WINSTON-SALEM - While George W. Bush and Al Gore defended their presidential platforms at Wake Forest University on Wednesday night, thousands of students jammed to Hootie and the Blowfish as part of Rock the Vote's efforts to register and educate youth voters.
The event, held at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, was free and included a Web-casted political talk show and performances by Daniel Cage and a local hip-hop group.
The bands stopped playing at 9 p.m. for the presidential debate, which was displayed on two jumbo television screens in the coliseum.
When the debate ended, screaming fans rushed to the front of the arena to hear Hootie and the Blowfish perform.
Winston-Salem is the 19th of 25 stops Rock the Vote is making on its U.S. bus tour this year, sponsored by Doritos and eCampus.com.
The tour features different performing artists in each city it visits and aims to bring out and register youth voters around the country, said Liz Vivian, field manager for Rock the Vote.
"We are doing this to make politics fun for youth," Vivian said. "We are registering voters all along the way and we're informing them about national and local issues that will affect them."
Vivian said she was happy that Rock the Vote could coincide its visit to North Carolina with the presidential debate.
"It's very important for youths to be part of the debate and hear what the candidates are talking about," she said. "(Younger voters) need to have a voice in elections and it needs to be an informed voice."
And voters did not have to look far to obtain information on this year's election issues. As part of Rock the Vote's mission to educate voters, several lobbyists, activists and youth service organizations set up tables and handed out pamphlets in the lobby of the coliseum.
Among these groups was North Carolinians for Educational Opportunity, a group that promotes the $3.1 billion bond referendum that will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Reyna Walters, student outreach coordinator for NCEO, said she was spending the night handing out fliers and buttons to encourage voters to support the bond, which would support capital improvements at the state's community colleges and 16 higher education institutions.
"A lot of times at events like this one, people don't want to hear about bonds," Walters said. "But (Rock the Vote) fits in a lot with what we're trying to do - this is a great opportunity for us to reach students that are interested in the debate and even students who are just here to see a free concert."
Vivian said that in addition to the lobbyists, performers and large-screen viewing of the debate, Rock the Vote also invited the presidential candidates to attend the rally and speak to students. But only Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne and Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin appeared.
"A lot of young voters feel the candidates don't care about them, so this brings those candidates out to reach out to the youth," Vivian said.
Jessica Faulkenberry, a senior at Salem College, said the event was a great way to involve college students in politics. "We have a reputation of being apathetic," she said. "This is a great way to get students motivated."
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