Donna Brazile discusses her political background, youth vote at Tisch College event

Donna Brazile, former Chair of the Democratic National Committee, addresses the audience in ASEAN Auditorium on Feb. 19. (Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily)

Donna Brazile, the former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), came to Tufts last night for a public forum as the first event of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life Distinguished Speaker Series this semester.

Jen McAndrew, the director of Communications, Strategy and Planning at Tisch College, said in an interview with the Daily that Tisch College had been trying to bring Brazile to Tufts for some time.

“She’s been really interested in coming here,” McAndrew said. “We try to bring a wide range of speakers every semester from diverse backgrounds and diverse viewpoints and diverse experiences in civic life, and I think Donna Brazile represents all of that.”

Alan Solomont, the dean of Tisch College, said in opening remarks in the ASEAN Auditorium that Brazile had previously served as the campaign manager for Al Gore in his 2000 presidential run. According to Solomont, Brazile was the first black woman to serve as a campaign manager for a presidential campaign.

According to Solomont, Brazile also served as the chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute.

He said Brazile had received the W.E.B. du Bois Medal from Harvard, recognizing her for her contributions to African and African-American culture.

Starting the question and answer session, Solomont first asked Brazile about the purpose of the pictures on the wall of her childhood home — one of John F. Kennedy, one of Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of Jesus. She described her home life growing up in Louisiana.

“My siblings and I were the first generation to have full voting rights, my parents did not have full voting rights. I’m the first generation to be able to go to a public school that was integrated,” she said.

Brazile went on to describe her home life, saying that since her parents worked frequently, she and her siblings only saw them early in the morning or late at night.

Brazile also noted that the picture of Jesus on her wall was a reminder of the family’s Catholic faith; the pictures of Kennedy and King symbolized the struggle in which her family took part.

Solomont then asked Brazile about confirming Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major party for president.

“I’ll never forget that moment,” Brazile said, adding that, with news concerning Russian hacking, and her appointment as interim chair of the DNC just days before, she was also nervous.

Brazile went on to praise the large presence of women of color on the stage at then 2016 Democratic National Convention, listing the Secretary of the DNC Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Chair of the Convention Marcia Fudge and U.S. Representative from Texas Sheila Jackson Lee.

“We had all the seats, we were in charge,” Brazile said.

Solomont also asked Brazile for her opinion on getting more young people to vote in light of historic youth turnout rates in the 2018 midterms.

Brazile said that young people need to recognize the power that they have in the political process.

“[Young people] are the largest group of American voters,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for term limits anymore — you can run yourself.”

“I used to think that young people [were] on ice cream, the topping — no, you’re the cone,” Brazile said. “You’re it, and it’s time for you to take your seats at the table and to begin to find your path to public service.”

Brazile also addressed the recent scandals surrounding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s use of blackface in college and accusations of sexual assault against his lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax.

With regards to Northam, Brazile said that she does not wish for him to resign but hopes that Northam will take responsibility for his actions.

“I wanted to know more about his experience because perhaps Governor Northam’s experience is similar to my experience as a kid growing up in the segregated South,” she said. “I believe there’s a path to redemption.”

Brazile also mentioned that, as a young college student, she would face Ku Klux Klan members at rallies, so she was willing to look past Northam’s use of blackface.

Regarding the allegations against Fairfax, Brazile emphasized her belief in due process but said believed the women who have come forward. In addition, she expressed extreme disappointment in Fairfax, whom she has worked with closely in the past.

After Solomont finished his interview, members of the audience had the opportunity to ask their own questions.

The first student to stand up was a member of Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC), Kayleigh Milano, a junior, who asked Brazile to speak in support of the cafeteria workers’ negotiations for their union contract and to wear a button in support of them.

Brazile agreed to put the button on, saying she supported collective bargaining and has been part of unions herself as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

In an interview with the Daily after the event, Milano expressed her gratitude that Brazile was willing to wear the pin.

“I think [wearing the pin] is a way of showing Tufts that the workers have support outside the university,” Milano said.

Brazile also spoke about housing inequalities regarding race in relatively liberal cities such as Boston in response to another question, saying that both structural racism and individual bias contribute to this issue. However, Brazile noted that there was a need for everyone to be able to afford housing.

Brazile also noted that the Democratic Party has been working to make its election process more democratic in the primaries, doing away with “winner take all” practices for giving delegates to candidates.

In addition to Tisch College, the Department of Political Science, the Tufts Democrats and the Africana Center co-sponsored the event.