Donna Brazile Speaks on Race and Electoral Politics
Issue   |   Wed, 02/24/2016 - 00:57

Donna Brazile, political strategist and the Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation of the Democratic National Committee, gave a talk titled “Race and Politics in America: The Past and 2016” in Stirn Auditorium on Feb. 18.

The event was funded by the Croxton Lecture Fund, which was established to bring renowned speakers to campus. The lecture was part of a series of events hosted by the college in honor of Black History Month.

Brazile worked for every Democratic presidential campaign from 1976 to 2000 and became the first African-American manager of a presidential campaign in 2000, when she worked for Al Gore.

“She has the ability to present a concise viewpoint and distill complex issues in ways that are very accessible to viewers,” said Maximos Nikitas ’17, who attended the event. “Her insights are valued by people on both sides of the spectrum, which is extremely rare in politics today.”

Brazile began the talk by discussing the importance of Black History Month. “When I accepted this event, I had no idea that the first black president would be holding his last Black History Month at the White House,” Brazile said. “So I am celebrating Black History Month with all of you. It is a month when we observe the historic achievement and contributions of African-Americans — not just to Black history, but to American history.”

Brazile, who has guest-starred in both “House of Cards” and “The Good Wife,” offered funny commentary on the presidential race before delving into race in politics. “Fact-checking Donald Trump is like fact checking the moisture content of the ocean,” she said. “I’m not sure the other candidates can stop being crazy even if they try, and I don’t think they are going to try.”

She continued: “There’s only one candidate who can bring both parties together … And that’s Ted Cruz: Neither side likes him.”

During this election cycle, she has frequently attended the debates of both parties. “I’ve been out in New Hampshire and Iowa, so I’ve doubled the black population in both states — there’s no such thing as diversity, what you saw as diversity was all flown in,” Brazile said. She suggested that “Martin O’Malley is still driving back from Des Moines.”

Brazile encouraged the students to pay attention to the ongoing congressional elections. “Every four years we state that this is the most important election in our lifetime, but of course this time we actually mean it,” Brazile said. “At least 12 of the 34 seats are up for grabs. If you get tired of going to some of the other more important channels like ESPN, just know that there’s a senate race going on.”

Brazile turned towards race in the final portion of her talk and suggested that efforts toward social justice must aim to impact all levels of society.

“I’m aware that this state has elected a black governor, but it’s not just about putting people in office, we also have to make sure that we use every tool of justice to ensure that there’s no one in our society living on the outskirts of hope,” she said.
Brazile stressed that race can adversely affect voter registration and that race will influence both this coming election and beyond. She also spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You never see me on the scene of a killing,” she said. “I have to tell CNN I have to stay home — I have 19 nieces and nephews, so I first call them, and cry. As the videos of police brutality pile up, the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ continues to take on a sense of urgency. But we must remember, that it is more than a slogan, there’s pain behind that.”

Liam Fine ’17, co-president of Amherst Political Union, said Brazile’s visit had an important resonance after the events of Amherst Uprising last fall.

“In light of the events and racial dialogue sparked as a result of Amherst Uprising, I believe Ms. Brazile’s talk highlighted the best aspects of civic engagement and retail politics,” Fine said “I think everyone [was] impressed by her sense of humor, but more importantly, excited and optimistic about confronting the status quo.”

Brazile concluded her talk with her hopes for the future. “Dr. King believed that faith was taking the first step even when it was impossible to see the entire staircase,” she said. “If we decide to go at it together, to reach out and find the common ground, I think we can take that first step of finally solving our racial problems.”