R29’s Global Editor-In-Chief Gets Candid With Symone Sanders

Illustration by Nichole Washington
Symone Sanders is no stranger to success. At 25, she became the youngest presidential press secretary on record while working alongside U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his then-presidential campaign. Months later, Rolling Stone magazine crowned her as one of 16 young Americans shaping the 2016 election. Now, she’s Vice President Kamala Harris’ chief spokesperson — and she’s still just 31 years old.
Sanders has garnered the attention of thousands across the nation, especially the younger generation. But the admiration goes beyond her impressive resume. In addition to making a notable impact at such a young age, Sanders is keeping it real.
“I'm not putting on a persona,” she tells Refinery29 Global Editor-In-Chief Simone Oliver over the phone. “The Symone Sanders that I am in this conversation with you is the Symone Sanders I am when I'm at work in a meeting, is the person that I am when I’m at home, is the person I used to be when I was a commentator on television.”
Her authenticity is a bold statement for Black women, who, throughout history, were not granted the access or safety to be themselves in powerful white spaces. And it is what has carried her through this present chapter in her career, one that has not come without its challenges.
Within President Biden and Vice President Harris’ first 100 days in office, they had to navigate multiple crises — to name a few: responding to the January 6 attacks at the capitol, a mass shooting in Colorado, a series of mass shootings in Atlanta in which Asian Americans were targeted and killed — all while getting the nation vaccinated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to threaten lives across the country and around the world.
“There's a lot happening in the world right now, and I think sometimes it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of occurring in this moment,” says Sanders. “Various administration officials have been on Capitol Hill recently testifying about the rise in domestic terrorism and extremism. [Recently], the president and vice president were joined by Attorney General Merrick Garland in the Rose Garden to talk about tackling gun violence in America. The shooting in Atlanta and shooting in Colorado were less than a week apart. The TV is on in my office right now and the George Floyd trial is on CNN, and this has been on loop every day.”
But despite all that has happened within the first 100 days, Sanders — who remains hopeful — says that this is a time to reimagine the future (and perhaps, we'd say, that begins with reimagining who leads it).
“We can't just go back to the way things were before,” she says. “We need to be innovative and creative and think expansively about next steps, and that is really what drives the work that we do in this administration and this moment, given the magnitude of everything that's happening.”
Below, Oliver asks Sanders three candid questions.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Some days you wonder if you are enough, and I am here to tell you that, ladies, we absolutely are enough. 

- Symone Sanders
Simone Oliver: Particularly since the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol, there have been many threats to Vice President Kamala Harris targeting her specifically as a woman of color. As a woman of color, a lot of the time we understand the nature of a lot of such attacks. Both you and Vice President Kamala Harris are in leadership positions. How do you process that?
SS: I’m extremely hopeful about the work that is before us. To be very clear, I am very happy to serve her, I am very happy to serve the president. And I think the thing about Vice President Harris is that she has been the first at many things throughout her entire career. But she is also not going to be distracted. Oftentimes people ask, “Well how is she taking this and that?” Kamala Harris is focused on the work of the administration. There is a bold and innovative vision that President Biden and she have laid out there for all of us to rise to the occasion daily to get things done for the American people, and that is what she is focused on day in and day out.
Let's talk a bit more about you. This is a totally overused word, but you're very authentic. And whether it's intentional or not, a lot of Americans connected with you when you emerged on a bigger platform and gave some of us faith in the political personalities and political sphere again. What does that mean to you to bring your authentic self to work?
SS: For me, bringing your authentic self to work means showing up exactly as who you are. In the way that I talk, in the way that I dress, being my authentic self means that when you leave the house every day and you go wherever you're going, whether it’s a classroom, an office, a boardroom or the White House, you don't put anything else on. 
I’m Symone Sanders. It is a luxury that I get  to talk about not putting a persona on when I leave the house [and be in these spaces], because there was a time when women, when young people, when Black women and Black people, period, who look like me, were not able to walk into space and places as their authentic self. 
If we show up as ourselves, if we bring our full selves to work every single day, it will one day become commonplace. I have the privilege of working for a trailblazing woman, the first Vice President of the United States who is a woman, who is a woman of color, who is a Black woman, and she inspires me on days where I don't feel confident. I look at [the other Black women working in the White House]. I look at the communications team that I work on — a whole women’s communication team. Some days you wonder if you are enough, and I am here to tell you that, ladies, we absolutely are enough. And there are so many examples. So many people who worked very hard so we can have the opportunity before us right now. And we do them a disservice, we do people we work with a disservice and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t show up as ourselves everyday.
What's the plan for ensuring that the Biden-Harris administration rollout allows for a job access for poor people in underserved communities? What's the on the ground plan?
SS: Equity. Equity is the underpinning point of this legislation, this package that the president has proposed. I don't want to preview the second package, but there’s a second piece of this package that deals with care economy and infrastructure a little bit on reentry, [that will be] rolling out soon. The administration is absolutely committed to ensuring that this bill reaches the communities that need it most. The way we do that is by building equity mechanisms into layers and pieces of the plan.
The article originally insinuated that the Capital riots occurred during Biden's first 100 days. We regret the error.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series