Donna Brazile looked out over the audience in Razzo Hall last Thursday and, after offering her opinion of the frigid weather (she’s not a fan), she established an immediate connection with Clark.
Brazile noted that the year Clark University was founded, 1887, is the same year her grandmother, the daughter of former slaves, was born in Mississippi. From that “sturdy, tough, gracious, humble” woman who also baked a mean buttermilk biscuit, Brazile learned American history and love of country, which continues to serve her as a national political commentator, author, columnist, Georgetown professor and strategist for the Democratic Party.
In a rollicking presentation that twice brought the crowd to its feet, Brazile mixed keen-eyed observations about the state of the nation with often humorous personal anecdotes to help Clark celebrate Black History Month.
Brazile said she’s not shy when it comes to shaking up the status quo. At the upcoming Democratic National Committee meeting she wants to rewrite the rules of engagement to allow young people a seat at the table to determine the next leaders of the Democratic Party. And she won’t rest, she said, until she’s not only seen the first woman U.S. president, but the first Latino, Asian and openly gay or lesbian president.
Brazile acknowledged a backlash against President Barack Obama. “Every time we make progress in this country there’s a backlash,” Brazile said. “But we’re not going back. … We’re going to move forward as a country.”
A native of New Orleans, Brazile launched her political career at the age of 9 when she worked to elect a City Council candidate who had promised to build a playground in her neighborhood. She threw herself into politics, working on every presidential campaign from 1976 through 2000, when she served as campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore, becoming the first African-American woman to manage a presidential campaign.
It was in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina that she saw some of America’s finest moments, both on a human scale and in a bipartisan context. Brazile recalled that two of her uncles who were displaced by the storm required medications, and they were well cared for, largely through the efforts of Rep. Senator Trent Lott.
“People opened their wallets, their hearts and their houses, and they gave many citizens from the Gulf Coast a place to rest their heads,” she said.
Her relatives’ research into family history has yielded traces of Irish, Scottish and French heritage in her genealogy, Brazile said.
“Whatever I am, I welcome it,” she said to applause. “I am an American, and I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of this country.”
Brazile said that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his best sermons the night before he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In the sermon, King stressed the need to love one’s enemies. Brazile drew laughter when she said, in a low voice, “I love you, Rush. I love you, Glenn. I love you, Sarah Palin.” She turned serious, saying, “If we can’t find love in our hearts, we can’t serve the cause of justice and freedom.” Brazile said Americans must be less confrontational, and said she will be civil in her discussions with Tea Party leaders, despite essential disagreements.
Drawing on King’s allusion to reaching the “promised land,” Brazile said African Americans and everyone “who believes in justice and equality” have to “take the next step to get there.”
“Our work is not done,” she said. “We haven’t finished the revolution we started here.”
The election of Obama, she said, should “destroy forever” the old perceptions about race in America.
“It doesn’t matter how we broke the mold, it’s broken now and we aren’t bringing it back,” Brazile said. “We have not entered a post-racial world, but we’re moving in that direction.”
Brazile was critical of U.S. foreign policy, saying the United States is too lenient with foreign governments that ignore universal human rights. “[The United States] should stop backing autocratic dictators because they’re holding on to something we want.”
She suggested that adjustments be made to the current voting system, which essentially locks millions of independent voters out of the two-party primaries, then gives them unsatisfactory choices on Election Day. It’s an insider’s game, she said. “The system is skewed against the average working person,” Brazile said. “It’s unpatriotic.”
Addressing the students in the audience, Brazile said she places much faith in the young generation of voters, noting that “you gave us Barack Obama, but you dropped the ball in the last [congressional] election.” She warned against young voters growing weary of politics, urging them to become change agents.
“Why you? There’s no one better. Why now? Because tomorrow is not soon enough.”