“I’m not kidding, Maddi, I’m asking you to give $1 right this second.”
No, these aren’t the words of a guy who just lost his wallet and really needs to catch a bus uptown. They’re the words of a copywriter on Hillary Clinton’s team who sounded just a little too desperate for the Internet.
A mass email with that plea from Clinton’s camp went out after her resounding loss to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday night. One of the recipients was Maddi Epping, a 21-year-old slam poet in Des Moines, Iowa. Sitting on a couch in a thrift store, waiting for her friends to finish shopping, Maddi read the email and thought: Did Hillary really say that?
She screenshotted the email and posted it to Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash—and the rest is history. The members of that Facebook group, which has 185,437 members and gains 1,000 new members every hour—and is also the source of the hugely popular Bernie vs. Hillary “Issue” meme—took the email and ran with it, spinning #imnotkiddingmaddi into a hard-trending hashtag across social media channels on Wednesday. A presidential election can’t be decided by who has the dankest memes—or can it? Fortune opined that social media will be the deciding factor in this election. The Pew Research Center reports that millennials, especially those leaning Democrat, are most likely the get their information about the election from social media. And 35 percent of Americans 18-29 say their primary source of election information comes from these same platforms.With her potent viral influence in mind, then, the Daily Dot grilled Maddi to get her take on the issues that matter.
Hi, Maddi, how has your day been?
It was a slow day for me, work-wise, because I had a snow day, so I stayed home. I hung out with my dogs, and kinda just… my phone was blowing up constantly so I was really trying to keep up with that, because I don’t like to ignore people. So I’ve been trying to just, say thank you, and show some support back to everyone that’s been, you know, throwing support my way.
— Berner Billie (@billfasano) February 10, 2016
Does “snow day” mean you’re a student?
No, I work for a company called Optimae Life Services. It’s a human services agency. We work with the mentally disabled and the mentally ill, and I work as a job coach for them.
How old are you, Maddi?
I’ll be 22 in a month. So I’m 21.
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) February 10, 2016
Can you tell me about what happened after you posted the email? Where did you post it?
Do you know Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash?
OK, so I posted it there. And right when I posted I started getting notifications left and right. People just, you know, saying how desperate she was sounding, how it sort of had a bit of a harassment vibe to it—almost like her campaign was using scare tactics to try and persuade voters. I thought maybe 100, 200 people would see it, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But right away people started making memes, then all of a sudden the hashtag happened. So it kind of just exploded really fast. I got like three hundred friend requests to my personal [Facebook] account. I also didn’t think to take my actual email off the screenshot originally, so I was getting all these emails.
What kind of emails?
Mostly people making jokes, asking for a dollar. Someone signed me up for a Donald Trump mailing list, so I had to go unsubscribe from that. I also got an email from CNN, that was like, “Hi, is this the Maddi who received an email from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that is going viral?”
Have there been any downsides to getting all this attention?
I mean, none for me personally. But one thing I wanted to say was that some some of [the memes] have been, like, mean, and it’s turned into something really negative. When I originally posted I was just like “Oh, her campaign is saying silly things to try and get voters.” But I didn’t mean for it to turn into like a whole—people were just really bashing her heavily. Which, they’re entitled to that, but I don’t necessarily dislike her. I mean, I get emails from her campaign for a reason, you know?
— The Good Hillary ⭐⭐⭐ (@hillarysusans) February 10, 2016
But you’re leaning Bernie.
I am. But I still listen to what she has to say.
Why are you leaning Bernie? What don’t you like about Hillary?
When she talks, and when she says what her ideas for the country are, it sounds good. But it’s that her track record is so bad that I’m not sure that any of that can be trusted. And it just seems like, a lot of what she has going on, in general, with her dynasty, the whole Clinton dynasty, it’s a lot of dirty money. And a lot of—almost like deep-rooted lies that go all the way back to when they were still in Arkansas. I understand they’ve been in the public eye for so long, so there’s gonna be scrutiny, no matter what, but it’s like, I’m not sure how much of all of this I’m willing to look past, at a certain point. She changes her mind so often, I don’t know where she’s going.
What do you like about Bernie Sanders?
I think that he has run a really honest campaign. I just found out about him recently, but he’s been around, he’s been doing the same stuff for years. Anything I watch about him—I can’t, you know, go online and find him giving a speech where he is saying something different than what he’s saying now. And his net worth, is what, three or four hundred thousand dollars. It’s not in the millions. People are donating to him because they believe in what he’s doing. He feels like a real, genuine person to me. And that really means a lot.
Any thoughts on Donald Trump?
Oh goodness. I’m kind of still waiting for Ashton Kutcher to run out and be like “Punk’d!!!” I have absolutely no respect for that man. Not as a person, not as a politician. He’s not a politician.
Any thoughts on Jeb?
It’s kinda sad how his campaign has gone. I don’t necessarily think he’s a bad guy, I just think he’s very old-school in his values. And I think, honestly, in this country, his brother kinda ruined it for him.
— #CoronaTom Perez is killing voters & poll workers (@wccjtsan) February 10, 2016
Cruz. He scares me, he really does.
Thoughts on Beyoncé’s video for “Formation”?
Oh god. I actually watched it a couple of times. I mean, the music of it wasn’t my favorite thing she’s done. But the video has a lot of very powerful messages and really awesome imagery.
Do you have a favorite #imnotkiddingmaddi meme? Have you been looking at them much?
I actually get tagged in a lot of them, so I see a lot of them. My favorite is this one that looks like a book cover, and Hillary Clinton’s name is on it, and it says “I’m not kidding Maddi” on it, like that’s the title of the book. It’s just funny to think about Hillary Clinton having an entire book about just this whole silly concept, you know?
Totally. Do you have any plans for your newfound fame?
I guess my only hope is to build some momentum in getting people to not only discuss all the relevant political issues that are gonna get discussed, but to do that civilly. We can agree to disagree. We can respectfully have our own ways, but we can all get along. I started a Facebook group [called #ImNotKiddingMaddi] with my friend Nick, who’s also a spoken word poet, and I’ve been posting stuff there.
Have you made any memes yourself?
No, I can’t make a meme to save my life. I just take screenshots of Hillary’s emails.
Read more by Stephen Thomas here.
Photo via Marc Nozell/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)