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Black Thought returns to his roots to help get out Philly vote

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 Margaux Meyer gets a selfie with Tariq 'Black Thought' Trotter of The Roots after waiting in line for an hour to vote at the Painted Bride. Trotter brought soft pretzels, drinks and moral support to voters in Philadelphia as he made his Election Day rounds. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Margaux Meyer gets a selfie with Tariq 'Black Thought' Trotter of The Roots after waiting in line for an hour to vote at the Painted Bride. Trotter brought soft pretzels, drinks and moral support to voters in Philadelphia as he made his Election Day rounds. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Transportation services Uber, Lyft, and Carshare are offering free rides today to make sure as many people as possible get to the polls and vote.

Some members of the group The Roots are doing the same. Drummer Questlove and singer Black Thought were in Philadelphia Tuesday to help mobilize voters.

“If one more person votes because of my effort, I’m that much closer to achieving my civic duty,” said Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought, who brought water, pretzels, and good cheer to voters waiting in line at the Painted Bride polling place in Old City.

NWELblackthoughtx600Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter of The Roots at the Painted Bride. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I feel a responsibility as a Philadelphian with some name and face recognition. It’s foolish to say I’m not going to be a role model,” he said. “Some people are influenced by what I do, whether I like it or not.”

It all started with the SEPTA strike.

City DJ and activist Cosmo Baker was worried that many Philadelphians would not be able to get to the polls because the buses might not run. Using little more than social media platforms, in about 24 hours he mobilized a 100-member army of volunteers.

Even though the SEPTA strike ended in time for buses and trolleys to run during Election Day, Baker pushed forward.

“Between me and a few principles in this guerrilla operation — we don’t really have a name for this — we came up with a logistics structure to make this work, to get people to polls,” said Baker.

When the urgency of a SEPTA strike dissipated in Philadelphia, Baker redirected his volunteers into outlying area areas of Chester and Delaware counties, where problems of getting to polls are more serious than in dense urban areas. His motivation is not nonpartisan; he wants Pennsylvania to tip blue.

In Philadelphia, voters were facing long waits. At the Painted Bride, a performance venue in Old City used as a polling place, the line became very long, very fast. People popping in to vote before going work confronted a two-hour delay. Many people turned around and left without voting.

“I would stay here all morning if I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment,” said Jason Pizzi, who waited 45 minutes before pulling out of line. He was one of the more good-natured ones. “I’ll come back this afternoon, or this evening, or whatever it takes.”

Black Thought came to the Painted Bride to hand out food and water to those waiting in line, but most voters were more interested in shaking his hand and taking selfies with him.

That was OK with him. He knows what the gig is.

“All of our civic duty is to vote, but not all of us are on prime-time television five nights a week,” said Black Thought. “There are murals of us here. Our name is on Broad Street in the sidewalk. That affords me a little more influence.”

Black Thought grew up in South Philadelphia, but is no longer based in the city. He has lived in Los Angeles, now in New York, and always kept a residence in Philadelphia. This is where he is registered to vote; he comes back home every Election Day.

Normally, he doesn’t linger too long in his home town day because The Roots is a busy band. This year, he spent the day in Philadelphia encouraging voters because, as he said, “This election is like no other.”

He also has, for once, the luxury of time. All late-night television talk shows are pre-empted by their networks for election coverage, including “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” So Black Thought does not have to rush back to New York for work.

“We have the day off,” he said. “I’m able to volunteer a little time and energy for the cause.”

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