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NAACP Head, Michigan Gov. on Voter Apathy, Celebs in 2024 Election

NAACP Head, Michigan Gov. on Voter Apathy, Celebs in 2024 Election

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Unlike a number of recent, high-profile events, last week’s 2024 Webby Awards were not disrupted by protests over Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas. There were no demonstrators visible outside of the event’s Cipriani Wall Street venue in Manhattan, and none of the five-word acceptance speeches delivered onstage on May 13 referenced the Gaza conflict.

But that doesn’t mean the evening was free from hot-button political issues.

Webbys president Claire Graves spoke about the “assault on reproductive rights all over this country” as she introduced Phenomenal Media CEO Meena Harris, who also happens to be Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece, who spoke about abortion restrictions implemented since Roe v. Wade was overturned, as she presented an award to the Plan C documentary about the initiative to increase access to abortion pills.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was also among this year’s winners, receiving an award for her “Governor Barbie” social videos.

“Wear pink, get shit done,” she said onstage, accepting her honor from Run for Something PAC co-founder Amanda Litman.

After her win, Whitmer was quick to credit her social media team, noting that the initiative wasn’t her idea.

“I think it’s important that people have good information, and sometimes you’ve got to use clever and creative ways of communicating it,” she told The Hollywood Reporter of the “Governor Barbie” videos.

Heading into the 2024 election, Whitmer, who is a co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, said she’s trying to combat voter apathy by focusing on connections with people’s lives.

“I think it’s communicating with people in whatever form it is that they’re taking their information and to not just drown people with anger and outrage but to give people real information that impacts their lives and to do it in a way that will sometimes make them laugh or think or see something in their own life that connects with them,” she said.

When asked about the role Hollywood and entertainment industry figures could play in motivating people to vote and reminding them of key issues, Whitmer indicated that the stakes of this election demand widespread involvement.

“Whether we think about so many aspects of our lives, whether it’s our fundamental rights or our ability to decide who our leaders are or it’s about the foundations of our democracy, there’s a lot at stake,” she told THR. “So I’m heartened by the kind of interest that people of all walks are showing, but I’m also kind of sober about the apathy and how stressed Americans are in their everyday lives and that’s why I think it’s got to be all hands on deck.”

Though Whitmer was reluctant to give celebs too much credit in sharing election information, NAACP president Derrick Johnson, on hand to present Shannon Sharpe with the Advocate of the Year award, praised the NFL star turned Club Shay Shay host for using his platform to expose his audience to key issues.

“I think his voice right now on social media is really strong,” Johnson said of Sharpe. “Many young people are listening. Many individuals who care about sports are listening and what happens in that case is they listen to the things that they’re interested in, but he’s able to put into the conversation things that are important around social justice, prostate cancer and this year’s election.”

Adding of the role Sharpe and other public figures can play in reminding voters of important issues in this year’s election, Johnson said, “It’s important for people to understand what’s at stake. We are in a marketplace where turnout is based on marketing campaigns, information getting out. So people have got to understand the value and importance of their voice to make decisions that are going to affect their lives for the next four years and protect our democracy. What’s at stake is our democracy.”

Beyond Sharpe, Johnson said the NAACP is working to increase turnout by connecting voters neighbor to neighbor.

“At the NAACP, we have a targeted program in 22 states, where we’re talking to infrequent voters. These are individuals who are registered to vote but don’t always vote,” Johnson said. “And we realized that neighbors talking to neighbors is the most effective way. So we’re getting our high-propensity voters to talk to our neighbors to get them out to the polls.”

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With its five-word acceptance speeches, the Webbys forces its winners to think of clever but concise ways to express their gratitude.

Before this year’s ceremony, Keke Palmer, being honored with a special achievement award, said she had a few options in mind for her remarks.

“I have like five different, five-word acceptance speeches,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll know which one I want to use by the time I get up there.”

When she took the stage she counted the number of words on her fingers and said: “I’m blessed to do this.”

Palmer credited the internet for how her career has been able to progress.

“[The Webby Awards] has always stood for what I think has allowed my career to evolve in the way it has, just digital and the power we have with our audience being at our fingertips,” Palmer said.

This year’s host, Amber Ruffin, who has emceed other awards shows in addition to hosting her own, eponymous talk show on Peacock, spoke about how hosting the Webby Awards is different.

“Hosting the Webbys is different because everyone is extremely game,” Ruffin said. “They came here to have fun. I feel like for other awards shows, they came there to like prance and be looked at but here it’s like to roll around and have fun.”

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