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Activist to insider: Former Pelosi aide watches Black Lives Matter go mainstream

‘The contrast is remarkable,’ says Taylor Griffin

Shortly after the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown, Taylor Griffin began marching with other young people in Washington in protest of police violence.

But there was one thing that set her apart from her fellow marchers. She was a press assistant for then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Her activism and association with the leader of the Democratic Party made her a target of right-wing outlets like the Daily Caller, which did a couple of stories on her protest participation and an incident involving D.C. police.

But Griffin says that despite the criticism, Pelosi had her back.

“One of the things she told me was that she was very proud of me,” says Griffin, who would become Pelosi’s press secretary by age 25. “To hear that she supported me and understood the issues, it really meant the world to me and speaks volumes about who she is.”

Griffin, a Bay Area native who once served as an intern in Pelosi’s San Francisco district office, recently accepted a new job with the music and podcast streaming giant Spotify after six years with Pelosi.

You can mark Griffin’s tenure with Pelosi by the changing public attitude toward Black Lives Matter. The movement now has more public support than the president. But that was not the case when Taylor started her job as press assistant in 2014. Democrats were slow to embrace the slogan or the protests, perhaps a bit leery as a Democratic president sat in the White House.

Those were lonely days, Griffin recalls. There weren’t many staffers involved in the movement. Flash forward to 2020, and now members see it as a political advantage to join protests, which is what happened when Griffin accompanied Speaker Pelosi to a recent demonstration on Capitol Hill, one of her last acts as press secretary. Griffin calls it a “full circle” moment.

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“I’m laughing because the contrast is remarkable, from organizing in the streets of D.C. in 2014 to now here in 2020,” Griffin says.

Four years ago, only 43 percent of American adults supported Black Lives Matter, according to Pew Research Center. But that number has shifted dramatically, and now two-thirds view the movement positively, with 38 percent offering “strong” support, according to a survey taken in June.

So what did Griffin learn from her years spent beside the most powerful woman in American history?

That doing the job — managing egos, building relationships and coalitions, and moving legislation — is “remarkably time consuming.” It is a phrase she uses repeatedly during our conversation.

Pelosi, who has been the leader of the House Democrats since 2003, is known for spending hours hearing out member concerns. “If that means she needs to spend the next four days calling every single Democratic member of her caucus, she will do so,” says Griffin. It may be the reason she has held on as the top Democrat, even as Republican speakers get run out of Congress by their own conference.

The speaker also operates on about four hours of sleep a night, and she rarely drinks caffeine. Griffin recalls Pelosi making 3 a.m. phone calls to D.C. from Luxembourg, Belgium, during last December’s impeachment proceedings and then waking up three hours later to hit the ground running.

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“It requires a lot of endurance and grit,” says Griffin. It can also take a toll on staff. Griffin says she definitely “grew up” during her six years with Pelosi.

“It certainly presented a lot of challenges personally and professionally,” she says. Though she considers herself fortunate to have had the opportunity, she was ready to do something completely different, which is why she decided to take the job with Spotify. Beginning Monday, Griffin will be the communications manager for the company’s global affairs division.

But old routines are hard to shake. During her two weeks off between gigs, Griffin feels a little restless, without the familiar task of having to staff Pelosi.

“I hear that things are much slower outside the speaker’s office,” she says. “But I’ll believe it when I see it, because there’s only one pace that I know, and that is the pace of Nancy Pelosi.”

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