Step Up to the Booth: 1on1 with Sue Kramer (BE DOPE. VOTE.)

I’m not sure if you?ve noticed, but there?s an election next week.

Even if you haven?t, director Sue Kramer certainly has.

With the 2020 Presidential election finally here, it is time once again to head to the polls and share your dream of what America truly values. However, despite the overwhelming need for people to get out and vote, many people choose not to do so (or worse, feel that their opinion doesn?t matter). Concerned that people may miss such an important opportunity, Kramer developed Be Dope. Vote., an online campaign devoted to encouraging people to use their political voice. Asked where she got the idea for Be Dope. Vote., Kramer begins by pointing out that the word ?dope? jumped out at her due to its ties to current social conversations.

?I love the word ?dope?. I’m a wordsmith and a screenwriter… I always get real connected to certain words. I love certain words and I also love the origins of certain words so I started looking up how ?cool? was this word that was used by jazz musicians, [who were] almost predominantly musicians of color. Then, [the word] got taken over by the Woodstock revolution and became gentrified within language. There’s this slang word that? became this word used by all. ?Dope? is very similar in that [the word] was used predominantly by people of color. Now, it’s become cool to use the word dope because being dope is also being woke. These are two things that are at the top of the agenda in terms of our lives right now in terms of the global stratosphere. So, I thought? what would be the phraseology to get people to vote? And I came up with Be Dope. Vote. and it just worked.?

With an emphasis on diversity, Kramer?s hope is that the Be Dope. Vote campaign will reach as broad an audience as possible.

?I specifically cast everyone from a nine-year-old to [former West Wing stars] Richard Schiff, who’s in his sixties [and Allison Janney],? she explains. ?I cast men, women, children, teenagers, black, white, Asian to really represent the diverse culture that we live in. This video is a representation of faces and ages and gender [within] our global community and of our United States community where the vote is at stake right now. So, I am actually not just going after the youth vote. But the truth is this election has three groups of people that need to get out and vote. One of them, surprisingly is the white male. If 1% more voted democratic, then that could change the entire election automatically, which is shocking. I’m going after the 20 to 30 something because they did not come out in the last election and they need to come out in this election. So, I went after people who they love and also the black vote, which is important. So, Billy Porter, Miss J and ASAP Ferg being in the video and Brittany O’Grady (who?s biracial) and Ryan Destiny, who’s black, all of these faces of beautiful color are needed. Everyone’s needed to really speak to all the people that need to get out and vote.? 

As the election draws nearer, Kramer feels that the sense of urgency to get to the polling booths increases as well. While each federal election seems important, she also believes that people believe that voting in this year?s campaign may be more critical than others in recent years. 

?I think that people are appalled at what our country has become,? Kramer argues. ?I think that we’ve never been more divided because of the current president. I do say ‘because of him’, even though I made a very bipartisan video that can be shared by anyone to go out and vote. You should use your voice, whatever it is, you should vote. But I think that people are fired up that they want change. I do think that there’s a lot of people on the president’s side that think possibly that he’s doing an okay job or might be thinking about a bigger picture of different beliefs. But I think that the tide needs to change and I think that people want to be part of this tidal wave… There’s a lot at stake here, so I’m willing to do anything it takes in terms of using my creative power to try to make an impactful, passionate plea to get people to vote.? 

Having been involved in political campaigns before, Kramer was initially unsure about stepping into the ring with this election. However, after reading a discouraging message online, she felt called to speak out about the importance of speaking your mind through the polling station.

?I hope Be Dope. Vote. has legs to last for decades and becomes a campaign that is used for every big election,? Kramer claims. ?[I want to] put some type of creative spin on that helps ignite and fire up people to use their voices. The real reason I came up with this is because… after the Brianna Taylor ruling, I saw a tweet by a football player saying [that] he was throwing in the towel and that he wasn’t going to vote purposely. He’d just given up. Then, thousands of people responded saying the same thing: ?I’m with you. I’m giving up. I’m not voting.? That day was the day that I said I have to do something. I have to figure this out. I can’t let people throw in the towel, or I can at least do my best to try to convince them otherwise. So, I came up with Be Dope. Vote.? 

