With all that’s happening in the world, the 2020 Presidential Election is forcing us to do one thing — VOTE FOR YOUR LIFE — and this time around Vo Williams is pushing us to get the polls through his music.
Singer, songwriter, and composer Vo Williams has spent the last decade of his life crafting a sound like no other, in a genre typically reserved for brash and bold context.
The “Epic” Hip Hop song maker has been navigating the music scene from the city of Los Angeles with his inspirational sound and uplifting lyrics.
Now, he is focused on making history through the MTV Vote For You Lifecampaign featuring his Grammy-nominated theme song, “History In The Making.”
Listen to the featured track in the Vote For Your Life MTV campaign below
Vo Williams experiments with music
Music influenced Vo’s upbringing in Florida from where he found his way out west. Watching lots of music videos, singing along, and imitating artists from all genres, Vo wrote his first rap at the age of 13.
His journey through music was experimental, more-less. He references songs with crossover ability like, “Blackened” by Metallica, to “Hit ‘Em Up” and “Changes” by 2Pac, which reaches in context. Songs like “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West cultivated the young artist into stardom.
“Growing up was like an epic journey through different genres and eras Alternative to Hip Hop and then many eras within Hip Hop. The first song I ever wrote was when I was about 13. I had that one song and knew it as my name. It was incredibly wack and flagrantly fictional.”
His first stage performance was at 106 & Park in front of Jay-Z and millions of watchers. He was featured in the “Freestyle Friday” segment of the show and felt he was ready to “produce on a pro-level” after his debut to the world.
From there, he pursued his greatness today, creating “functional music that you can use to improve the quality of real life. I’m creating Hip Hop, that’s often motivational and driven, with massive scale and vivid emotional tonality.”
Vo Williams now has his songs streaming on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music. A long way from producing songs and putting out mixtape CDs when friends would let him know how great he would be, “History In The Making” is one of the proudest moments for Vo as a musician.
With a real passion for music and how it impacts people, Vo produces his music from multiple perspectives. He not only visualizes his music, but Vo also creates an epic experience that emotionally connects with listeners.
“When I write, I’m always thinking about how music could be expressed visually. Sonically, I aim to root the music deep in connection to the human experience, with vivid color and emotional tonality.”
The MTV Vote For Your Life campaign
This emotion is what MTV sought when they reached out to Vo for his song “History In The Making” for their Vote For Your Life campaign. Lyrics that open up thought to positive outlooks, inspirational motives, and a collective ballad that encourages the spirit, this song is made to take you to the ballot box.
The Vote For Your Life is a campaign and partnership between ViacomCBS and The Ad Council, which is driving eligible voters to register and vote in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, November 3. The platform has a quick and easy way to find out about registering and voting in your community.
MTV has been running the social campaign video that features Vo’s “History in The Making” song with lyrics that pull the hero out of you. The 30-second clip highlights the lyrics “this is where you become the greatest of all time.”
The Vote For Your Life song implies to the listener that they can make a difference, get to the polls, and have an impact on history moving forward.
Vo describes voting as a process related to supporting your favorite music artist, buying the merch, downloading, and sharing their music, showing up to their shows or events.
Vo witnesses the power in his music and voice, advocating voting to liberate minorities and deliverance from the weight 2020 has placed on all of us.
Vo says, “‘History In The Making’ underscored the urgency and magnitude of the issues at stake during the election this year, especially those young people, primarily Black and Latinx, care about.”
During the most heated moment in politics, social reform, and racial injustice for GenZ and Millenials, Vo’s music hits a cord of empowerment.
“You can’t watch change happen in the white house, you have to share the songs, promote the videos, buy the download. You have to cast your vote!”
He concludes with, “people can go to VoteForYourLife.com to check their voter registration, register, learn about your early voting options, and get to the polls.”
“You know the thing about voter suppression… It continues to evolve,” says Timothy Smith, executive producer of Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook.
Rigged is a 2019 documentary that analyzes and exposes voter suppression in the United States. The doc, narrated by Jeffrey Wright, is a deeply honest exploration of the last decade of this country.
It is an explanation of how democracy and hope have been thwarted by nefarious means, spearheaded by the conservative 1% in America. Rigged features soundbites and interviews with Republican strategists, writers, and scholars, and voting rights advocates like Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP LDF.
I had the chance to speak further with Smith about Rigged, his larger advocacy work with American Issues Initiative, and voter suppression as a whole. With the recent court ruling in Wisconsin that blocked extending the absentee voting deadline (during a global pandemic ravaging the US), one can argue voting rights are in more danger than they have been since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, it is not hyperbole to say our entire democracy is at stake.
That mild November night in Chicago
The story of recent voter suppression begins in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected. As Jeffrey Wright narrates over old footage, “This scary story starts in Chicago on a mild November night.”
The election of Obama stood as hope for many people, across several generations. It wasn’t just possible for a black man to be in the running for the highest office in the land. It was possible for him to win it.
Minorities turned out to vote in record numbers in ’08, and they realized a promising and beautiful thing: their voices mattered, and they had the power to enact change.
