Donna Brazile accepts "Wonk of the Year" Award
Brazile discussed the current political climate and encouraged students to become involved in politics in her acceptance speech.
Donna Brazile, the vice-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, received AU’s “Wonk of the Year” award in a ceremony hosted by the Kennedy Political Union in Bender Arena on March 24.
In her opening address, Brazile, a current television commentator, adjunct professor at Georgetown University and political strategist, discussed her four decades spent in American politics and the unpredictable nature of the 2016 presidential election cycle. She also touched upon the need for more minorities in leadership roles and called for greater student participation in electoral politics.
“We need more young people who are willing to vote, more young people who are willing to be engaged, more young people who are preparing themselves for careers in public service. It’s time that you answer the call - the call to lead, the call to serve,” Brazile said.
In an interview with The Eagle prior to the event, Brazile discussed the important role millennials can play in moving the country forward. They must step up and prepare themselves to become leaders in their individual fields of interest, Brazil said.
“We are a great country, we don’t have to make that a political slogan,” Brazile said. “Instead, I believe we need to begin to focus on how to build a robust generation of leadership.”
Brazile told The Eagle that she has no regrets about her professional life in politics, and that one of the proudest moments of her career was working on the campaign to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday, the legislation for which was passed through Congress in 1983. She said that growing up in an era of civil rights activism inspired her to enter politics, and she said she realized how much she wanted to work on civil rights issues after the assassination of Dr. King.
“I was a young girl, growing up at the height of the civil rights and women's movement, and I saw a need to get involved and get active. It was during what I call the tumultuous 1960s, when I came of age in a segregated deep south. As the walls and barriers began to come down, I wanted to find my place at the table,” Brazile said.
During the Q-and-A portion of the event, which was moderated by AU School of Communications professor Jane Hall, Brazile talked about the need for greater diversity in American politics and said that more needs to be done to make sure voices from minorities are heard and represented on Capitol Hill.
“You know, in 20 years this country will become majority-minority, and for minority students in this audience today, think about that. There will be more of you at the ballot box to vote than ever before in the history of our country, and with that responsibility, we’re going to have to start preparing ourselves now, to take the seat at the table,” Bazile said. “So that’s why I keep telling my young colleagues, my young friends: why you? Because there’s no one better. Why now? Because tomorrow isn't soon enough.”
Throughout her career, Brazile said she has never allowed her race or gender to be a barrier, and she has been committed to doing the best work she can, serving at the local, congressional and national levels. The greatest obstacle for her when she first got into politics was her young age, Brazile told The Eagle.
“The age barrier was just as detrimental as race or gender. Back in the day, there was a pathway for blacks, there was a limited but narrow pathway for women, but the biggest barrier was age. Most people thought that because you were young, somehow or another you were not smart enough, or sophisticated enough to participate, and I had to prove them wrong,” Brazile said.
During her interview with The Eagle, Brazile, who is a passionate advocate for restoring the Voting Rights Act, expressed frustration with the low percentage of citizens who come to vote in primaries and presidential elections and the lack of stability in American politics today.
“We’ve got to do something about electoral turnout. We’ve got to do something to engage citizens,” Brazile said. We’ve got to remind people why it’s important to vote and we also need to make sure that Americans are not denied the right to vote.”
Brazile said that President Barack Obama has been a very effective president and has made the country better than it was when he came into office eight years back, especially when it comes to creating a stronger economy and providing more people with access to health insurance. As for who will replace him next, Brazile said only time will determine that since the 2016 race has so far been filled with many surprises, particularly from the Republican side.
“We see on the Democratic side an edge by Hillary Clinton and on the Republican side, an edge by Donald Trump,” Brazile said. “I like to think that this is one of the most unpredictable elections that I’ve ever witnessed.”
Donald Trump’s emergence as the Republican front runner represents the frustration of the American people with regards to politics, according to Brazile.
“In certain quarters, there is a backlash to his [Trump’s] candidacy, and in certain quarters, there is an excitement about his candidacy. He has tapped into and amplified some of the anger we have seen,” Brazile said.
In the coming weeks, Brazile said she wants to see more discussion between candidates about how they plan to address the needs of all Americans and take the nation ahead.
“I hope that we are able to carry out a vigorous conservation and debate going forward, so that we can address not just the anger of American voters and frustration, but also the hope that we can bring the country together to achieve big goals,” she said.
Brazile told The Eagle that she wants AU students to take advantage of attending college in the nation’s capital and make use of all the opportunities available in the city.
“We need you, the political process needs you. The world needs you. Your voices are going to be the most important voices. It’s time you put your stamp,” Brazile said.