Carlton Jackson was prepared to be bored when he showed up to vote Saturday in South Philadelphia. The long line of people waiting to fill out and hand in ballots snaked along two sides of the High School for Creative & Performing Arts (CAPA).
But Jackson got some surprise entertainment from Movemakers Philly, a youth hip-hop dance team. The dancing kids and music from the DJ had voters clapping to the beat and shooting video on their phones outside the school on South Broad Street. Jackson posted a recording on social media, thinking the video could motivate others to vote early.
“With this making it more fun, it gets people to come out,” said the 47-year-old South Philly resident who, at that point, had been in line an hour and a half. “It doesn’t seem that long.”
On what was the inaugural “Vote Early Day,” a national effort to highlight voting options with Election Day just 10 days away, musicians, motorcyclists, and community members made voting a little more exciting throughout the city with events meant to entertain, educate, and encourage. Those who did turn out to vote found free food and music outside some satellite voting locations, which allow voters to request and cast a mail-in ballot in one location.
At a time when some worry about voter intimidation, those in line Saturday said the music and other entertainment created safe and comforting environments, where kids played nearby and adults competed in chess.
“I also think that kids bring safety. We want this to be a safe place for everybody to express their choice,” said Mark Wong, 39, a lead break dancing coach for Movemakers Philly. “So let’s keep it light. Let’s keep it fun.”
Movemakers was to be joined at CAPA by other local artists including the Urban Movement Arts youth hip-hop dancers, hand drummer Karen Smith, performance poet Nina Lyrispect, and salsa teacher Maestro Flaco. The hour of entertainment was organized by the Painted Bride Art Center, a nonprofit performance space and gallery. The Bride plans to bring pop-up performances to Overbook Elementary School on Oct. 31 and to the Liacouras Center at Temple University on Election Day.
Elsewhere in the city, Resistance Revival Chorus — a group of women and nonbinary singers who perform protest songs — was to sing at Tilden Middle School in Southwest Philadelphia. The show was part of “Joy to the Polls,” a series of mobile concerts to entertain early voters set up by the Election Defenders, volunteers organized by national progressive groups.
Election Defenders is organizing mini-concerts across the country to motivate voters standing in long lines. In some states, the wait to cast ballots has been several hours, in some cases because there are fewer polling locations this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At LOVE Park, MTV brought a pop-up art installation to celebrate and educate voters about early voting options. The installation featured chalk art from local muralist Bill Strobel, and encouraged anyone to make their own voting-inspired chalk creations.
Before noon, the line of voters at City Hall stretched along the south side, where the wait time was up to two hours, some voters said. But the perception of time seemed to vary, with voters just a few spots from each other offering widely different estimates.
Teresa Manyara came prepared with a chair and a book to read. Like many others, Manyara, 71, of West Philly, said she found early voting more convenient than the machines on Election Day. She likes that she was able to cast her ballot on any day she wanted.
“I’m comfortable, instead of rushing at the last minute,” Manyara said.
By the statue of Octavius Catto, the civil rights activist who was shot to death during Election Day violence in 1871, bikers gathered before heading out on a two-hour ride of voter encouragement designed to take them past several mail-in ballot drop-off locations, from Center City to Northwest Philadelphia.
The “Black Bikers Vote” Ride was hosted by the Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church in Center City, who is also codirector of the POWER Interfaith Live Free campaign. POWER represents more than 100 congregations in Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania.
Said 64-year-old rider Aaron Atchison, from Willingboro: “We have fought the system for a long time in trying to get our rights to be equal, and that’s what this is all about.”