s political.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen the kind of action and the focus that is being given to this particular election in my lifetime.”
She calls it a convergence of “a lot of circumstances that have come about in last four years,” starting with the contested 2000 election.
“It’s a set of issues that are all interrelated. Economic issues in this country are not being properly addressed. We did have a tax cut that benefited wealthy people in this country that was at the expense of many things, services that I think are essential for working people in this country. At same time, we’re fighting a war that is draining money that could go to address some of these domestic issues like education and health care.”
If rock stars are “morons,” as Alice Cooper once observed, should music have a role in choosing the next president? Whatever the answer, Chapman says it already has.
“I think it has already been successful with the popular musicians who get a lot of press coverage for being involved in trying to create social change,” she says. “I’m doing this as a concerned citizen who happens to be a musician.“