Tampa woman sings to inspire voters

TAMPA — She sings from the diaphragm.

Reverberating from her chest, into the afternoon traffic of downtown, the sound stops Election Day voters in their tracks.

Strangers stand transfixed on Harrison Street, outside Precinct 163, as this woman dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt squeezes her right hand, opens her palm, extends an arm.

Her left fist clutches lyrics etched on lined paper with folded edges.

"Reach out and touch all voters' hands," Paula McKethan croons. "Give back to the people of our USA land."

When she's finished, voters continue on their way. Others applaud. One man moves closer.

"Thank you," he says. "That's just what we need to hear today. Don't stop singing."

McKethan smiles. She's proud of her words and the power they hold.

But what she doesn't tell the voters she's met in a week of serenades is that she doesn't plan to cast a ballot herself.

In fact, she's never voted in her life.

A seemingly never-ending onslaught of campaign commercials and attack ads in the weeks before Tuesday's election pushed McKethan to her limits. She was fed up with the rhetoric and the unrelenting call for votes.

So, she picked up a pen and wrote.

"All I kept hearing was, 'vote, vote, vote,' " she said. "But it's got to be about more than getting that number, more than just a vote. What do these people care about? What do they need?"

McKethan, 44, hopes her song will remind voters of what it means to cast a ballot.

She uses the word "inspiration" to describe her desired effect. But inspiration is something she has never found in politics.

"I believe in the power of the vote, and I stand behind anyone who wants to cast a ballot," she said. "But me? There ain't nobody I can stand behind with my vote. So, I don't."

She's been a registered Democrat in Hillsborough County since 2004, but said she prefers direct action.

McKethan, a mother of three, volunteers with her church and talks frequently with local organizers. She talks to her neighbors, too, to identify what problems her community faces.

If there's an issue, she doesn't believe in waiting around for politicians to fix it.

"The process is slow," she said. "And they don't listen to folks."

It's not clear where this political distrust came from.

Her mother, who died last year, was an active voter and reliable Democrat. Her ex-husband voted early. McKethan, who was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was in her 20s, has been unable to work and relies on government-funded disability.

"I don't know what it's going to take, but I know it'll happen someday," she said. "I need someone to stand behind. I need that … inspiration."

Until then, she'll do what she can believe in: help others find that inspiration in themselves.

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

Paula McKethan wrote a song to inspire local voters, but the mother of three has never cast a ballot in her 44 years.

MARISSA LANG | Times

Paula McKethan wrote a song to inspire local voters, but the mother of three has never cast a ballot in her 44 years.

Tampa woman sings to inspire voters 11/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 8:35pm]

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