Ashley Bryant is the Principal at A/B Partners, a creative agency that puts meaningful strategies and storytelling at the forefront of digital marketing, brand building and political campaigns. An Ohio native, Bryant serves as the Ohio Digital Director for the 2012 re-election campaign of President Barack Obama and is currently an Advisor to Higher Heights for America and Higher Heights for America PAC, a political action committee dedicated to expanding Black women’s elected representation and voting participation. After the 2016 election, it was clear to Bryant that misinformation was a tool used to suppress Black and Latinx votes, so she co-founded Win Black / Pa’lante, a national campaign hub and digital storytelling studio creating new, diverse narratives about people, power, and social change to transform our politics and the economy.
When did you first become interested in politics?
I’ve been around community work and politics since my teens being introduced by my older sister. While I was raised knowing the importance of service and civic engagement, it didn’t enter into my professional work until the opportunity to join the President Obama re-election campaign in 2011. After my time on the campaign, it was crystal clear that my expertise as a communicator could be best used to empower and inspire my community to take an active role in our political power.
What was the greatest lesson you learned as the Ohio Digital Director for the Obama campaign?
The people matter, not the politician. Before the Obama campaign, I was in the private sector as a marketer and brand strategist where naturally the brand and product took center stage. The campaign taught me that our focus should always be on telling the stories of who we represent and our strategy wasn’t to just spread the President’s message but to ensure that voters were being heard and represented. I’ve carried that accountability forward in all that I do.
What led you to co-found Win Black / Pa’lante?
Since Black people have had the right to vote, there have been organized efforts to block our ability to exercise that right. Disinformation campaigns follow in the same line as literacy tests, poll taxes and purging people from voter rolls. These are all artificial barriers designed to limit Black electoral power, or worse, convincing us that we don’t have any.
Coming out of the 2016 election, it was clear that disinformation would continue to be the largest threat when it comes to suppressing the Black and Brown vote. In late 2019 we created Win Black/Pa’lante, a national campaign to fight back against disinformation targeting Black and Latinx voters across 21 states where misinformation campaigns targeted at Black voters have the power to impact the election. Black people can’t outsource building political power. This isn’t about any one party or person coming to the rescue. We have pulled together the best organizers, storytellers, strategists and technologists to make sure our communities are informed and inspired.
What obstacles did you encounter along the way?
Initially, not thinking big enough. We can often be our biggest obstacle by second-guessing ourselves and the effectiveness of our ideas and work.
What has been your experience leading the charge as a Black woman in this space?
The political space is quite interesting. I’ve been in several different roles over the years and there’s this stereotype of it being a “boys club” which is certainly true in many aspects but the progressive movement has also been largely a “non-POC” club. Leaders of the legacy progressive organizations have mostly been white and so navigating this space over the years I didn’t see myself as ever being able to breakthrough. There weren’t always the Rashad Robinson’s of Color of Change or the Alicia Garza’s at Black Futures Lab. When you don’t see yourself it’s difficult to plot your course. It took a lot of work and closed doors to prove my analysis and insight was just as valuable if not more valuable. Quite frankly, it’s still challenging to be seen as an accomplished political leader without having to wear my resume on my sleeve but it’s certainly freeing to now be able to just create the programs and spaces that I know will drive impact rather than waiting for someone to let me in the door.
What inspires you to keep going?
Our history inspires me to keep going. I often think about what it must have felt like to be the first to speak up against racism, inequality, bigotry, etc. It took a million firsts for me to even be able to take up space in these rooms. I continue this work to carry forth those firsts, to make damn sure those firsts won’t be the last and if I can make one dent in transforming our democracy to represent all of us, I’ve done my job.
What’s your advice to young women who want to pursue a career in political activism?
Be authentically you and never back down. Far too often we are used as the “cheerleader” versus the strategist, the campaign face but not the advisor. Don’t settle for just a seat at the table, take a seat and flip it over if necessary.
What keeps you hopeful about the future of our nation?
Simply that when we show up, together, in force, things change.