Sole Strategies Founder Zee Cohen-Sanchez and Operations Director Amani Wells-Onyioha took a spark of inspiration from gross injustices in America’s political system and fanned that into a flame of action.
In June 2018, United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known as AOC, tweeted a picture of dirty, hole-ridden sneakers. They were her first campaign shoes, the pair she wore as she walked miles and miles, pounding the pavement with her progressive ideas in hopes of flipping a seat in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Those shoes now sit in a museum, a testament to the power of outworking the competition.
The women behind Sole Strategies take this idea of people-powered movements and wearing out your soles to flip seats to a new level. The organization’s mission is to elevate progressive candidates, build grassroots campaigns that get results, and give everyday working-class people access to reliable campaign resources.
Injustice Leads to Ideas
Both founder Zee Cohen-Sanchez and Operations Director Amani Wells-Onyioha were inspired to participate in progressive politics by different injustices. For Zee, the Occupy Wall Street movement was reaching a fever pitch while she was studying at Wagner College.
“That really opened my eyes to the issues and “radicalized” me,” said Zee.
Zee dropped out of graduate school to join the Bernie Sanders campaign. Later, she joined AOC, wearing out her own shoes in the field, leading part of the field program for the underdog candidate.
“I had never given a campaign everything I had until I did that campaign,” said Zee, “I think the reason is because it was an underdog campaign that everyone discounted, but seeing what was happening in the field I knew it was winnable. Playing just a tiny part of that victory was so rewarding.”
Similarly, injustice stoked Amani Wells-Onyiha’s interest in politics as well. While in college, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman.
“I could not believe that when video evidence was present, George Zimmerman was still able to get away with murder,” says Amani, “It was at that point that I realized just how deeply the issues in our system ran.”
After attaining a degree in journalism and working with the Beto O’Rourke campaign, Amani joined Sole Strategies in 2020 as a part of their social media team. Her drive and passion for progressive politics led her to rise through the ranks quickly. Today, she works directly alongside Zee as Operations Director of the business.
Boots on the Ground for Change
The whole mission of Sole Strategies is to make campaign resources accessible to everyone with interest in running. The organization supplies a one-stop-shop for seat-flipping campaigns. The offerings include resources for fundraising, digital marketing, field operations, website design, PR, and even video production. Some progressive candidates want to run for office and enact change, but the resources that other, more financially secure candidates have access to are often out of their reach. Sole Strategies seeks to level the playing field and then help the progressive candidates outwork their competition.
“We’ve seen the system continue to fail time and time again over the years,” says Zee, “Watching elected officials get into office and continue to ignore the needs of their constituents was something that we were tired of seeing.”
The women had seen the grassroots, wear-out-your-soles approach to campaigning work in the past and knew that candidates poised to flip seats could outdistance opponents and succeed with the right support.
A Change is Coming
Both Zee and Amani are aware of the work that needs to be put into making sweeping systemic and institutional changes in America.
Their passionate support for real change drives Sole Strategies and the many hours both women devote to making the organization a success.
“We feel like the entire system needs a revamp,” says Zee, “There are many people in power who are there for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s to enrich themselves, for their ego, for clout, you name it. The focus needs to be back on the people and less on the politician. That’s why we look for candidates that not only care about their communities but are actually involved.”
What sets Sole Strategies apart from political consultancy firms or campaign management companies is their experience influencing real change through old-fashioned, hands-on campaigning. Zee and Amani are not afraid to burn the midnight oil or get their hands dirty (or their shoes!) getting the word out about a candidate they believe in.
“We’re young, we’re passionate about what we are doing, and we’re hungry to flip seats. We want to see real change in government, and we support candidates who do too.”
The Female Perspective
Women have the opportunity to bring a unique perspective to the political arena. Politicians need to appeal to female voters, but often they are taking advice and cues from male consultants or managers. Therein lies a disconnect between politicians and their base.
Amani and Zee are aware that, as women, they bring a fresh viewpoint to the political scene. Their experience can help female candidates feel solidly supported and can help male candidates appeal to progressive female voters.
“Women-run organizations can help support women who have ambitions of running for office, and help speak to the issues that women face from an honest perspective,” says Zee.
What the Future Holds
As old-school candidates who balk at progressive movements lose more and more elections, it’s becoming clear that the future of politics is going to look a little different than the past. The young people have a vigor they are willing to throw behind causes and candidates they believe in. They are less willing to put work in to support politicians who don’t speak to their interests.
The women who run Sole Strategies feel that politics is happening whether people are paying attention or not.
“Unfortunately, our generation doesn’t have the option of being interested or not because we’re living it,” says Zee, “If you aren’t active in the political process, the system will continue to work against your best interests.”
Amani and Zee have high ambitions for Sole Strategies. The women hope to elevate the company to being the biggest progressive political organization in the country. They have their sights set on running successful seat-flipping campaigns in all fifty states and then running a presidential campaign one day.
Amani and Zee have been involved in numerous successful campaigns that have flipped seats. Deeply passionate and willing to work harder than most to see change happen, the women are in it for the long run.