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We are deep into an election season when a vital question is who shows up? Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR's Code Switch team met people who want to grab young voters' attention by making them laugh.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: A new campaign called Call the Cops started a few days ago, and its 30-second spots are popping up on the Internet. In one, a guy with a laptop is sitting on a cafe patio. He looks disgustedly into his recyclable cup as a stunning young black woman pulls up a chair.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Todd) The coffee here sucks.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You know what else sucks, Todd? Voter suppression.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Todd) How did you know my name?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Do you plan on voting?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Todd) No.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Why is that?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Todd) Because the parties don't represent me. The system is broken. Am I right?
GRISBY BATES: So the woman whips out her phone and makes a call.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) 911, I'd like to report a raggedy ass hipster who thinks he's going to be the next Tarantino. (Laughter) I know, that's going to happen. He doesn't plan on voting.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Can you describe him?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Oh, I can describe him. He's white. Good luck with that movie.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Todd) Will you please be in it?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, dude.
GRISBY BATES: It's a flip on all the white people - the barbecue Beckys, the pool patrol Pauls, the Starbucks Susies - who have called the police on black people just doing stuff - grilling in the park, using the condo pool, waiting in a coffee shop for a business partner. Only in this video, black people are calling the police on white ones they think are being irresponsible citizens. Tara McGowan heads ACRONYM, the nonprofit agency that commissioned the four videos that are popping up on your mobile devices. She gets that they're taking a risk riffing off whites policing black bodies for this campaign's cheeky reverse parody.
TARA MCGOWAN: There's nothing funny about that, but I do think that tying that to civic engagement and using your vote to really make a stand about what kind of country you want to live in and the direction you want this country to go in, I think that can be really powerful.
GRISBY BATES: ACRONYM works to elect progressive candidates via targeted digital media campaigns. McGowan says Call the Cops is part of the Knock the Vote project, which has a specific goal.
MCGOWAN: It is a program designed specifically for voters who may not vote in all elections or especially midterm elections.
GRISBY BATES: The company approached director Malcolm D. Lee to help write and direct the spots. Lee's work includes "Night School" and last year's hit comedy "Girls Trip." The idea of a direct plea to voters appealed to him.
MALCOLM D. LEE: You know, I think it's just important for people to just be aware. And, like, we're not telling you to vote for somebody in particular but, like, hey - but you got to vote. You got to get involved in the process.
GRISBY BATES: So he sat down with ACRONYM's creative director, Vince Murphy, who, by the way, is black, and devised the "Call The Cops" series. There's the hipster, a suburban mom and a worried black man played by "The Daily Show's" Roy Wood Jr. who's calling the cops on a group of selfie-takers.
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ROY WOOD JR.: (As character) Excuse me. Have y'all made plans to vote in November?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, laughter) No.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Hello, 911.
WOOD: (As character) 911, I'd like to report an emergency in the park. There's three white women just taking selfies - triple-selfie in progress. They're using filters, emojis, the same picture over and over again, wearing pajamas. And they literally have no plans of voting in November.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Excuse me. That's not illegal.
WOOD: (As character) Please hurry. I can smell the avocado toast.
GRISBY BATES: Tara McGowan says most of the responses they've received have been positive. And even if a minority of people are offended, she says, getting their attention is half the battle.
MCGOWAN: If we elicit an emotional response, we think we're doing a pretty good job.
GRISBY BATES: Malcolm Lee wants humor to draw in people who see these spots.
LEE: Once you get people laughing and their mouths are open, you can slip the truth in.
GRISBY BATES: And he says the truth is midterm elections count.
LEE: There's not enough people who vote in the midterms, and those that do, you know, get their person in.
GRISBY BATES: "Call The Cops" videos will run through Election Day. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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