Justin Vernon "Your Honor"

Justin Vernon Debuts “Your Honor,” a Beautiful Tribute To Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In partnership with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, Justin Vernon and his Eaux Claires Festival have launched an exciting initiative to encourage more Wisconsinites to vote. Labeled with the #ForWisconsin hashtag, these videos range from sit-down interviews with influential leaders, such as Brandon Yellowbird Stevens, vice chairman of Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, and performances from celebrated artists like Anaïs Mitchel, singer-songwriter and playwright of the Broadway smash Hadestown and the Bon Iver frontman himself.

“Through images, words, stories, songs and some surprise moments brought together by the Eaux Claires Festival, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, Justin Vernon in a tore-up van and you, the #ForWisconsin project is your chance to grow the vote, secure your vote and build your future,” reads an announcement on the Eaux Claire website, where all of these videos are featured.

The video that’s especially gaining traction right now is simply titled “A Visit With Vernon.” Released on October 1, it’s part of a series in which Vernon chats with two guests: one who’s passionate about voting, and another who’s not a fan of the whole casting-your-vote thing. “Do you know someone who’s on the fence about voting? Someone who hasn’t registered to vote and maybe won’t? Justin Vernon would like to visit with them. Not to debate, not to preach, just to visit,” explains 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s website. “Justin might play a tune or sing a song, but mostly he just wants to talk thoughtfully about why voting matters.”

Communication, Vernon stressed to his guests Benny and Eric, is especially important right now. “I wish we were encouraged to communicate rather than eviscerate,” he said, touching upon how people tend to put up walls and tune out opposing viewpoints rather than engage in respectful, constructive conversations. He and Eric attribute this, at least in part, to America’s two-party voting system. “We need to come together,” Eric, who’s on the fence about voting in the upcoming presidential election, began. “We need another party or something more.” His peers say he’s wasting a vote when it’s for a candidate who isn’t Republican or Democrat, he explained. “Someone has to waste that vote to make that change, I guess.”

Vernon did a phenomenal job here of empathizing with Eric while also staying true to his mission: Reiterating that voting does matter. “The binary system can be really unfair and just unrepresentative of everything that’s going on, but I wouldn’t say your vote would be wasted … I’m not here to change your mind, but I do know what it’s like to feel like … I don’t really like these two options, but I feel like your vote does matter,” Vernon said, noting that voting affects so much of our everyday lives, from federal-level policies to local legislation. When we don’t vote, everything inevitably remains the same, he stressed. “I just feel like it’s important to vote because one, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain; but also … I’m transgender (so) it’s really important for me that people vote,” Benny added. “I don’t care who you vote for; I just want you to vote.”

One person who never shied away from taking on issues or injustices was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Vernon paid tribute to in this edition of “A Visit With Vernon.” “She just opened up so many doors for so many people that people don’t even realize or understand,” he shared. “I think her service to the nation is somehow still underestimated.” During her tenure as a lawyer and Justice, Ginsburg — who’s remembered fondly as the Notorious RBG — fought tirelessly for equality.

“This slow talker, ruthless editor and die-hard romantic wanted to make sure that every woman could find her best place, whether in a military-academy classroom, on the floor of a factory or behind the wheel of a minivan,” noted Edith Roberts, who once clerked for Ginsburg, in a tribute for The Washington Post. “She wanted the women who came after her to have the chance to get things — for themselves, as she did so often for herself — just right.”

After Ginsburg died on September 18, Vernon wanted to pay tribute to her in the best way he knew how: through music, of course. His song, “Your Honor,” which he played live for Benny and Eric, is a soothing, yet powerful, call to action that perfectly captures Ginsburg’s powerful, fiery spirit. The roughly 4-minute track is loaded with evocative lyrics that are further intensified by Vernon’s always-impressive falsetto singing.

“Can’t you just feel for another? // I implore you,” he sang, hinting at the division between Americans that he and his guests discussed. “There is suffering … time’s getting shorter and shorter // Why waste your fine life,” he continued, rocking back and forth as he played breezy chords on his guitar and occasionally glanced at his sheet music.

“Your Honor” is a beautiful song and the whole video — from his solo performance to his conversation with Benny and Eric — is wildly endearing. He admitted he was nervous to play the song and thanked his guests for listening — and clapping. No matter whom he’s talking with, whether they’re a fan of his or the Green Bay Packers’ celebrated quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Vernon has shown time and time again that he’s comfortable navigating sensitive conversations and empowering others to speak their truths. Not only that, but you can tell that he’s really passionate about social justice and honoring the figures who’ve paved the way for a better life for everyone, including Ginsburg.

Vernon’s new track reinforces that although RBG profoundly changed the world, there’s still much more that needs to be done. Voting may not be a perfect process, Vernon admitted, but it can affect some change — and that’s a good start. To view the full “A Visit With Vernon” episode and watch all of Vernon’s other voting initiatives, visit eauxclaires.com or follow the hashtag #ForWisconsin on social media.

Featured Image: Youtube (@EauxClaires).

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