Deja Foxx was unpacking in her dorm room to start her sophomore year at Columbia University when Meena Harris DM’d her about working on her Aunt Kamala’s presidential campaign. “I just started repacking,” Foxx says, laughing. “I wasn’t going to sit in a classroom and talk about Plato and Aristotle when I had skills that could make a difference.”
The youngest staffer on Kamala Harris’ campaign, Foxx, at 19, was already a seasoned activist, driven by her own experience with homelessness and her struggle to access birth control growing up in Tucson, Arizona. By the time she graduated high school, she had helped launch a teen-led program that provides reproductive-health resources to young people, helmed a successful movement for comprehensive sex-ed classes at her school, and gone viral for confronting then-Sen. Jeff Flake at an Arizona town hall. “I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not,” she told Flake, “why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood and choose no-copay birth control.” Her last words were drowned out by the cheering crowd.
On the Harris campaign, her role as influencer and surrogate strategist didn’t even exist before she arrived. “I got to step in as the expert because there is no one getting a Ph.D. in TikToks and influencer strategy,” she says. Foxx is part of a new generation of activists adept at harnessing the power of social media, blending their personal and professional personas to boost causes they care about. Foxx posts about everything from sponsored vibrator giveaways to videos encouraging women to run for office.
“I am a very full, wholly me, authentic person,” she said. “And I think that’s what people resonate with now. … Don’t try to fake it. Don’t try to front, because everyone has had a phone since they were 11 years old. … Our entire lives have been documented.”
Foxx says social platforms and the women mentors she connects with there helped her get the campaign job. “I don’t come from a family where connections are something we have,” she says. “My mom barely graduated high school and bounced between jobs. I really had to do the groundwork to make something like that happen for myself. In large part, I can thank social media for that.”
Foxx learned early on to take care of herself. She left home at 15 because of her single mother’s struggles with addiction and finances, living with friends’ families instead. “I learned that when people don’t treat you right or when a situation is unsafe, that I have the power to set boundaries and to walk away,” she says. That same year, Foxx borrowed her boyfriend’s car and drove 45 minutes to Planned Parenthood to get a supply of birth control pills. “I didn’t have insurance, I didn’t have money. And people in that situation, people like me, deserve to have choices.” For Foxx, accessing contraceptives gave her a sense of agency over her entire future and opened new possibilities, including becoming the first person in her family to go to college.
She’s created her own support network, including with GenZ Girl Gang, an online organization promoting sisterhood that she founded when she was homesick at Columbia (where she pulled straight A’s last semester). It’s part of a long-term goal to build social media connections into a real community online and offline. “I think about how we can translate this idea of solidarity, this idea that ‘when I do better, you do better,’ into a digital space, because more and more that’s where we’re spending our time,” she says.
Foxx believes that in today’s online world, everyone is an influencer, whether you have one follower or 1 million. “We have both the responsibility and the power to influence the people in our personal networks that we’re engaging with online,” she says. When it comes to social media strategy, that means meeting young people where they already are. After Kamala Harris ended her bid for the presidency, Foxx turned her talents to a get-out-the-vote campaign called Ignite the Vote. She says her team broke the mold by seeking out people who were established on social media — like mental health TikToker Amy Lee and civil rights organizer Chelsea Miller — rather than movie stars who might appeal more to the mainstream (older) public. “A lot of these campaigns were like, ‘Let’s get these A-list celebrities to talk about why voting is cool,’ and we were like, ‘No, let’s get people who have built communities, built relationships online to give young people the actual resources they need to go out and vote,’” she says.
Foxx fits in work on GenZ Girl Gang around her remote-learning schedule, while hoping she’ll be back on Columbia’s campus this fall. She makes no secret of her ultimate goal: the presidency, even including it in her email signature, “Activist, Organizer, Badass, Future President.” “I remember wanting to be president in, like, third grade,” she says. “It wasn’t really until I got to college that I felt comfortable to be really proud and loud about it.”
Her interests — and ambitions — have expanded from reproductive rights, but fighting for a pro-choice world is still at the heart of her activism. “The world that I work toward is defined and characterized by choice,” she said. “And I don’t just mean the choice of if and when to have children, but the choice to raise those children in communities that are free of gun violence, that are free of police brutality, or family separation. The choice to be able to access healthy foods … I want communities to have all the resources they need to reach their full potential.”