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Zee Cohen-Sanchez and Amani Wells-Onyioha innovate a revolutionary political startup called Sole Strategies
Sole Strategies, a team of political experts and activists, is spread across the U.S. Despite working remotely, Sole’s staff exhibits tight camaraderie. Operations Director Amani Wells-Onyioha kicks off weekly meetings with team builders, and Zee Cohen-Sanchez, founder and executive director, focuses on staff development.
“As Sole’s leader,” Cohen-Sanchez says, “I want people to feel they’re truly growing as a team and as individuals. One of the things we talk about in our weekly meetings is fear. We’ll ask each other what we’re doing that scares us. We use our fear to grow.” In terms of growth, this political startup has an impressive story.
Sole Strategies offers the edge to progressive candidates
Sole Strategies is a startup comprised of political experts building grassroots campaigns. These young progressives are doing something entirely new. They aren’t just consultants, and they offer more than a hired staff. Cohen-Sanchez explains, “Normally, your campaign runs less than a year. By the time you’ve raised the money to hire staffers, you’re three to six months back. We bring a solid team to the table. We know each other, we work together, and we trust each other. When we get in, we get right to work.”
Sole Strategies offers clients political expertise in four primary departments:
- Customizable digital packages
- Public relations and endorsements
- Field operations
Candidates can take advantage of as much or as little as they need. “Sometimes we’re the whole backbone of a campaign,” says Cohen-Sanchez. “Then other times, the candidate just comes to us for a logo or a website.”
From field to founder—Cohen-Sanchez finds her place
Cohen-Sanchez entered the political arena with a deep desire to bring about change. “I’ve always been interested in politics,” she reflects, “but I was radicalized in college. I went to school at Wagner, and During that time, I saw the beginnings of Occupy Wall Street. It really piqued my interest in what was going on in the world.”
Cohen-Sanchez worked seven years as a consultant and field operative before breaking off on her own. She says Sole was born out of her frustration with the industry. “I took my work in the field seriously, but I saw so many consultants who had no idea how to do fieldwork. They were just there to make money. I was pushed around by older men who thought they knew what they were doing but wouldn’t lift a finger. One day I asked myself, ‘What if we did something that was full-service and actually beneficial to candidates?’”
Sole Strategies finds a niche in political activism
The hands-on approach inspiring Sole Strategies is unique. “Many consultants just don’t care,” she explains. “They make their money, retire to Florida for the season, and then come back to do it again. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do for the candidates or for the communities.”
In fact, Sole’s name comes from Cohen-Sanchez’s on-the-ground experience. “Our team wore their shoes thin,” she remembers. “We were wearing our soles down. But then also, there’s the play on words. You have to have soul to win a race.”
Cohen-Sanchez started Sole, but she doesn’t carry the team alone. Wells-Onyioha keeps everyone impassioned and ensures things run efficiently. Before joining Sole, the shooting of Trayvon Martin emboldened Wells-Onyioha to attend grad school and obtain a master’s in political journalism. She remembers, “I wanted to be someone who gave a voice to the voiceless, who uplifted people through writing, who spread the facts, and who helped people get activated.”
Sole Strategies rethinks the model for campaign management
Getting Sole Strategies off the ground was challenging. Field operations isn’t high-paying work. Cohen-Sanchez wanted to implement effective movement campaigns, but she also wanted to take care of her staff. “It wasn’t responsible for me to run a progressive organization but not pay my workers a living wage or make sure they had benefits. I knew I couldn’t start an organization like Sole if I didn’t change the model. In our first month, we made almost $20,000 in sales. From there, I realized it was a big idea.”
Sole Strategies began as an idea and a website. Remembering those early days, Wells-Onyioha says, “We didn’t have any loans. It was literally Zee saying, ‘I want to try this, and we’re going to see what happens.’ As the clients came, we brought on people to service those clients.”
Sole Strategies’ success fosters rapid growth
Sole Strategies went from 0 to 25 employees in under one year. “It’s been a wild ride,” says Cohen-Sanchez.
From its first website, Sole Strategies has grown to an office in the heart of New York City. Wells-Onyioha describes Sole’s new home as quaint. Plants brighten the room, and activist posters trim the walls.
Throughout its non-stop expansion, Sole has sought out a diverse staff that doesn’t fit the mold. Most political organizations hire based on résumés, but an impressive CV isn’t essential to Sole. “We’re looking for people who have a diversity of life experience,” Cohen-Sanchez explains. “When people live in the communities they’re working with, that’s skin in the game. We can teach the technical side of things, but we can’t teach you how to be a person who cares about the movement we’re trying to grow here.”
Sole Strategies attracts people-powered campaigns
In just over one year, Sole has taken on 187 projects, and every candidate who’s signed on with Sole for petitioning has made it onto the ballot. Despite the numbers, Sole Strategies commits to remaining selective about the campaigns they represent. “We definitely want to be picky because we work best when we’re passionate about what the candidate is doing,” says Wells-Onyioha.
Sole Strategies seeks out campaigns supported by the community. The term Sole uses to describe these campaigns is “people-powered”. “We’re talking about candidates people want to follow and candidates who are activated in their communities,” Wells-Onyioha explains.
Sole brings a team to the field that cares about each campaign as much as the candidates do. Cohen-Sanchez says, “We always go in expecting a win, but we fight like the underdog. That’s the way we do it for every campaign.” To learn what Sole Strategies is doing now, readers can visit their website and follow them on Twitter.