If you've been watching the presidential campaign (even from behind your fingers), you've probably seen Symone Sanders on television representing the Sanders campaign as his national press secretary — and standing out, not only for her political savvy, depth of knowledge on the issues, and complete poise, but also because she's a rare young black female face in a sea of white talking heads. Symone left the Sanders campaign back in June and, now, after a break, is working for the Democratic National Convention Committee, prepping to nominate Hillary Clinton this week as the first female nominee of a major national political party. We spoke to her about representing black girls, being a political player, and what she's looking forward to this week.
Mikki Halpin: Let's get one thing cleared up right off the bat. In your role as Senator Sanders' national press secretary, you did a lot of press for the campaign. Every time I saw you on TV or read a quote from you in the paper, there was a little parenthesis next to your name: "no relation." You are, in fact, no relation. Did this drive you crazy, though?
Symone Sanders: Everywhere I went, I was "Symone D. Sanders (no relation)." I didn't know that was going to become my tagline, but it did, and I mostly thought it was funny. Once I was doing a radio interview, remotely, and the commentator said, "I'm here with Symone Sanders. She is not related to the senator, and I know that because I met her." I just replied, "For everyone out there listening, he said that because I'm black." I was like, "It's OK, the senator is my brother in the movement, and that's why I'm here today."
MH: How did you end up becoming the national press secretary for the Sanders campaign?
SS: I was working at a think tank in the global trade division, but I really wanted to be in the thick of it this cycle. I'm not a Hill staffer, I'm a campaign worker. I got a call from the senator's office and, eventually ended up talking to him. We talked about everything: education, trade, economic inequality. Then he asked me a question nobody else had ever asked. He said, "Do you have an idea of what you think you'd want to do here?" I said, "I'd like to be the national press secretary. I want to be your spokesperson, I want to do cable television, network, speak for the campaign on the record, and I want to help pass the message." He asked, "Have you ever done cable or network television before?" I said, "No, but I think I'd be very good at it." He laughed and said, "OK, we'll be in touch." A couple of days later they called me and gave me the job. So that's how I got to be the national press secretary. Ask for what you want, and you might get it. Shoot for the moon, the planets, and sometimes you'll get one.
MH: Why did you want that job, even though you had no experience?
SS: I believe that spokespeople are some of the most powerful people in politics, because during a campaign it's all about the message. I have always wanted to be in the communications space because I represent an important demographic all across the board, and I believe people like me should be involved in the process.
MH: There haven't been many black women with a spokesperson role.
SS: People were often very surprised when I introduced myself to them and they learned my role in the campaign. That's OK, because I am happy to jump up and demonstrate that black girls are spokeswomen, too. I, too, belong in this space. One would think that in 2016 we wouldn't have to jump up and say those kinds of things, but it still needs to be done.