Spotlight Series: Jonae Wartel

Here at GAIN Power, we are always looking to spotlight different political progressives and changemakers. If you or someone you know would like to be nominated, please fill out this form!

Our spotlight this week is on Jonae Wartel, a political, social impact strategist and innovative leader. She is currently a Partner at Arc Initiatives and helped lead the Democratic Party’s efforts for the Georgia Senate Runoff Elections.

Can you give a brief background and introduction about yourself?

JW: My name’s JonaeWartel. I am currently a partner at a consulting firm here in D.C. called Arc Initiatives. We are a communications, public relations, and campaign strategy firm. A lot of our work is to support and partner with teams, and clients that want to run advocacy campaigns to make a positive impact on issues like climate, the environment, healthcare, reproductive rights and reproductive justice, as well as help get great candidates elected. We support them in developing strategies that are going to influence public opinion, and influence decision makers

A lot of my work has focused on the leadership development angle of that as well. As you know, we need really well trained leaders and messengers and strategists to do that. So, in addition to supporting clients, I also train people to be able to do that work as a profession. So my role in working through the firm is kind of dual in that way.

What does your day-to-day work look like?

JW: The great thing about consulting is that we work with a variety of clients. On any given day I could be working with a client to develop a training program in order to recruit more campaign managers needed for local races in a state like Virginia or New Jersey, or I could be talking to a company or organization about how to develop a civic engagement strategy to use their profile either as a powerful organization or as an influential entity to be able to impact social change. It’s helping them to use their voice and leverage their platform. I get all in the weeds on the strategy of that sometimes. Whether that be running a media campaign sometimes or getting grassroots activists trained to go and organize a march or an event and everything in between.

Why did you choose this line of work?

JW: I got into politics because I’m really passionate about communities. I think that politics is not just about Democrats and Republicans, it’s about people’s way of life; it’s about people’s ability to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I saw it as an opportunity to empower people to elect people who represented them and who wanted to champion their issues.

How does your work specifically impact the political climate we live in?

JW: I worked on the first and second Obama campaigns, as well as the Georgia Senate Runoff elections and being in those moments in our nation’s history really helped me to understand that elections have consequences. I think that the way I’ve been able to be a part of those moments and organize alongside folks to create those moments has given me a greater understanding that people are powerful. People who are committed to change are powerful. It’s something that has stayed with me and it’s hopefully something that I’ve inspired.

What is unique about your workplace and your position?

JW: I think that the the uniqueness of my role is that I get to bring a lot of my campaign expertise to help support campaigns, but also to support organizations and companies and 501(c)(4)’s who may not be inherently political in their day-to-day workings, but they want to have an impact on the conversation about what’s happening in the world. I like to sit at that very unique intersection of bringing my campaign skills to solve challenges in our world from a social impact perspective.

What has been the most surprising thing you have learned since getting involved in progressive politics?

JW: It can be surprising how incremental that change can be. I think sometimes we often wish that the change we’re working for every single day would move faster, and we would see results and change faster. Certainly it would be to the benefit of our world if some of the things that I get to work on, and many people who are progressive organizers get to work on, could see those results in one election cycle. But it surprises me and continues to surprise me a bit how you have to keep chipping away at it. You have to be in the fight for the long term, and it’s the reason why I’ve stayed in the fight, not just for people who look like me, but for people who are the most vulnerable in our world. We have to keep fighting for them and know that it won’t be an overnight victory or an overnight success, but if we keep fighting, if we keep working, we can win.

Is there anything you think campaigns should do or should stop? Why?

JW: One of the things I think campaigns should really do is start organizing earlier. We’re still in this mode of starting to organize just a couple of months before big elections, and just assuming that the people that we wanna reach are going to wake up and say, “Oh, it’s election day. I need to pay attention.” I think we’ve got to be intentional about investing in organizers and organizing early on, so that when we get to September and October right before an election, we already have very engaged volunteers and leaders who feel like they have ownership and buy-in on the campaign.

What had you wished you had known about getting involved in politics and what advice do you have for young professionals looking to get into politics?

JW: I wish that I had understood what a slog that it could be! It is a very intense line of work. It’s a very intense profession. You pour so much of yourself into it. I bring my identity, and how I show up in the world to work every day. I can’t leave who I am at home and just clock into work. I wish I had known how much of an all-consuming thing that it can be. I also wish someone had told me how much fun I was going to have. I feel really privileged to be doing work that I love and be a part of these historic moments, these historic campaigns to solve these novel challenges. I wish someone had said, you’re gonna work hard, you’re gonna bust your butt, but you’re gonna love it.

The biggest piece of advice I have is that no one’s path is going to look the same. I think there’s always a temptation to look at someone who is successful in politics and just try to emulate their path. Yet, so much of people’s careers and politics have been answering the call of the moment; everyone’s path has been different because times have been different.

Lastly, for fun, if you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?

JW: I have two answers to this question. One, I would be a barista at Starbucks because they’ve got to be so good at making so many drinks. And then the other job I would like to do is be a stylist, a celebrity stylist. As a kid growing up, I always loved clothes. I loved putting together my outfits for school, and it’s just always been something I’d love to do.


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