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Democratic National Convention

Donna Brazile isn’t going to sit in the back

New Democratic Party chair recalls the struggle of black women in politics

In a primetime speech Tuesday night, Donna Brazile, the new interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, recalled sitting in the back of the bus as a child in the segregated South and called Hillary Clinton a champion for kids who need hope. “That’s why I’m with her,” she thundered.

Then, going off script, she added: “And let me say this, as your incoming chair of the DNC, we will have a party you will be proud of! We will elect Democrats up and down the ballot and we will celebrate the inauguration of Hillary Clinton in 2017!” Then she danced off stage.

It was a partying kind of day.

That afternoon, the Downtown Club in Philadelphia had already taken on a colored girl twist by the time Brazile stepped to the microphone. Champagne flowed, Maya Angelou and #BlackGirlsRock had been invoked, and the crowd of more than 350, mostly heavy hitters, mostly black women, stood riveted as Brazile, 56, the new (and for the second time) interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, told an origins story.

It was 1988 and Brazile, who became interested in politics as a youngster growing up in Kenner, Louisiana, and worked for Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign, was a staffer for the Michael Dukakis campaign in Boston. “We had a situation in which the leadership of the campaign decided that the ‘senior campaign officials’ should be on one floor and all of the rest of us should be on a lower floor,” Brazile recalled. And “We got word of it.”

That’s when Brazile and Minyon Moore, another staffer and now a senior adviser to Clinton, and others, including Susan Rice, now national security adviser, “got together. We said you know what, Rosa [Parks], we ain’t doing that. Harriet [Tubman], we ain’t going there. Sojourner [Truth], this ain’t us. Shirley [Chisholm]. We called out every name and went on up to the ninth floor. We got our desks and our chairs and we put up the sign ‘Colored Girls. We Shall Not Be Moved.’

“We have never been moved,” Brazile continued, her voice rising. “When we see injustice, we move it away. When we see inequality, we move it away, because we shall never be moved by hate. We shall always be moved by love.” The crowd, already primed by food, music, soul, and occasion, cheered.

The luncheon feted the “Colored Girls” – Brazile, a longtime CNN and ABC News political commentator, DNC vice chair of voter registration and former chair of the DNC Voting Rights Institute; Moore, a principal with Dewey Square Group, a public affairs firm; Yolanda Caraway, a veteran of numerous Democratic Party initiatives who heads The Caraway Group media and public affairs firm; Leah Daughtry, the 2008 Democratic National Convention chief executive and CEO of the 2016 convention; and Tina Flournoy, a former Democratic Convention general counsel who now serves as chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton. The longtime friends are known for hosting private dinners where they’ve grilled prominent

Interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile waits on the floor on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 25 July 2016.

Interim chair of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile waits on the floor on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on July 25.

EPA/JUSTIN LANE

Democratic candidates, including then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, are writing a book about their experiences.

It comes as Brazile, the 2000 campaign manager for Al Gore, takes over the DNC after the resignation of chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) Sunday. The resignation followed leaked emails that showed the DNC apparently favoring Clinton over her primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. It’s a huge change just months before voters go to the polls to choose between Democratic nominee Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Brazile immediately apologized to Sanders supporters.

In between been mobbed for pictures at the luncheon, Jackson remarked on the strengths Brazile brings to the job: “Experience. Integrity. Credibility. Smart and she studies,” Jackson said. “That’s why she can discuss such a variety of issues. She studies. And, great instincts.”

Former Detroit Pistons superstar and NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, who was credited for supplying the champagne for the luncheon, called Brazile a good friend and longtime mentor. “Her leadership, her experience, her understanding of the world in general and where we are right now is the perfect right touch that the world needs and that the DNC needs,” Thomas said.

Writer and cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis, a frequent television commentator, sees providence in the politics. “I feel like that was a gift from the black girl gods to me because I know that black women make a difference in the vote,” Davis said. “It was because of black women that in 2008 and 2012, we made this historic move and we needed black women out of the shadows of this campaign.” There’s a gap in Clinton’s support among younger voters, and younger black women are part of that. For black women who are on the fence about Clinton, “if Donna’s with her, then we can be with Donna,” Davis said.

Davis speculated that having Brazile’s face out front may encourage other black women to run for elective office. She also cited Brazile’s temperament as a plus. “We needed someone kind of fabulously neutral,” and Brazile brings a level of civility to any situation, she said. “She’s kind of like your auntie, like, ‘Calm it down, let’s be respectful.’ ”

With her, “the grown-ups are in the room,” Davis said. “And ain’t nobody more grown than a grown black woman. You cannot get anymore grown-a– than Donna Brazile.”

In a brief interview amid a swarm of well-wishers and a general #blackwomenI’mhereforthis vibe, Brazile reflected on her start in politics and how her early work with the Jackson campaign molded her. “You know, when you think back to that period of time, we didn’t see many women in politics, and we didn’t see many women in leadership capacities,” she said, crediting Jackson for giving women genuine, “not frivolous work.” Brazile managed his Southern region field operations. “When you understand at an early age how to strategize and how to organize and how to build coalitions, it has enabled me to grow in ways I never thought I would back in 1984. It allowed me to be one of the top organizers in the party, which led me to become campaign manager to Al Gore because of that spirit of never surrendering.” She noted this is her second time as interim DNC chair. The first time was in 2011, when vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine was Virginia governor and gave up the chairman post to run for the U.S. Senate.

“The difference is Tim Kaine stepped down a year before the election,” Brazile said. “We’re literally months before this election, so I’m going to have to hit the ground running and I will do so.”

With that she returned to the well-wishers and all the demands of her party.

Lonnae O’Neal is a senior writer at The Undefeated. She’s an author, a former columnist, has a rack of kids and she writes bird by bird.