Devon Gilfillian first “opened [his] eyes” to voter suppression in 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really started to … see how difficult it was for people to make their voices heard,” he tells SPIN. “I went out to a protest after George Floyd was killed and saw people playing instruments, and I said, ‘Man, I want to do that. I want to bring my guitar out.’ I went back and learned [Marvin Gaye’s] ‘What’s Going on.’ I was learning that song on acoustic, and I was like, ‘It’s crazy that these words have already been said.’ That kind of pushed me into my Black militant mode and opened my eyes to see how people of color and poor people — people who don’t have the resources — how difficult it is for them to make their voices heard and vote in this country.”
Gilfillian also went a step further, using his music to help raise money for that cause. “I wanted to figure out some way to do that in Tennessee, to raise some money to fight voter suppression,” he continues. “That is what made me want to record all of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I did the whole cover album of his music and [recruited] some Black artists that I love. I wanted to lift Black voices and somehow fight voter suppression. We raised some money for this non-profit called Equity Alliance, and they educate communities and get them up to speed and registered to vote.”
While voter suppression is a widespread issue, Gilfillian points to his Nashville community as an example of the opposite.
“It does feel discouraging a lot of times, when you feel like there’s a lot of people who don’t see the importance,” he says. “You’re on a blue island in a giant red sea. I don’t want to make it split between one or the other, but it is in a way. To me, there’s one team that wants to make people’s voices heard, and there’s another one that doesn’t. Nashville, in my community, I see that everyone wants people to vote.”