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This group holds a boot camp to help left-leaning orgs meme-ify politics

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Can memes be used for political change? We might find out this year. NPR's Elena Moore joined the South Carolina Young Democrats for a recent political meme training to find out.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Students enter the Zoom room. It's time for Meme University.

ORGANIZER MEMES: Welcome to Memes 101, from Internet Explorer to Meme Lord.

MOORE: That's Organizer Memes, an anonymous account run by Gen-Z and young millennials mostly based on X, formerly known as Twitter. The account has nearly 35,000 followers. They spoke to NPR anonymously due to concern of being doxxed or having personal information leaked. Since 2020, the group has trained left-leaning organizations on meme-ifying (ph) politics.

ORGANIZER MEMES: To stand out, you've got to do something different. And memes are something different, and they're something that can go viral a lot more easily.

MOORE: To them, political memes are a really fast way to spread information. Campaigns can use them to fundraise, gain more followers and, yes, go viral. And while memeing (ph) doesn't magically get young people engaged, Organizer Memes says it does send an important message.

ORGANIZER MEMES: The memes signal that you're trying new things. The memes signal that you care about reaching young people. So much of the time, people don't feel that they're even being reached out to until three months before the election.

MOORE: Democrats are counting on young voters this year, even as polls show youth enthusiasm is down for President Biden.

STUART PERELMUTER: I think reaching people online from trusted messengers is the way to address this concern.

MOORE: That's Stuart Perelmuter, the founder of the firm atAdvocacy, which works with political content creators to highlight progressive causes. They hosted the training, along with the youth voter nonprofit Reorganized (ph). Perelmuter says Democrats need political influencers as an essential part of campaign strategy.

PERELMUTER: Memes has to be a thing. TikTok has to be a thing. As a campaign, if you're not communicating in those channels, your opponent is.

MOORE: The Biden campaign plans to directly collaborate with influencers like they did in 2020. They're also embracing the dark brand in meme. A graphic of Biden wearing aviators and shooting lasers out of his eyes can be found on the campaign website and merch. It's a play on a viral conservative insult that Democrats reclaimed.

Republicans aren't shying away from meme culture, either. Former President Donald Trump also shares memes on his campaign socials and reportedly connected with a network of meme creators that support him. Conservative groups like Turning Point poke fun at Democratic leaders and voters. George Washington University professor David Karpf says, even with everybody trying to meet young people where they are, the messages are very different.

DAVID KARPF: Turning Point USA is trying to make conservatism look cool to young people. The Biden administration is trying to communicate to young people he's accomplished these policy things that aren't showing up in the news but you should be excited about.

MOORE: But getting those messages to resonate is the challenge. Back at Meme Boot Camp, the class has an assignment.

ORGANIZER MEMES: So let's all try and make a meme.

MOORE: They have five minutes. Time flies. Students post their memes in the chat, and the session wraps up. After it's done, Organizer Memes tells NPR they're committed to doing more trainings this year and helping young people talk politics, one meme at a time.

Elena Moore, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.