The day Donna Brazile came to town
Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore’s failed bid for the Presidency, discussed 2006 and 2008 election prospects at Roger Williams University on Monday, April 10.
Brazile’s lecture, titled “American Electoral Politics: Prospects for 2006 and 2008,” began at 4:00 p.m. in room 157 of the Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences building on the Bristol Campus at One Old Ferry Road.
That was the official uni press release for the event. My immediate reaction was Lord, no WAY am I going to witness another sorry display of yank election politics. Shouldn't there be, by god, a limit to the amount of campaign tales an international student can take?
I went anyway. Curiosity killed the Garfield, and further more, they had cookies for refreshment.
I had first slotted Donna as just another suit out there to bang a drum to the beat of a personal agenda. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Meet Donna Brazile, ladies and gentlemen:
Ms. Brazile comes from Louisiana. She named her book "Cooking With Grease", and it's a "powerful, behind-the-scenes memoir of the life and times of a tenacious political organizer and the first African-American woman to head a major presidential campaign." (aalbc.com)
You could tell she's used to that mic. With a southern smile and a husky rich tone, she blew the audience away with jokes at everyone's expense: her own, the Republicans, the Dems, FEMA.
The room was filled. She could've used the moment to wave the Democrat flag. She could've stomped and roared over the Gore campaign, and the lack of transparency. She could've ripped apart Bush's domestic policy.
Instead, she chose to talk about her first political campaign: at age 9, Brazile rode her bike around, getting children and parents to vote for a city councillor who had promised a playground in her neighbourhood. The campaign was successful. Since then, Ms. Brazile has always fought for the issues more than just the party colours.
She also talked about Louisiana, her home. Eloquent she was, just like in her article in the Washington Post, after Katrina hit:
"New Orleans is my hometown. It is the place where I grew up, where my family still lives. For me, it is a place of comfort and memories. It is home."
She spoke for more than an hour, and no one left, even after the cookies got over. She talked across lines, saying how important it was for young people to vote intelligently, to be part of decision-making, to run for office. For Donna Brazile, America's hope sat in that room. Looking around at the nodding faces and hands raised to ask questions, I knew she had got each and everyone of us in that room. And not only did she put campaigning in perspective-- you need to fight for what's worth making the change-- but she also gave the Dems a human face, a southern warmth, and a firm grounding that for many in the room, the Dems had never showed before.
She criticized the Dems for never taking a united stand on an election issue. She lined up possible candidates for the 2008 primaries. She juggled Dems and Republicans with equal grace, and equal dry wit.
She also told stories. Of the two white guys in New Orleans who moved members of her family to safety after seeing them stranded on TV, eventhough they lived 5 hours away and could only be reached by boat. She told other stories-- of her various campaigns, of meeting Bush a couple of evenings before her talk, when she asked him to rebuild the levees. Of her old uncle Book (who was called Book because he always gave the kids books for presents) who died two days after being evacuated. She took Old Uncle Book back to their ancestral home, a little town where her family had land given to them when they were sharecroppers after the civil war. Her eyes lit up as she told us of the welcome Uncle Book had, where people lined up and said yeah, there's your land. Bury him here, where he wanted to be. And, welcome home.
No one wanted to leave. And everyone wanted to go talk to her. Yours truly toddled down, feeling unkempt and unsure: how does one talk with capitol hill types? Donna grabbed my hand, and asked for my name with a big smile. In that one moment, I was back in new orleans.
Abdel and I told her what we saw downtown, in the ghost-town lanes that turned off the main roads, of the ravaged landstrip along the road that led to Baton Rouge. We told her about loving the jazz, and the jumbalaya. Like every Louisianian I've met, she thanked us, gave us hugs, and we hugged back, tumbling over ourselves to tell her about Ruth's house and how she didn't have flood insurance. Donna immediately gave us a number to give Ruth, and told us she could help, "tell her Donna said so".
The lady is beyond cool. And it aint just me who says this. Donna Brazile is many things, from being the Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute (VRI) and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, to the first African American to lead a major presidential campaign, to a weekly contributor and political commentator on CNN’s Inside Politics and American Morning, to a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
She is also among Washingtonian Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington, D.C., and Essence Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in America.
She also likes eating at MacDonalds. And when she said that good government was every thinking individual's responsibility, I raised my coke can with all the other new england and jersey kids in the room.
Hail Donna. You got my vote.
Visit Donna Brazile online, here.