By Elliott Stephanopoulos ’21
Mandana Dayani is the ultimate multihyphenate: lawyer, activist, TV personality, founder, CBO, podcast host, executive producer, consultant, fashion expert, mother, wife, and much more. Dayani’s resume is impressive; having attended the University of Southern California for both her undergraduate Bachelor’s degree and her Juris Doctorate, she worked as a lawyer at Paul Hastings’ firm before leaving to work with Rachel Zoe, eventually becoming the Vice President of the company. Mandana then got involved with the luxury marketplace, Everything But The House. Now, she is working on I AM A VOTER, a non-partisan, voting rights non-profit organization that she founded and is hosting her own podcast, The Dissenters. Mandana Dayani has excelled in all of her endeavors and is currently focusing on voters' rights and social media activism.
The Iris: Why did you start I AM A VOTER?
Mandana Dayani: It really starts in my childhood. I am an immigrant and came to the United States a little before I was six as a religious refugee. It was a very formative experience and I was always raised with a deep sense of patriotism because America basically saved our lives. I was very aware of how bad my life could have been if we had stayed in our home country so I recognized my privilege. My parents constantly instilled in us how important the opportunity of living in America was and how lucky we were to have a shot at the American Dream. I was just so aware of the sacrifices that were made, so I took school very seriously and worked really hard. We came here with nothing and worked really hard and fostered a traditional immigrant family dynamic. My brother went on to be a surgeon and I went to law school. The sense of patriotism and gratitude that was deeply embedded in me was why I went to law school. I originally thought I was going to run for senate.
After having my second daughter, I was so disturbed by how divided, toxic, and polarized our politics were, and I felt that I could do something to help. Even though I did not know exactly what I could do, I started by talking to members of the senate and congress. I thought I could maybe consult. I am good at marketing and building brands. Each meeting I took, every person said “if you really want to make long term, systemic changes, you need to help us get a higher voter turnout.'' I did not realize that not everyone was voting. As an immigrant, I saw voting as privilege so I assumed everyone voted. After these meetings, I came home and looked at the numbers. I was shocked to find out that 100 million people did not vote in the 2016 election.
As someone who knows how to build a brand, it made sense for me to figure out how to advertise voting. I thought if I can get people to get excited about and watch a marvel movie, then I can communicate a message to young voters. From there, I reached out to 25 of the smartest women I have worked with and set a meeting on a Sunday morning to start crafting what a new vision for voting could be. We saw voting as a brand, and ourselves as its publicist. We wanted to bring all industries together to reshape voting, and to campaign it so that you basically feel FOMO if you aren’t involved. I saw that if someone identifies themselves as a voter, they are way more likely to be involved. If you find your voter identity, you hold yourself accountable.
TI: What has been the most monumental moment for you since founding I AM A VOTER?
MD: When we started I AM A VOTER, we didn’t really know we were. At the beginning, we had just formed a partnership with CAA (one of the biggest Hollywood talent agencies), which we were very excited about, and just making our I AM A VOTER PINS.
Tiffany, my co-founder, and I went to NY fashion week and thought it would be a good idea to bring the pins with us. We landed, got on the phone and talked to all our friends in fashion, asking if they could stop by our hotel room to grab a few pins and hopefully put them on their clients. Our stylist, influencer, media personality, and designer friends all showed up and I could not believe it. It was a super rouge operation. They grabbed a bag of pins and wore them, put them on place cards, put them on their clients in the front row, and some designers even put them on the models walking down the runway which was very powerful. The next day we woke up and all these big media outlets like the Hollywood Reporter were talking about the I AM A VOTER pins at fashion week, and that was when we realized “Wow, this is real.” It all happened so quickly from there. We had our partnerships with NBA players, NFL players, Bumble, Stuart Weitzman and Sony and Amazon integrations. Every single day I am completely floored. It has been insane to see our commercials on ABC and our billboards in LA. I am such a nerd inside so everything feels so incredible to me.
