The Black Austin Democrats hosted the Austin Trailblazers awards ceremony at The Westin hotel at The Domain. Donna Brazile was the honorary speaker. Brazile was the first African American to manage a presidential campaign and was on O Magazine’s list of most powerful thinkers. Brazile is a native of New Orleans.
Brazile began by engaging the audience with her excitement about meeting the Miami Heat’s LeBron James last week when seated next to civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.
Brazile told the audience she once told columnist George Will, “If you keep quoting James Madison, I’m going to start quoting Tupac Shakur.” Brazile said it is time for immigration reform and time to give America a raise by increasing the minimum wage.
During her talk to an audience including Texas Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who is a native of Austin, and Texas Sen. Kirk Watson, Brazile said that Texas native President Lyndon Baines Johnson made sure the Civil RIghts Act, the Voting Rights Act and Medicaid and Medicare were passed into law.
Brazile said that Johnson grew up in the “biggoted South, but he was a friend of the poor.” She recounted that she was so poor as a child, that her family lived across the “second set of train tracks” and every time it rained, they had a Mississippi river waterfront property. She was referring to the first set of tracks separating Black and white, and the second set of tracks separating the middle class Black people from the poor.
Brazile went on to recount that when Hurricane Besty occurred in 1965, President Johnson went to the shelters and met the people, shined a flashlight into the dark and said, “I’m your president,” contrasting it to President George Bush flying in a helicopter over the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and referring to the people as “refugees.”
Brazile referred to the federal agency FEMA as, “Federal Employees Missing in Action.” She said that her talk was not nostalgia, but a reminder that “the government belongs to the people and is responsible for bringing assistance to the people.”
“We have a hurricane in this country that is an emergency of the spirit.” Brazile then referred to “Black men being shot for playing the wrong music.” (White Floridian Michael Davis shot and killed teenager Jordan Davis after an altercation about music in 2012.)
To families and local politicians, Brazile said, “Where is the spirit to change the attitudes of anger and hatred and indifference? Don’t look for the bad, look for the good and praise it!”
“We must oppose despair, but we can only oppose it with love and actions that transform the world, empower and protect and answer: What have I done to help today?”
“To give every American health care is a right, not a privilege,” Brazile said. Her mother bore nine children, was a maid by day and a caterer on the weekends. Every day, Brazile’s mom would comb and straighten her children’s hair and make sure their ribbons matched their clothes. Church was mandatory every Sunday. To this day, Brazile hates patent leather shoes.
Brazile’s mother didn’t want her children to look, act, or feel poor. They had to eat before events so they wouldn’t appear hungry or needy. Her mother’s advice to the children, “Don’t let anyone rain on your parade!”
As a youth, Brazile’s father gave her a book about Abraham Lincoln. Her daddy was 6-foot-4 inches tall and her mother was 5-foot-4 inches. When her father went to cash his paycheck after her mom died at age 52, he was told, “We don’t have your signature on file.” Brazile’s mother had taken care of the family’s business. Brazile said to women of all races, “Don’t rain on the children’s parade.”
As a child, Brazile wrote in her diary, “I want to run a presidential campaign.” She says she didn’t want to be president, but to make one. Brazile went on to say that Jesus had Mary and Martha, and when he left, they were still working.
She explained that in 2008, across all measures, Black women had the highest voter turnout. She emphasized that what Black women do and who they vote for matters and influences who is elected into political office. Her life’s goal is now to see a woman in the White House.
“We have mental power. We have physical power. We have spiritual power,” she said. “We are women. We are powerful, and we must lead by example.”
Brazile ended by quoting Barbara Jordan and saying, “Action is the main thing.” Furthermore, “I look forward to coming back to Texas to raise Hell whenever needed.”