|Born||January 12, 1986|
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
|Education||Harvard University (BA)|
|Known for||Former Chief of staff to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez|
Saikat Chakrabarti (born January 12, 1986) is an American political advisor, activist and software engineer. He was formerly the chief of staff to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. Representative from New York's 14th congressional district representing portions of The Bronx and Queens in New York City.
Early life and education
After college, Chakrabarti worked on Wall Street followed by six years in Silicon Valley at a number of startups. Chakrabarti co-founded a web design company called Mockingbird and served as a founding engineer at the payments processing company Stripe.
Bernie Sanders campaign and Brand New Congress
In 2015, Chakrabarti joined the early stages of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders's presidential bid. Of that decision, Chakrabarti told Rolling Stone, "I wasn't entirely sure he had all the right solutions but I knew he was talking about the right problems."
Chakrabarti became the Sanders campaign's Director of Organizing Technology and was part of the effort that created technology for grassroots supporters to collaborate on organizing events. Together with Sheena Pakanati, he developed a messaging tool called Spoke which is released under the MIT license. The software helped volunteers find other volunteers who lived nearby and helped coordinate "millions" of volunteers to call into battleground states, multiplying the effort of local volunteers and staff. Chakrabarti's technological edge is credited with being "a major component in the success of Sanders' presidential run".
During the Sanders campaign Chakrabarti worked closely with Alexandra Rojas and Corbin Trent to stage campaign events around the country. Charkrabarti told Rolling Stone that he often heard voters express strong concerns about Congress: "people would say, 'How's he going to get anything done? We just saw what Congress did to Obama for the last eight years, they’re gonna do the same thing to Bernie.'" As a result, in the spring of 2016, Chakrabarti (together with Rojas and Trent) co-founded the Brand New Congress political action committee, to recruit 400 new candidates for Congress. Chakrabarti told Rachel Maddow in 2016, the goal was to have unified fundraising of small donors modeled on the Sanders campaign in hopes of politicians who work for their voters rather than spend their time seeking donations. The group received many applications and recruited 12 candidates, of whom only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a seat in Congress.
In early 2017, after Trump's election, Chakrabarti, Zack Exley, a former fellow Bernie Sanders presidential campaign executive, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks and Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk became co-founders of the Justice Democrats. As Chakrabarti, Rojas, and Trent were less involved with Brand New Congress, they became leaders of the Justice Democrats. Chakrabarti, as an executive director of Justice Democrats wrote software to organize in a "distributed fashion". Justice Democrats targeted an entrenched "corporate Democrat" in Joe Crowley. The group recruited Ocasio-Cortez to challenge Joe Crowley and "helped get her campaign off the ground, build an email list and raise $30,000." Activist strategies mobilized by Justice Democrats contributed greatly to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's primary win, according to The Intercept.
"From day one, these volunteers started knocking doors and reaching into their own networks to expand this volunteer army, allowing us to go into election day with over a thousand volunteers willing to mobilize voters. We buttressed door-knocking with a heavy digital, phone calling, and texting strategy that targeted progressive voters in five different languages. Through this, we built a multiracial, progressive coalition of voters who had been hearing our message for a year and were excited to turn out to vote on June 26."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff
Chakrabarti was campaign manager for Ocasio-Cortez's unexpected primary victory over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley, and afterwards became her campaign chair. While her general election victory in the heavily Democratic district was considered a foregone conclusion, Chakrabarti leveraged her newfound high profile to campaign for other progressive candidates across the country. After she won the November 2018 general election, she appointed him as her chief of staff.
Green New Deal
Chakrabarti led the Ocasio-Cortez staff and several progressive groups in writing the Green New Deal resolution that was submitted to the House of Representatives by Ocasio-Cortez and to the Senate by Ed Markey February 7, 2019. The New Yorker quoted him as saying, "We spent the weekend learning how to put laws together. We looked up how to write resolutions." The Washington Post quoted him as well:
"it wasn't originally a climate thing at all... we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing."
Chakrabarti expressed a vision of what Democrats should try to do while Republicans hold power in the Senate and Presidency:
"Don't expect them to back down . . . Another thing to really do over the next two years is to basically show the American people what will be possible if the Democrats win the House, the Senate and the presidency in 2020, and that means putting our best foot forward. It means putting the most ambitious, the boldest, the biggest things we can, and then just build a movement around that."
"She's able to do things very quickly because she has a pulse on where the people are."
