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On Sept. 30, the Harvard Votes Challenge — a civic engagement organization founded in 2018 at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics — held its inaugural “Rock the Vote Concert.” Hosted at the Hasty Pudding courtyard, the night featured many acts from performing arts groups on campus, ranging from the Harvard Glee Club’s nostalgic rendition of the “Phineas and Ferb” theme song to scintillating dance choreography performed by Harvard’s Asian American Dance Troupe.
Siena E. Lerner-Gill ’25 — the Collaborations Director for the Harvard Votes Challenge — was the emcee for the show. The concert was Lerner-Gill’s idea to promote civic engagement through integrating it into the larger campus community.
“I had the idea to do a concert involving so many of the really rich and wonderfully talented performing groups on campus, where tickets are free. You just have to fill out the pledge to vote to get a ticket,” Lerner-Gill said.
According to Lerner-GIll, the intent behind civic engagement activities such as these is to establish a robust foundation of cooperation in preparation for forthcoming federal election years.
“2023 is not a national federal election year, and so I think we get lots of questions internally and externally: Why does it matter to be doing this voting work?” Lerner-Gill said. “I think the answer is we need to be building relationships and getting everyone ready for 2024.”
According to Ava K. Pallotta ’25, the Co-Chair of the Harvard Votes Challenge, promoting the youth vote can be a very powerful tool for change as well.
“There’s research that shows that when voting habits are built young, they’re more likely to stick. We also know that the youth vote was an incredibly powerful voting presence in 2022 and in the midterm elections, and a lot of people are counting on young voters not showing up to the polls, because of either disillusionment, or because of a lack of interest in voting,” shared Pallotta.
“And so our huge goal is just the importance of voting. Getting reading to vote in an off-cycle year is building up those good voting habits that encourage young people to vote young and keep voting in every election.”
The artists who performed at the free concert also mentioned their enthusiasm to support the youth vote in the coming election.
“As long as we actually get the numbers that we need from the youth, that’s it. That’s how we win,” said Ethan W. Ocasio ’25, a member of the band STRYK9.
Sierra S. Stocker ’25, the bass guitarist of STRYK9, also shared her excitement surrounding the event.
“I feel like it’s great to be part of something that promotes civic engagement. I think having these fun events that also get people to go out and vote is a great way of promoting the message,” added Stocker.
The concert led to over 120 people signing Harvard Vote Challenge’s Pledge to Vote form. Audience members at the concert also found the integration of artistic performances with civic engagement to be very meaningful and unique.
“It was really fun to have an event that was so upbeat, so community involved, especially when it advocates for a good cause,” said Boyd H. Christiansen ’23-’24, one of the many audience members who attended the concert.
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