Because of the pandemic, Kramer viewed this as an opportunity to take a different approach with her celebrity guests. Rather than gathering together in physical space, Be Dope. Vote. is a refreshingly honest video that lets people be themselves over Zoom.

Says Kramer, ?I brought in a friend and a colleague named Michael Rankin who has a show on LinkedIn called You Are Dope [where] he interviews people in this kind of Ed Sullivan radio style and he asks really wonderful questions and people are their authentic selves. Michael has a great new voice. And so that was a new fun factor.? 

?Then, I thought I?ve got to go all in with what we have, which is [that] we’re all talking on Zoom. We’re not doing hair and makeup like last time where my stars came in with agents and managers, hair and makeup and publicists. I [just wanted to] talk. So, we got on Zoom with all these wonderful people and it was just talking. I really pulled out these gems and Michael became the host and it was born. We put it together in basically a little over a week and then released it on Friday the ninth. I just hope that it has impact. That’s my biggest desire.? 

Since the Be Dope. Vote. campaign has launched in early October, Kramer has been overwhelmed by the support that it seems to have garnered from both celebrities and the general public. While success may be difficult to measure, she considers it a victory if anyone who sees their video changes their mind and gets to the polls as a result.

?I can’t quantify success,? Kramer points out. ?I don’t have people calling me saying I saw your video and now I’m going to vote. But I can already call it a success by ASAP Ferg being one of the only rappers to come out. Snoop Dogg came out and said, we?ve got to vote. When these rappers come out and speak to their audiences, that makes a difference because they’re the voice of their people. So… if any of those people [in our video] hit their audience and somebody saw the video and thought, ?Oh, I was thinking about not [voting] but, you know what? I’m going to do it.? Then, it’s success. No matter who I hit around the country, it’s a success.?

?We’re trying everything that we can to just keep the fire going [and] spread the passion,? she continues. ?I’m a filmmaker. I own an agency called Connecting Dots Guru, which is my branding agency seeing through a director’s eye and a screenwriter?s pen. I put my agency on hold for nine days and spent my own money on this to just get people to not throw in the towel. I’m not going after to be clear. I’m not going to change the minds of somebody who’s completely pro-Trump and was voting for Trump. Those people are still going to vote for Trump. I’m trying to change the complacent people who feel as if they’ve been too beaten down by COVID, isolation, Black Lives Matter, or by everything that’s gone on in this country over the past four years. But more importantly, over the past year and specifically after George Floyd, those people feel so beaten down that they just don’t have it in them. And I’m trying to say, come on, you can do this. You can do it.? 

With Be Dope. Vote., Kramer wants everyone to be reminded that each vote matters and allows people to have their say. While the political world is often frustrating, she also believes that that?s no excuse to simply abdicate one?s freedom of speech when the opportunity to express themselves is given.

?Hillary Clinton won the election in terms of votes, but lost the election on the electoral college,? she mourns. ?Why? Because enough people didn’t get out and vote. And that is the reason, even though she won it in terms of the popular vote so that everyone was shocked. I, myself was shocked. Everyone I knew was looking at the CNN screens [and asking], how did this just happen? We cannot let that happen again. We cannot have regret that we did not get out. We cannot have a moment where we’re shocked that this happened, because if anyone thinks that they’re going to be shocked if Trump wins, then they better get out there. Get involved, bring a friend with a map and get out and vote because you don’t want to have regrets this time.? 

In addition, she contends that one has little right to complain about an outcome if they don?t participate in the process.

?Miss J says in my video that, ?If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.? So, we might not win this,? Kramer acknowledges. ?I’m clearly on one side, but if you don’t get out there and try, you cannot complain. Everyone?s complaining and everyone’s tired. Rightfully so but you have to just pick your bootstraps up no matter how tired you are. No matter how much you wanted Bernie or Elizabeth Warren or anyone else to win the nomination, it doesn’t matter because that’s what happened with Hillary Clinton. All the millennials bowed out because they were upset that Bernie didn’t win. If they do that again, this time they will be ruining their entire future in terms of an endless amount of rights and an endless amount of ripples that, in my humble opinion, are catastrophic.?

To follow Be Dope. Vote., click here.

For full audio of our conversation with Sue Kramer, click here.

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