Amazon HQ2 withdrawal from Queens
In February 2019, Chakrabarti appeared as a guest on Bloomberg News to clarify Ocasio-Cortez's role in Amazon's decision to pull its planned HQ2 from Long Island City, Queens, saying she objected to the process by which it had received its original deal, but had no specific animus toward the company. He stated that AOC's goal had been to see the local community more involved in discussions, but once community members joined the discussion, Amazon made the decision to withdraw. Chakrabarti elaborated further that Amazon would be welcome to return to the negotiating table under the condition that the company engage adequately with the local communities to be affected by the project.
Chakrabarti worked on the part of the Justice Democrats platform which included abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. To the question of whether a different agency should take its place, he replied "everyone has a different idea of what happens after". While working for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he supported a move to approach the debate by highlighting the economic value of welcoming foreign workers.
In a June 27 tweet, Chakrabarti wrote that the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus should be called "the New Southern Democrats" for voting, in his view, to "still enable a racist system". This was in response to Democratic representatives approving an aid package which included funding for southern border enforcement. The House Democratic Caucus Twitter account, managed by Hakeem Jeffries, objected to him referring to Sharice Davids by name in these posts.
Resignation as chief of staff
On August 2, 2019, Representative Ocasio-Cortez announced that Saikat Chakrabarti "has decided to leave the office to work with New Consensus to further develop plans for a Green New Deal." That same day in an interview with The Intercept Chakrabarti said he would be starting work with New Consensus, an organization dedicated to the Green New Deal, the Congresswoman’s "ambitious climate, economic, and racial justice agenda." A subsequent article in The New York Times suggested a connection between this departure and Ocasio-Cortez's adoption of a more moderate strategy for working with conservative colleagues.
- Schwartz, Nikki; Levine, Jon (August 2, 2019). "AOC loses top staffers following controversies". New York Post. Archived from the original on May 18, 2020. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
- Bhargavi Kulkarni (December 16, 2018). "Saikat Chakrabarti: The techie behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez". India Abroad. Archived from the original on March 5, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Ananya Dasgupta (January 18, 2019). "Meet Saikat Chakrabarti, the Bengali-American chief of staff of the feisty New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez". TheBengalStory. Archived from the original on March 8, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- SEAS News Briefs (January 9, 2019). "Chakrabarti named to Politico Playbook Power List". Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Archived from the original on April 18, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Adam Shaw (March 6, 2019). "The 'tech millionaire' behind the socialist: Chief of staff who boosted AOC made riches in Silicon Valley". Fox News. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Stuart, Tessa (November 21, 2018). "Can Justice Democrats Pull Off a Progressive Coup in Congress?". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on March 10, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
The three leaders of Justice Democrats — Chakrabarti, Alexandra Rojas and Corbin Trent — met back in 2015, when the only thing they had in common was the fact that they each dropped everything they were doing and went to work for Sanders not long after he declared his candidacy. "I wasn't entirely sure he had all the right solutions but I knew he was talking about the right problems," Chakrabarti tells Rolling Stone.
- Darren Samuelsohn (February 18, 2016). "Bernie's Army of Coders: Inside the DIY volunteer tech movement helping drive the insurgent campaign". Politico. Archived from the original on March 31, 2019. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
If viral videos, data analytics, Twitter and meet-up pages were the big breakthroughs of past presidential elections, 2016 could very well go down as the year of the app.
- Kozub, Stephen (May 8, 2017). "Meet the tech-savvy activists trying to take over the Democratic Party". The Verge. Archived from the original on March 31, 2019. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
As the director of Organizing Technology for the Sanders campaign, Chakrabarti worked alongside Justice Democrats co-founder Zach Exley and communications director Corbin Trent to create software to organize grassroots support.
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'The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,' he said, 'is it wasn't originally a climate thing at all.' Ricketts greeted this startling notion with an attentive poker face. 'Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?' Chakrabarti continued. 'Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.'
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff speaks out Archived 2019-03-12 at the Wayback Machine, video of interview with Brian Stelter on CNN's Reliable Sources
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The deal was sprung on the community without any input and there's a real cost whenever tech companies come in without community input. Rents go up, people get evicted, there's an actual human cost," he said...Chakrabarti emphasised that it was Amazon who chose to leave the negotiating table once community voices were brought in. When asked whether he'd welcome Amazon back to the negotiating table, Chakrabarti said: "We'd welcome having a process, yes... but I don't know where the talks are at this stage.
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