If it’s true that past is prologue, then Washington, D.C., should have been prepared for Donna Brazile. At 9 years old, she helped elect a mayor in Kenner, Louisiana, who said he’d build a playground in her neighborhood; she hasn’t gotten off the political train since. This 44-year-old sister made history as the first African-American woman to manage a presidential campaign, when she ran Al Gore’s in 2000. Today she heads the Democratic Party’s Voting Rights Institute; has started her own political-consulting firm, Brazile & Associates; and has written a memoir, Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics (Simon & Schuster). I think Black women should really force the candidates to come into our communities and hold debates, forums and town-hall meetings, and speak to our key areas of concern: the economy, education and health care. Since Bush has been in office, African-American women have fallen behind in terms of income and wages. The numbers of us who are entering college and the numbers of us who have health insurance have also declined. Candidates need to address us directly about these issues, and they need to do it in our neighborhoods. But the presidential election isn’t the only one occurring this year. There are other races we should be concerned with, including 34 senatorial, 435 congressional and 11 gubernatorial races in states where Black women-if we decide to get involved-can make the difference.
In order to beat George Bush, the Democratic Party not only has to reach out to the base, but it also has to enlarge it. The party needs to reengage nonvoters. And we can’t just focus on the traditional battleground states. We must find some states in the South where African-Americans can help put Democrats over the top, like Tennessee and Arkansas. Even when the stakes are high, we tend not to vote because we feel disconnected and disinherited. People believe they have no input, and they think politics doesn’t matter in their lives.
Politics should become as accessible to everyone as going to church, going to work, going to the bowling alley. Civic education and civic responsibility should be taught in elementary school. We should have information everywhere that people gather. I’m working with Exxon and a number of other companies to try to get them to put a little note saying, Are you registered to vote? at every gas station. We’re trying to encourage Safeway and all the grocery stores to do something similar, so that when people walk into a supermarket or buy gas, they can find out how to get registered and how to get involved.
As Al Gore’s campaign manager, I helped bring people who had never been involved in politics into the electoral process. I made a decision to put Blacks and Latinos in key positions of power in every state: New York, Michigan and Florida all had Black state directors. We would not have been close in those states had we not known people who could go out and meet voters where they live, play and pray.
If I had to sum up my message on a bumper sticker, it would say, Respect the vote. Respect the right of every American to vote.