I’ll never forget when Jeff Weaver hired us to work on Bernie Sanders’ presidential run because it reminded me of something my pawpaw liked to say: “Judge a person by what they do, not what they say.”
Weaver said he wanted the Sanders campaign to be as diverse as America. That was the stated goal and he took remarkable action to make it happen. Now, it wasn’t perfect, and sometimes it wasn’t pretty, but I'm proud of the remarkable history we made and the campaign we ran.
When Latino consultants are hired for a campaign, they’re almost always hired to do Latino outreach. It’s a mistake that occurs so frequently within campaigns it usually passes without comment. In truth, it's like hiring a man with a beard to only focus on outreach to men who look like Santa Claus.
The goal of diversifying a campaign should be about reflecting the voters of that community; it shouldn’t be about filling a quota. The story of my firm, Solidarity Strategies, demonstrates what can happen when a shop owned and operated by a person of color (POC) is given the opportunity to play a key role in a presidential campaign.
In fact, we're one of the few POC-owned political consulting firms in the nation. We offer general consulting, and services such as mail, phones, digital, and media. We're a small firm that's been in business for six years. Still, we have a nationwide client base. More importantly, we have employed more than 50 people of color.
There aren’t many firms that look like ours, but there are a few similar shops including, MAP Political Communications and Latino Decisions, which are both Latino owned and operated. I am proud to say they’re working for the Clinton campaign.
Now, Weaver first approved our firm to translate the Sanders campaign website from English to Spanish. Little did we know this simple request would flourish into a senior-level role providing consulting on national voter contact. It would also a foster a deep relationship with the team that brought us in.
We were never referred to as the "Latino consultants.” We were simply consultants who happened to be Latinos. It was because of our performance and high quality work that we could be considered equals to the senior team. I was an adviser and, because of my union background, assisted Larry Cohen on labor outreach.
I was also an official surrogate. I had the opportunity to be interviewed on national media about the campaign. Imagine me, a Mexican from Texas on the air representing a white man running for president — how often does that happen?
Our portfolio now consists of all the work we did for the Sanders campaign: Designed and printed literature and mail for 48 states, totaling 15 million pieces, which were customized in over 250 different ways, in both English and Spanish. Additionally, we called more than 3 million phone numbers for live calls, telephone town calls, and automated calls, as part of the communications platform.
We also interviewed potential staff and even made newspaper ads in over 10 states. We assisted DML media group on Spanish language advertising, but that was billed under their firm. And this was all possible because the Sanders campaign saw us as more than just Latinos who translated their television ads.
In 2014, the Fannie Lou Hamer Report was released by Power Pac+ and showed that $13 million out $517 million was spent on POC consultants by the Democratic National Committee during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. This was 2.6 percent of the budget going to firms such as mine. In comparison, this election cycle Sanders spent more than $7 million on consultants of color in just five months. When we include women-owned firms, the number gets closer to $10 million spent.
More significantly, this money was earned by working on general communication to the masses – not limited to POC or women outreach. If you donated to the Sanders’ campaign, you should be proud to know that the money was filtered back into these communities.
Now, people in our industry, progressives in particular, should still recognize the work that still needs to be made. Despite our awards, portfolio, and skills, we’ve not had members from any Senate, gubernatorial, or statewide ballot initiative campaign reach out to us. As consultants of color, we work twice as hard to be considered on the same level as our white counterparts.
When we are given work, as I’ve noted, we’re often relegated to outreach in our own communities. But we want our experience to serve as a call for change in how we hire consultants for campaigns. People of color make up 36 percent of the larger U.S. population, but this number is not reflected in most consulting firms or campaign offices.
That said, I give a great deal of credit to the organizations that are already actively addressing the inequalities in the consulting industry by hiring POC firms like ours. These organizations include VoteVets Action Fund, the National Council of La Raza, Latino Victory Fund, LULAC and the DCCC.
But after the Democratic National Convention wraps Thursday night and staffers and managers return home from Philadelphia, I challenge everyone to look around their offices to see if their coworkers or consulting teams reflect the current demographics of our country.
Chuck Rocha is president of Solidarity Strategies, a Latino-owned and operated consulting firm.