Stephanie Valencia is a national leader at the nexus of politics, technology, and leadership development. She is the co-founder of EquisLabs, an organization that invests in leaders and ideas that will create a more active, powerful Latinx electorate. She was also among a small group of advisers who served President Barack Obama in senior roles through his presidential campaign and during both terms in office. As if that wasn’t enough, she is also a co-author of West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House and is co-host of the podcast Finding 46, about the road to the White House in 2020. Stephanie took time out of her obviously busy schedule to answer a few debate-related questions for us.
LC: A lot of people want to learn about what’s happening in our country, but media doesn’t do a good job of explaining things in terms we use every day. For example, a lot of people don’t know the acronyms for all the federal agencies or the names of all the “acts” coming out of Congress. Do you recommend a source for people to read up on before the debates to get a little exposure to all the topics?
SV: Rule 1: Don’t get overwhelmed. Yes, there are a lot of people to track (heck, I don’t know how many people are even in the race today because it changes daily) but most importantly come with an open mind. Sometimes certain candidates may surprise you. That being said, Rule 2: read Indivisible’s Guide to the 2020 Debate. It gives a really clear sense of who is who, what they stand for (and even how to correctly pronounce their names). Highly recommend for first time debate watchers.
LC: A lot of people think debates are boring. What is the best way to follow the debate if you want to learn about what the candidates have to say, but would prefer not to watch two days of several hour-long debates?
SV: Debates are just one way to get to know the candidates. It’s a way to see them all together trying to differentiate themselves from one another. But because their job is to try to outdo one another, I would encourage you to find other ways to get to know them. Our podcast “Finding 46” is taking a different approach to getting to know the candidates — by not interviewing the candidates, but those who know them best. Their siblings, their parents, reporters who have followed them for years. It gives a bit of a different, more personal viewpoint on who they are that you won’t see on a debate stage. Last thing I would say is don’t let the polls dictate who you support. Polls are often flawed and don’t always give a true sense of what the majority of voters honestly think or how they will ultimately vote. Stick to the candidate who you support because you like them and their ideas, not because media and the people who are paid to give opinions tell you they are “best” one to win. Your vote and your opinion absolutely matters and it’s each voter who gets to choose the winner, not the media that tries to tell you who they think is the most “electable.”
LC: What are the topics Latinas should be keeping an eye on in particular that the candidates will be talking about?
SV: Everyone has their own set of issues that drives their desire to participate in an election. For some that is immigation because they or someone they love is affected by a broken system. For others it might be healthcare or abortion because they need affordable and safe access themselves. I will be watching for candidates who can set a clear, unique, bold vision of where we should be on the hardest issues of today. For me, those issues are fixing our democracy so it works for the people again; bold immigration reform that puts people first and doesn’t reward inhumane treatment of immigrants; a fairer and more just economy that works for everyone. I am looking not just for bold policies, but for the candidates to provide specific and actionable ways of getting them accomplished. On debate night, I will be following the hashtag #Latinx2020 for issues that impact our community and our families.
LC: What are you paying special attention to for the first debate? Any topic or person in particular that you are watching?
SV: In debate environments, Presidential candidates tend to be very serious and overly rehearsed. They prepare for weeks and weeks for these debates. I am going to be looking for moments of authenticity — where they deviate from the talking points and speak from a place of passion and heart. Something that is more off-script and less rehearsed. Those are the moments that actually resonate with voters and tend to help them breakout from the pack.
LC: After the debates, people might be really mad or really happy with the various candidates. What do you recommend they do with all those emotions and energy?
SV: If you like what you heard from a particular candidate or candidates, give them $5 each. I know you hear a lot about giving them $1, but the campaigns actually lose money when you give them a dollar, so if you actually like them and want to help, try to give them at least $5. Given what is needed to qualify for the next set of debates, they have to have raised money from 130,000 unique donors. There is no minimum donation for that, but it does have to be “unique” donors – meaning it has to be at least 130,000 individual people. It doesn’t count towards the qualification number of 130,000 if one person gives more than once. So if you want to keep seeing them on the debate stage they need your donation. If you really liked someone and you are ready to commit your most valuable asset – your time – visit their campaign website and sign up to volunteer. Because the field is so crowded right now, every candidate needs all the support from volunteers that they can get. If you haven’t picked a candidate yet, but still want to find a way to contribute – there are a lot of great groups who do the critically important work of year around community organizing who will be a critical part of the electoral process in 2020 – groups like Community Change Action, She the People, Indivisible, Women’s March, Supermajority, and more. A quick internet search will give you all kinds of results for local and national groups.