Every single one of our partnerships have been so powerful and effective. It is really nice to see how many people interact with I AM A VOTER, whether it's through our text platform or social media. The digital push, especially through the text platform, has been extremely important to us from the beginning because we knew it would engage young voters. It was our response to young voters feeling unprepared and unaware. We wanted to remove barriers and give them all the information they needed.
Our starting goal was to be fact based while being cool, modern, and new. We choose the black and white colors as to show our non partisanship and not be affiliated with a certain party.
What we realized when launching was that so many people wanted to help and be involved, they just didn't know how and they were thankful that we asked them to be involved.
TI: What are your upcoming goals for I AM A VOTER?
MD: All I can think about is voter turnout for 2020. The numbers in the past that depicted how many people voted are not something we can sustain. Our democracy is made to function with people's participation. For us right now at I AM A VOTER, it is about creating new tools and getting people excited about the upcoming election. The awareness is incredibly high -- I have never seen so many people discuss the election.
Millennials are on the cusp of being the nation's largest adult population and need to be the voters that move our country forward. I do think we will have significantly higher voter turnout this year.
TI: What/Who is your dream I AM A VOTER ambassador or collaboration?
MD: I really want to do a collaboration with Supreme. That's been top of my bucket list for a while now. it would be insane, surreal, and amazing to collaborate with Supreme.
TI: At what age did you get involved in social justice and how did it evolve from there?
MD: My concept of giving back started in fourth grade when I learned about the consequences of not treating our environment well and the importance of recycling in our community. After that, I formed an ecology club at my school and began to incorporate more access to volunteering throughout Elementary and Middle School.
In high school, I volunteered for a few different politicians so I could really understand how politics work.
For the most part, in college, I worked for the organization LA Works. What we did was create volunteer opportunities for all the different nonprofits in LA and oversaw them. I would help host volunteer days. I really began to understand the importance of community and Community involvement with my time at LA Works.
After I graduated from Law School, I was a part of founding an organization called World's Child's Project. Our primary goal was to assist orphanages in Mexico by helping them become self-sustainable.
All of the things I did and do are very hands on. I was never a part of an organization that was only putting together a gala. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it just wasn't for me. I want to be there and touch it and feel it and meet the people.
TI: What is your advice for young voters?
MD: Participate. Regardless of your belief system and what you value, you are responsible for the country that you inherit. I can't even imagine not showing up for it. One of my favorite quotes is from the West Wing, “decisions are made by those who show up”. Decisions will always be made, so don’t you want your voice to be heard? Elected officials only represent the people who vote for them, not the district as a whole. People always say “Oh, I live in a blue state or a red state so that's just the way it is going to go”, but so many of the important decisions start at the local level. Whether you care about school quality or criminal justice reform or public transport or affordable housing or recycling, that all starts at the local level. Many of the most important decisions, such as equality laws, started at the local level.
Your voice needs to be heard so your elected officials represent you. It's not just voting for the president, but everyone involved in the government, which is what determines what your city, country, and future is going to look like.
TI: What advice would you give to high schoolers interested in politics and entrepreneurship?
MD: We talk about it a lot on my podcast, The Dissenters. Chasing your passion is ultimately aligned with finding your purpose and your people. The best way to start that process is looking internally and sitting with what keeps you up at night and what you think is profoundly unjust. You have to honor what you feel inside of you and then take the next step to do something about it. It's very empowering and fulfilling to give back on something you care so much about.
Resources from: I AM A VOTER:
CHECK YOUR REGISTRATION OR REGISTER TO VOTE ONLINE → https://iamavoter.turbovote.org/?r=iaavwebsite
CHECK YOUR REGISTRATION OR REGISTER TO VOTE VIA TEXT → 26797
FOLLOW @IAMAVOTER ON SOCIAL MEDIA TO GET DAILY UPDATES AND FACTS ON VOTING