Donna Brazile, the veteran Democratic political strategist, professor, syndicated columnist, and best-selling author, called the election of Barack Obama ’83 a "mountaintop moment" and urged an Occidental audience to seize this opportunity for change as part of the First Tuesday Speaker series April 7.
Referring to Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech, she said, "We as Americans are at that mountaintop moment, where we can see the promised land. I’m going to challenge you to not just settle for voting for change, but to stand for change. This is our moment and we must seize it."
Brazile, 49, the former manager of the 2000 Gore campaign, was the first African American to lead a major presidential campaign. She also was involved in the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Richard Gephardt, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton. Current chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, she is the author of the best-selling autobiography Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics.
"I am going to spend every day going forward helping to spread the good news of what our president is trying to do," Brazile said, evoking laughter and tears in a talk that ranged from her impoverished youth in New Orleans to what she sees as her current mission.
"I am so proud of the work he is doing on behalf of the American people," she said of President Obama. "I never thought I’d see this day."
Brazile told of growing up in segregated Louisiana "at the intersection of race and poverty" as one of nine children in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. She said she became involved in her first political campaign at age 9, and later was inspired by Dr. King. "I made a vow on the night he was shot to always bear witness to the truth" and to carry on his message and his work, she said, adding, "I’m so glad we have a president who understands that dream."
Brazile leavened the seriousness of her talk with tales of spying on her nieces and nephews via Facebook and her love of a good cocktail. "I read the president’s budget, but that’s not what I prefer to read," she confided. "I prefer to read the National Enquirer, because they have Sudoku in the back."
Speaking of the frustration of trying to find her family members in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Brazile referred to FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) as "Federal Employees Missing in Action."
She reserved her final remarks for the students in the audience: "The one thing I know about this generation is when you are called upon, you respond. It’s your turn to answer the call, the same call that has been forced on previous generations….We voted for change and now we stand for change, and now we stand together and we leave no one behind."