After years of living in political and digital celebrity, Deja Foxx is considering her next chapter. Since she was a teenager, and in her early days as a Planned Parenthood organizer, the 23-year-old has navigated a form of media-politics symbiosis, often by occupying multiple roles at once. At times, she is the subject, at others, she is the facilitator of conversation—but all ends are in pursuit of social action for issues that resonate with her personal story. Now, as she gauges a changing landscape—online and IRL—Foxx is leaning into what she can rely on most: her community and her own voice.
For the better part of a decade, Deja Foxx has been working as a reproductive rights activist, strategist, and influencer, converging her political work with her growing platform as a model, speaker, and the founder of GenZ Girl Gang. The success of these ventures lends itself to a unique combination of well-timed virality and learned political acumen best performed by someone with a mastery of communication
In 2017, Foxx skyrocketed to social media fame after challenging former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake about the merits of affordable health care, citing her own journey with housing and medical precarity. “Why [is it] your right to take away my right?” the then Tucson-based 16-year-old asked her befuddled Senator. Flake had just voted against Title X, a federal grant program administered to fund health centers specializing in sexual, reproductive, and preventative healthcare. Foxx had not only worked in such centers, she was one of the many low-income and adolescent patients who received their care. During a period of hidden homelessness—a form of housing insecurity that affects one in 30 teens in the US—Title X was a critical resource for her.
Foxx continues, “I’m a young woman and you’re a middle-aged man. (Flake: “Ouch”) I’m a person of color and you’re white. I come from a background of poverty, and I didn’t always have parents to guide me through life. You come from privilege.” Her closing comments were drowned out by the audience’s cheers. By the next morning, Foxx woke up to hundreds of thousands of video reposts that soon grew to the millions. “It had a profound impact on me, personally,” she shares. “I wasn’t sure if college was an option for me and definitely wasn’t thinking about going out of state. But that moment changed my self-perception about where me and my story belonged.”
These were the days before Instagram or Twitter’s current newsfeed algorithm. So, viral moments like hers were largely made possible through micro channels of communication, shared over and over until they reached new audiences. The public was receptive to her voice and message, and Foxx leaned in. She recognized the tradeoffs of existing within a digital and looks-obsessed society, but found that self-leveraging as a model and influencer would allow her to grow a platform, which could be wielded for something larger than herself.
The narrative-based organizing techniques Foxx learned during her Planned Parenthood years would still be used in a different realm of political work as she ventured into lobbying and strategy. At 19, she became the youngest and first Influencer and Surrogate Strategist on Vice President Kamala Harris’ 2020 Presidential Campaign, where she applied her lived experiences.
Foxx says, “I’ve come to understand electoral politics is about electing candidates who will create the most moveable landscape for organizers.” She learned that her team’s work could be quickly undone by opposing politicians, but the person-to-person community aspect of her work has staying power. This is one of the reasons she founded GenZ Girl Gang, an organization that started in hopes of building a like-minded community during her Freshman year at Columbia University but operates today as an ideological extension of the activist work that has shaped so much of Foxx’s life.
Because Foxx could no longer conflate proximity to community, she looked to spaces where she was feeling most aligned, and that was often on the internet. The ethos of GenZ Girl Gang was born from the idea that young people, particularly women and gender-expansive folks, could redefine the practice of connectivity via digital platforms. Foxx’s hypothesis was that moments of self and community care could be created from these virtual spaces.
“We have a culture change mission of pulling from competition toward collaboration,” Foxx explains of her mission’s three respective parts. “Then we have building power in people’s personal networks, which is our way of connecting members to each other so they can be professionally and personally well through resilient communities. And lastly, trying to position young women in this moment, as people who have agency in their digital lives.”
Often when young women are represented in relation to social media, it is within an assumed context of victimhood that neglects the role that they play in creating digital culture. Young women and nonbinary people are perhaps the largest arbiters of creativity on social media, be it through fandoms, digital newsletters, or original photographic content. Spaces like GenZ Girl Gang become essential in their capacity to depict “moments of digital Utopia,” as Foxx describes, wherein people without immediate access to the safe spaces they seek can at least be inspired by seeing what is possible.
As Deja Foxx’s time as a student comes to a close (she graduated from Columbia this past May), she continues to explore the potentiality of her platform. “When I went from being 19 to being 20,” she shares, “I remember I was really nervous because so many of the headlines around me have described me as a teen activist. As I left being a student organizer, I had a similar feeling.”
Foxx has since pushed back on that internal fear. The public obsession with young people and youth in culture has elevated her to a rare pedestal, but Foxx welcomes the chance to be held to the same standard as any other 23-year-old. Foxx concludes, “I’m really interested in creating my own lasting testament to what it meant and means to be a young woman or a girl in this particular moment of digital revolution. I think there are so many people creating about us and also inspiring and empowering other young women and gender-expansive folks to own and create lasting artifacts so that when people look back on this time, they don’t say, ‘Where are the girls they were talking about?’”
Photographed by Elinor Kry
Styled by Eloise Moulton
Written by Skylar Mitchell
Makeup: Amy Kate at Atelier Management
Flaunt Film: Nadine Zhan