“If there is anyone out there who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama roars in his victory speech in Chicago.
But democracy was in fact in grave danger. Influential conservatives felt power slipping from their grasp, and they raised their chins to the sky in search of a way to stop the blue flood that everyone was expecting.
The two most powerful of these conservatives? Charles and David Koch.
“There are about 400 very wealthy individuals now who are allied with Charles and David Koch in a kind of a rich people’s political movement,” says Jane Mayer, Staff Writer for The New Yorker.
“They looked at the 2008 election as a catastrophe.”
The Voter Suppression Playbook
Wealthy conservatives and their controlling operations saw a tide shifting. The fastest-growing minority demographic in America are Latin Americans, and they do not commonly gravitate to the Republican side.
So the Koch brothers and their friends did what they could, they used their lobbying power to win state elections, to turn the map of the US red, in one of the moves that Rigged calls “the Voter Suppression Playbook.”
“If we continue to underperform in this multiracial world that was going to be America, the white voters are going to be a clear minority, [and] the Republican party will cease to exist,” says Chris Jankowski, Republican Strategist.
There are a great deal many more plays in this sinister “book.” Smith, his producing partner Mac Heller, and the other people working on this project wanted to investigate certain practices headed by shady politicians or citizens that hid their racism under the guise of patriotism.
So Smith and company went into Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, where gerrymandering and other suspicious practices like voting purging were going on. Voting purging is challenging the registration status and legality of voters, often by mailing notices to homes for people to confirm they live there. In North Carolina, Smith and co. found a group working to further disenfranchise voters.
The Voter Integrity Project is a group featured in Rigged, where the two men at the helm claim to want to cut down on voter fraud and other illicit voting schemes. The only problem? There are hardly any cases present.
The VIP purged voters in NC, one of which was a woman, Karen Wilson-McKoy, who had been dispossessed by Hurricane Matthew. Thus, she never got the letter from the VIP questioning her ability to vote.
The court eventually overturned what the VIP had done, but it was only a few days before the election. When she tried to vote at the earliest date, she was unable to, and then on election day, she couldn’t take off of work.
Why again, is election day not a national holiday?
“They succeeded in doing what they wanted to do,” Smith says of the VIP.
Under the guise of integrity and patriotism, the VIP was stripping away rights from US citizens. Still, the documentary does not paint the VIP as inherently sinister people; it gives them their space to speak and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. In 2016, the VIP searched for any sign of voter fraud. They found zero cases.
“If you’re going to understand who the bad guys are, you need to spend some time with the bad guys,” Smith tells me.
Another case Smith and his group found on their journey across America was in Texas, where a sheriff was up for re-election in a county half-white, half-Hispanic.
A Latino man, Manuel Rodriguez, was locked up for 18 months for alleged voter fraud before he was given a plea bargain.
“[It was] sort of the message being: voting is a dangerous thing, you can end up in jail,” says Smith. It is these little efforts by conservatives to discourage, intimidate, or slyly disable people from voting that strip rights away from citizens and puts our democracy in complete danger.
Rodriguez was never given a trial and was released on time served. Low and behold, the sheriff was re-elected.
American Issues Initiative
“My co-executive producer Mac Heller has been very committed to good causes; his background was as a lawyer. He’s always just been a big believer in voting rights,” says Smith.
Heller was deeply upset about the finding in Shelby vs. Holder, a landmark Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The finding has made it easier for state officials to discourage minority voters to vote.
Heller wanted to write a book on voting rights but realized there were already ones out there. What was missing was a succinct yet detailed documentary on the issue, so he reached out to Smith, who had political documentary experience in his work at PBS NewsHour and MSNBC.
They would join forces in June of 2016, along with Jesse Moss, Sam Pollard, and Barbara Friedman, just to name a few contributors.
“We wanted to sort of wrap this film into a bigger entity than just the film itself. Basically, for the last three years we’ve been devoted to the issue of voting rights, and we continue to be devoted to that issue,” says Smith.
American Issues Initiative is that bigger entity. It serves as an outlet to tackle some of society’s biggest problems, such as justice reform, education reform, or any attack on our democracy.
Besides over 200 screenings for Rigged, the American Issues Initiative has had over 30 voting rights panels.
“We’re really arm-in-arm with a number of these voting rights groups,” declares Smith.
Rigged is dedicated to two tireless voting rights advocates, who sadly have passed, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and Rosanell Eaton.
Eaton was a civil rights worker who helped force the Voting Rights Act in 1965. She is featured in the doc along with Reverend Barber, former president of the NC NAACP. To still have to work on securing citizens’ rights in the second decade of the 2000s was disheartening, but Eaton, in her 90s, was still pushing for justice.
“She was just an amazing person, and as you can see in the film, just believed so much in voting rights,” Smith tells me.
Cummings, a tireless advocate for justice, pointed to a certain demographic for enacting change and preserving democracy.
“When we sat down with Elijah Cummings, one of the things he said was, ‘this is an issue really white people need to take charge of and care about… You have to convince the majority of Americans what’s going on and that it’s not right,'” Smith explains.
