Originally published on Glamour.com
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“Wow, I’ve had a lot of coffee this morning!” Ani DiFranco laughs. The singer-songwriter and activist has been talking nonstop for more than five minutes about the upcoming presidential election when she realizes she needs to catch her breath. She’s speaking about the “Bernie or Bust” movement, and says that while she likes Sanders, whose independence and idealism inspired a fiercely devoted fanbase, she now wishes his supporters would put their vote in the context of the most pressing issues facing the country—or their party in general—rather than their preference for a particular candidate.
“Politics seems so far gone,” DiFranco says. “Corporations are so empowered, and people feel so disempowered. Since I was a kid, the idea of what a politician is has shifted and become the image of a very calculating, self-serving, money-grubbing agent of big business. It’s not very inspiring, but you have to look deep and realize that these choices—which seem like frustratingly incremental changes—are life and death for some.” Through her music, as well as her Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has supported numerous politicians and issues, like reproductive rights and equality for the LGBTQ community. Now she’s using her energy and activism to put on the first-ever BabeFest.
A one-day festival of music, comedy, and social activism, BabeFest 2016 is the brainchild of DiFranco and writer/comedian Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and founder of the comedy and reproductive rights web hub Lady Parts Justice. Taking place Friday, August 26, at Asbury Hall in Buffalo, New York, Babefest will include a performance by singer-songwriter Chastity Brown, who has opened for DiFranco on her recent tours. Activist and nonprofit organizations like HeadCount, which holds voter registration drives at concerts, The Roots of Music, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that promotes youth music education, Amnesty International, and others will also have a presence at the event.
DiFranco, Winstead, and Brown consider themselves artists and activists alike, and the three women have a lot of opinions about which issues matter most in the 2016 election—from police brutality to Black Lives Matter to protecting reproductive rights. But the theme of the inaugural Babefest is “Vote Dammit!”—not only the name of DiFranco’s current tour, continuing through November, but a message about fighting voter apathy, which BabeFest’s founders feel is key to furthering the other issues they care about.
Voter turnout varies by election in America. It reached its highest level in 40 years for the 2008 election, at 57.1 percent. Two years later, for the 2010 midterm, the number dropped to 36.9 percent, before rising to 53.7 percent for the next presidential election in 2012. But while voters turn up at the polls for presidential elections, those numbers usually drop for mid-term and local elections—a trend that Winstead credits, for example, as contributing to the tighter reproductive rights legislation that’s gone into effect since the 2010 midterms.
“I think we have a real opportunity to get people to not just say, ‘Voting is important,’ but, ‘Here are some tangible ways voting is important,’” says Winstead. “Oftentimes, I think people don’t associate the fact that such incredible hardline extremism actually gets elected—sometimes I think it just looks like they’re just out on the fringes. And they’re actually holding office, creating laws.”
Winstead co-founded Lady Parts Justice in 2012 in part to combat that kind of extremism. A group of writers and comics devoted to defending reproductive rights and exposing the people working to limit access to them, LPJ has produced numerous activist videos and traveled throughout the country, hosting comedy shows and working for community clinics. In part, the organization uses humor to expose some of the misinformation surrounding abortion. When asked to give examples, of this misinformation, Winstead deadpans, “You want me to narrow that down?” then immediately starts listing elected representatives who compared pregnant women carrying stillborn fetuses to cows and pigs and a former ob-gyn said a fetus’s gestational period should be lowered from 20 weeks to 14 weeks, because fetuses can feel pleasure and pain (this, after claiming he saw a male fetus pleasuring itself in the womb). A portion of the proceeds from BabeFest will go to both Lady Parts Justice and The Roots of Music.
For Chastity Brown, sometimes the endless, particularly anti-woman rhetoric can get exhausting. But rather than tuning it out, Brown says she channels her anger into activism, contributing to Think Out Loud, which works to end homelessness through music, and devoting herself to Black Lives Matter. “It’s more important than ever that the personal is political,” she says of empowering voters. “I think Trump’s [rhetoric] is a good spur in the side of America to realize that we have still so much work to do when it comes to the civil rights of the human beings that live in this country.” She adds, “I definitely believe in turning anger into action.”
Along with mobilizing voters through music and performance art, DiFranco hopes Babefest will inspire people to think about how their individual vote affects more than just themselves. “If I’m just voting for myself, voting for the lesser of two evils or somebody who doesn’t represent me, well that sucks,” DiFranco says. “If I’m voting for everyone collectively because I understand that’s what voting is about—being accountable for the collective—then voting for Hillary Clinton is fucking thrilling. I’m fighting evil, I’m fighting fascism, I’m fighting sexism. It’s an imperfect situation, as in democracy, but boy, could it be worse.”
Comparing it to the feeling of unity she gets after leaving a protest, Brown says she hopes people will depart Babefest feeling like “their squad is that much bigger.” “With all the shit going on—we’re on our phones, sitting at our kitchen tables reeling, or crying in the tub or screaming in the pillow—there’s something so powerful about remembering that you’re not alone in your efforts or your feelings.”
Get tickets and find out more about ‘Vote Dammit!’ and BabeFest’s cause here.