Westobou headliner Janelle Monae asks Paine students to vote



After her white SUV rolled up to the squealing crowd of fans at Paine College, Janelle Monáe could have stepped out and talked about fame or music.

Instead, the three-time Grammy-nominated R&B singer wanted to talk politics.

Monáe made her way through about 100 students Thursday to a lectern, where she begged students to show up at the polls in November.

“What you’re doing is so important,” said the singer, who headlined the Westobou Festival on Thursday evening. “There are so many people who fought for us to have the right to vote. ... For you to pay them back by actually voting is the highest form of appreciation.”

With less than one week until the voting registration deadline, schools and college campuses in Augusta are trying to push young people to take part in the democratic process. Volunteers at Paine were registering students during Monáe’s visit, and some public high schools are making applications available on campus.

Monáe stressed the importance of voting in general but took the chance to explain why she supports President Obama.

She cited Obama’s role in ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq, his 2009 policy that she said made it easier for women to fight for equal pay in the workplace and his efforts to make college more affordable.

“I’m here to support a man who is looking out for our futures,” Monáe said.

High schools such as Hephzibah and Cross Creek had organizations visit the campuses to register eligible students this week. Representatives from the Board of Elections visit the schools every April for a registration drive, according to Executive Director Lynn Bailey.

John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School’s teacher of the year, Crystal Gaines, asked her Advanced Placement government students to watch Wednesday’s presidential debate between Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney and write an essay comparing the arguments. The class has been studying the political process by learning about various beliefs and ways to get in touch with government officials.

Last month, students watched Gaines put her cellphone on speaker as she dialed the Washington office of U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga. The aide who answered spoke briefly about Barrow’s job and how he answers to the public.

That afternoon, the 12th District congressman called the school to schedule a visit to the class, which he made last week. Barrow handed out pocket Constitutions to the students and talked about what House members do.

“We’re having them involved as much as possible and getting them politically educated,” said Gaines, who had registered about 30 students to vote as of Thursday. “Students need to exercise their rights that we have in our form of government. …”

At Paine, sophomore Jade Phelps said it was helpful to have a public figure such as Monáe give insight on how to sift through all the political rhetoric and make decisions.

“It was a positive message,” Phelps said.

November’s presidential election will be the first for many Paine students to vote in, so it takes on a special meaning, Shikari McCants said.

After watching Wednes­day’s debate, McCants said she heard good points from both candidates but will vote for someone who represents the majority of people.

“This time it seems more serious to me,” McCants said. “I never thought about voting in the past. Now I will for sure.”



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