“I think for most white Americans, they’re not aware of it, which is why we’re working so hard to tell this story.”
The fight ahead
Not all states are intimidating, discouraging, or otherwise premeditatedly seeking to disenfranchise voters. Smith cited California, Oregon, Washington, New York, and Colorado as states that are great with voting rights.
“It’s not like the whole country is underwater, but there [is] still more of America underwater on this issue than there should be,” explains Smith.
The Wisconsin primary was a shock to many people, a realization that voting rights are truly in severe danger. And right now the focus is on the courts.
“In the film, we obviously make the point that the bulk work of protecting democracy and protecting the right to vote was the federal courts, but now Trump is sort of undercutting that last refuge,” notes Smith.
He recalled how Trump even recently said if the US allows for absentee votes, the Republicans will never win again (though the data shows that absentee voting does not favor either party).
We are gearing up for an election that feels like a defining moment. Yet it is clear the system is still rigged.
“It’s a ceaseless battle. You roll the rock up the hill and then it goes back down… It’s enough to make you wonder what’s the point of the struggle, but you can’t give in. And I feel like the wheel will turn in a positive direction this election cycle,” passionately expresses Smith.
Discrimination, silencing, intimidation are all nefarious actions taken by people who want to rig the system and make this country continue to benefit them above everyone else.
But through the tireless efforts of Smith, Heller, Cummings, Eaton, Barber, Stacey Abrams, Ifill, and many more, awareness is being spread, and actions towards justice are being taken.
“We have to dream about the democracy we want to have,” says Judith Brown Dianis of the Advancement Project in the film.
“And until we can say, without doubt, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Until that means exactly what it says, we are still working toward becoming a more perfect union” – Rev. Barber.
Rigged is available on Amazon Prime, and citizens can check their voter registration status and register to vote on Riggedthefilm.com.
Rest In Peace Elijah Cummings and Rosanell Eaton; may their bravery and courage never be forgotten.
Talking about communities of color can be the most difficult thing for a politician to do, especially a white one. It’s one thing to be openly racist like the current Cheeto Jesus, but it’s also important to recognize laziness around appealing to communities of color.
During debates and speeches, it often feels like establishment democrats have a playbook to adhere to, with each page detailing the stereotypical concerns of each race.
Biden tends to do this a lot. Besides being painfully obvious in his old-school politics and refusal to evolve, Biden puts his foot in his mouth nearly every time a POC issue is brought up, or not?
Known as the Gaffe King, Biden once equated poor kids with kids of color and white kids with wealth, in a speech stating that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
There are plenty of other examples of Biden putting his foot in his mouth, like using code words “urban” or “inner city” to refer to black and brown people, even when not asked.
But other candidates have cognitive dissonance when being asked about specific issues relating to people of color.
Buttigieg was asked if taxes would go up on Latino small businesses under his administration.
After responding, no, Buttigieg said the following: “We need to recognize that investing in Latino entrepreneurship is not just an investment in the Latino community, it is an investment in the future of America.”
He continued, “And it is time for a president who understands the value of immigration in lifting up all of our communities and our country. We’re getting the exact opposite message from the current president.”
In this response, Buttigieg effectively equated Latino with immigration even when the question was about small businesses.
Instances such as this one, show that no matter what that candidate thinks of each race, they respond to questions as single-issue voting blocks.
Stats don’t lie
You might say campaigns count on this rhetoric to get the most votes. While its accurate to say that due to systemic racism POC are proportionally more likely to have a lower income, that’s not their only concern as a voting block.
Black Census Project, conducted by The Black Futures Lab is the largest survey of Black people conducted in the United States since Reconstruction. Their polls show that
“Nine in 10 Black Census respondents (90 percent) view wages too low to sustain a family as a problem in the community, and a large majority (85 percent) support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
“Jobs and economy (29%), education (24%), police accountability (24%), and the environment and climate (20%) rounded out the first-tier issues. Critical second-tier issues included criminal justice reform (16%), common-sense gun reform (14%), voting rights (13%), and women’s reproductive rights (13%).”
But let’s also take the Latino business question for a second.
Eighty-three percent support Medicare for all. After that the next top 4 concerns are improving incomes(19%), Stop Trump/GOP Agenda (13%), creating more jobs (12%), and stop racism (12%).
Protecting immigrants’ rights is sixth and last on the list with (11%). Knowing this, it’s actually quite illogical to bring up immigration during a Latino business question. If you’re trying to speak to what Latinos really care about you’d opt for any other issue.
Do better Dems
So why clutch onto the outdated and just flat out incorrect stereotyping? Is it laziness? Indifference?
You’ve probably heard plenty of white politicians who are unable to shake off that old rhetoric. This is probably because they’ve internalized it and unfortunately just see POC that way.
You can point out the good intentions behind it, but the results are clear. Perpetuating a narrow representation of POC is harmful. Not every Black kid is poor and not every white kid is rich. Not every Latino is an immigrant or prioritizes immigrant issues.
Politicians need to do better with their rhetoric if they want our votes. Keeping up the same old buzz words and race stereotypes just proves that they’re not really listening.