On November 3, 2020, millions of U.S. citizens armed themselves with ballots that they either dropped at a designated location or walked into a booth and cast their vote for the 46th president of this great country.
We would not immediately know who the victor was. In fact, we had to wait for a few days but, we know this — Black women at the local, state and national levels were pivotal in deciding two men’s fate. One, they sent home, and the other — former Vice President Joe Biden —became the president-elect. Those Black women who by and large worked on the Democratic campaign became a strong lesson in what we are capable of beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
In a recent ABC News article entitled,“How Democrats took Pennsylvania from Trump,” we meet the local phenom who took the lead in helping to make Pennsylvania the state that ultimately led Biden to victory — Sinceré Harris.
Harris, the senior advisor for Biden’s campaign in Pennsylvania, said that their strategy was not one that started overnight or even in the primaries.
“I think the party recognized that we needed to invest in a really strong ground game,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we had grassroots, labor, the party infrastructure … and we knew that investing early was going to be important.”
Voter engagement delivered as turnout was at unprecedented levels. In 2016, over 6 million people voted in Pennsylvania. In 2020, more than 6.7 million people showed up at the polls in the state.
“We were able to build the broadest, most diverse coalition,” Harris said. “We reached out not just to people that we knew would support us, but we were actively working to persuade and bring independents and Republicans over to our side.”
So, just who is Sincere Harris? I caught up with the 36-year-old to ask her a few questions.
ALS: How did you get involved in the Democratic Party and more specifically, in the elections?
SH: I was raised in a politically conscious household — watching “Eyes on the Prize”and being taught about Black and Brown revolutionary leaders. In my senior year at Girls’ High, I took a rigorous AP class in government and politics, taught by a teacher, Michael Flamer, who pushed me. I learned about the natural tension between big cities like Philly and capitol governments run by Republicans, like Harrisburg. And that’s when I realized that politics was the way to continue the fight for communities I cared about. Being educated on candidates and their stances.
So, when I went off to college, I started to volunteer on campaigns. I did that just as a hobby and continued through college, [then] went to work in the private sector and then decided I would jump in head first and try to make a career out of it since I was so passionate about it. I quit my job, [and] joined Obama’s reelection team in Pennsylvania. That led to a pivotal decision in my life when, in the spring of 2013, I decided to join what was thought to be a long-shot campaign at the time — Tom Wolf for Governor. I had other offers to join campaigns that were perceived to have better odds. But the first time I met Tom Wolf; I heard this guy from York County – where I had never heard of before – passionately talking about needing strong investment in Philadelphia public schools.
Fast forward from us winning the primary [election] to helping elect Tom Wolf as the 47th governor as the statewide deputy political director, and I decided to move to Harrisburg and go into the administration. I thought I was pretty set until seeing up close and personal just how different the folks there saw, or didn’t see, problems that I know affect Black and Brown communities since Harrisburg is a town so dominated by Republicans. So an opportunity arose for me to run the Pennsylvania Democratic Party where I could help not only send the governor reinforcements in Harrisburg, but just help elect Democrats to all levels of government: state legislature, local mayors and county executives, and of course, Congress.
It’s not an easy job — the folks at local, county and state parties are there year after year. We had some losses, but we [also] had some big wins, like in 2018 when we won Conor Lamb’s special election then went on to elect more women to Congress than ever before in Pennsylvania’s history — to flipping the suburbs blue last year. And that is the hard work my team at the state party and I were doing when I received the call from the Biden campaign back in the spring.
ALS: You are being lauded as the person who helped Philadelphia to win local and national races — what was your strategy?
SH: Well, first I would say it always takes a team effort. Winning elections takes a dedicated staff of folks who work insane hours and sacrifice a lot in their personal lives and a little bit of their sanity. Since that fateful day in November 2016, we realized we had to step out of our comfort zone. Philosophically there tends to be these camps in politics. You will have consultants who swear by paid communications: TV, radio, print and now digital media. And then you have others who tell you it is the ground game and field organizers who win elections. I take the approach that you must do both.
You must invest in getting your message out AND you must knock on doors, meet people where they are, explain what you stand for and ask for their vote. I also felt like we have been too shy as Democrats to say we stand for the middle class, we fought for workers’ rights, civil rights, and women’s rights. That is a message I believe we should not shrink from. Overtime pay, the social safety net, paid sick leave, and countless other policies that help working — and middle-class communities are the things we stand for, and fight for. And we should not be afraid to take that message to any part of Pennsylvania.
So fighting for votes in, as I like to say, ‘”every corner of the Commonwealth”is how you win. And that is exactly what we did on the Biden campaign. I believe strongly that you take care of home base, which we did with what may end up being [a] record turnout in the city. But we also expanded the map by blowing out the margins in the suburbs while still attracting voters in rural areas to the Biden-Harris platform to build back better.
ALS: Black women across the country have stepped up to engage the citizens and your name is among them. How does this make you feel?
SH: Honestly, it makes me feel a little weird personally, but immensely proud professionally. Along this path I have very often been the only person of color in the room and almost always the only woman of color. Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for going on decades now, so to see that be recognized, lauded and rewarded is great and overdue. But it is not enough just to get here — to just get your foot in the door for you. I tell the women who are coming up who I have advocated for in their roles that it’s incumbent upon all of us to pay it forward. It is now your job to reach back down the ladder and pull the next one up until we don’t have scenarios where the next generation is also the only one representing our communities in the room.
ALS: What or who, inspires you?
SH: I draw inspiration from a lot of places. Many of them are unconventional, from historical figures I draw courage from like Malcolm X, Arturo Schomburg, and Ida B. Wells, to Tupac and FDR, and to personal inspirations like my dad —without whom I wouldn’t be the woman I am — and political mentors like Obra Kernodle and Ryan Boyer. There are too many to name. At the end of the day, I just want to make them all proud and see our communities thrive; that is what motivates me the most. Our ancestors gave up a lot and the struggle continues.
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