Symone Sanders, rising Democratic media star, speaks her mind

Symone Sanders attends Politicon at The Pasadena Convention Center on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Pasadena, Calif.
Symone Sanders attends Politicon at The Pasadena Convention Center on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Pasadena, Calif. Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP

Don’t tell Symone Sanders to shut up.

Former Virginia Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli learned that the hard way after he told Sanders to "shut up for a minute" during a heated segment on CNN in August about the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va.

"You don’t get to tell me to shut up on national television," Sanders responded tersely. "Under no circumstances do you get to speak to me in that manner. You should exhibit some decorum."

At 27, Sanders is making a name and building a career for herself in politics as a Democratic strategist, cable television analyst, and in-demand event speaker by being unafraid to speak her mind.

"I feel very comfortable when I encounter situations such as" the Cuccinelli segment, Sanders said. "I’m not about to let anybody disrespect me. But I am going to be professional, I am going to do my job, and I am going to speak up."

In this week’s episode of Majority Minority, Sanders discusses her path to politics, what it’s like being an African American women working in a largely-white presidential campaign, and the possibility of running for office.

Sanders served as national press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, one of the youngest people ever to hold that position.

The Nebraska native got the job at a time when the Vermont independent’s campaign was receiving heavy criticism from African Americans, particularly from Black Lives Matter activists, that Bernie Sanders didn’t understand their issues.

"Common misconception is Bernie had these ‘black issues’ and they went out and found this black girl and they just gave her this position," Symone Sanders said. "No, I had worked 15 different campaigns — I had never worked a presidential before — and I went on 27 different interviews before I got the Bernie Sanders job."

She accepted the job knowing that there were few African Americans in senior positions within the Sanders campaign. She endured reminders of that throughout the campaign.

"I would go to places and events and could not get in because people couldn’t believe that I was the press secretary and I’m, like. ‘Do you watch TV?’" she said. "I would literally have ID and could literally not get in. And I would have to call folks down to come get me."

Still, the campaign experience catapulted Sanders into the spotlight. She’s a regular on CNN and a frequent guest on shows such as HBO’s "Real Time with Bill Maher," where she took Maher to task when the white host jokingly referred to himself in June as a "house nigger."

"You would have been the master, the slave owner," Sanders scolded Maher on the air. "It was mostly black women who were enslaved in the house, who were beaten daily, day in and day out. They endured physical and mental abuse."

She has also taken Democrats to task over diversity issues, the obsession of some party members with focusing solely on rural white voters as a path to majority party status, and for having a party leadership structure that’s short on young people, particularly millennials.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., are all in their seventies.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is 67. Bernie Sanders and former Hillary Clinton, the top Democratic presidential contenders last year, are in their seventies.

"I do think that some of the seasoned leadership needs to be willing to move out of the way," she said. "If the Democratic Party really wants to see younger people step up and take their place inside the party they have to make space and make room for them. You put folks on the DNC’s executive committee, you actively engage them in a surrogate program. You make real investments."

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez