POLITICS

Bringing a ‘Broad City’ Approach to Energizing the Youth Vote

Young people who vote: They are the holy grail of any presidential campaign, but regularly getting them energized and excited is a yet-to-be-cracked formula.

But maybe excited is too high a bar. Ilana Glazer, the comedian and co-creator of the TV series “Broad City,” has a new project that rests less on building on enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket, and more on enthralling people with how voting can bring about tangible change. In this case, that change is getting rid of President Trump.

She’s approaching it from a shared antipathy to the occasionally pedantic nature of politics, which she feels can intimidate younger or newer participants.

“I really resent how I’m supposed to feel stupid if I don’t know how the system works,” Ms. Glazer said in an interview. “The system is perfectly designed to evade me.”

After what she described as “the nightmare election” of 2016, Ms. Glazer, 33, dedicated much of her past four years to progressive activism through her nonprofit group, Generator, aiming to connect with exactly that kind of uneasy liberal. Now, in the final, 70-day sprint to the election, Ms. Glazer is teaming up with the liberal super PAC Pacronym and introducing a new project titled “Cheat Sheet for the Voting Booth.”

In 2016, the 18-to-29 voting bloc had the lowest turnout percentage in the general election, despite relentless outreach and targeting from both presidential campaigns.

For their youth outreach efforts, campaigns usually rely on celebrities with huge appeal to young audiences. But rarely have celebrity-backed videos cut through to the intended audience.

Ms. Glazer is trying a slightly different approach, she said. She’s just going to talk to some of her friends about the election, and why they’re excited to vote, and hope some younger people listen. Maybe they’re not stoked about a President Biden, but they’re definitely infuriated by Mr. Trump.

In a series she describes as having a similar vibe to “Broad City,” Ms. Glazer is tapping her friends with connections to key swing states — Zoë Kravitz, Wanda Sykes, Eric Andre and her fellow “Broad City” star, Abbi Jacobson, to name a few — for a 20-part web series that will feature conversations between friends about politics, the election, and coming around to Joseph R. Biden Jr. Pacronym will then edit the episodes and integrate them into a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in six battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“No matter what, the white supremacist, narcissistic, sociopathic individual occupying the White House has got to go,” Ms. Glazer explains in the project’s introduction. “And he needs to be SHOVED out; he needs to lose by a landslide, baby.”

The idea for the project is to try to connect with, and energize, a voter who is not obsessively following day-to-day political news but is worried about the state of the country. Often, that description applies to notoriously finicky youth voters.

“A lot of the celebrity engagement is really overproduced and watered down, and what we usually see on campaigns are highly produced, direct-to-camera videos for surrogates,” said Tara McGowan, the founder of Pacronym. “They don’t hit a cultural nerve the way their actual work does that made them influential.”

With “Cheat Sheet to the Polls,” Ms. Glazer and Ms. McGowan are hoping to lead with what would draw in viewers — Ms. Glazer’s manic brand of comedy — and, eventually, get to the campaign.

The project is the coronavirus-friendly reduction of what had been an expansive election-year comedy and politics schedule for Ms. Glazer. Between a “Horny 4 Tha Polls” national standup series and Genny Socials, which are dance parties mixed with brief political stump speeches, Ms. Glazer was planning to spend the year touring the country and motivating voters toward the twin goals of progressive causes and voting out Mr. Trump.

It kicked off with some notable successes.

“We had Eric Holder dancing to George Clinton,” Ms. Glazer recalled of an early Genny Social. “It was wild. He was like getting low and saying, ‘Bill Barr can’t do this!’ And I was like, ‘You better believe Bill Barr can’t do this!’”

For Ms. Glazer, who describes the so-called Squad of progressive women in Congress as “superheroes,” the project is also about building progressive energy for Mr. Biden through a focus on the down-ballot candidates, a new generation of leaders who could be the next Squad.

But she’s also hoping to also help people simply cast away the cynicism and embrace the power of voting, a line of messaging that academics have found particularly resonates with younger voters.

“First-time voters especially need to believe that political engagement makes a real tangible difference in their lives, and that’s what we’ve seen with our polling since 2017,” said Mark Gearan, the director of the Harvard Institute of Politics. He said that with the pandemic and the protests against police brutality, young people were directly confronting political issues in a more involved way.

“I think this is a once-in-a-generation moment for young people,” he said.

Ms. Glazer hopes to help find those with that same energy, but perhaps less political knowledge, and persuade them to vote.

“Their vote matters as much as Jeff Bezos’s vote,” Ms. Glazer said, peppering in some excitement-tinged profanity. “It’s such a cool thing about America.”

She said she was worried that some people might think their vote doesn’t count — because that might be the message they are hearing. She is working to counteract that.

“I would say, young people, I want them to know how much power they have, and how much their experiences and stories matter,” she said.


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