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Donna Brazile is also an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown.

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Brazile Tells Students: “We Need You in Public Service”

April 22, 2015

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Donna Brazile, the vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and well-known political commentator, used the podium at Mead Chapel on April 21 to urge Middlebury College students to enter public life.

The plain-spoken Louisianan who chaired Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign said, “The election of the first Black president was great. We broke the mold. But you know what? We haven’t finished the job. We still have a lot of work to do.

“We still need to open doors for every American no matter what you look like, no matter who you love, no matter your race, your religion, your gender, your age, your sexual orientation, or your race. If you are a leader then we need you in public office.”

Brazile used homespun humor, personal experience, and historical facts to drive home her point that young people can and should bring about change in America through the electoral process. They can go to Washington and end the “traffic jam stuck in three feet of molasses” that typifies Congress, she said. They can work to curb the uncontrolled spending of Super PACs, and they can make certain that every American gets to vote – an issue that resonates deeply with Brazile.

Invited to speak by the Middlebury College Activities Board, Brazile’s talk was titled "Political Outlook: A Comprehensive Picture of What’s Going on in Washington. " And after delivering her impassioned message that “it’s your moment to step up, lend your voices, and use your political power,” she talked about the stalemate in Congress and gave a brief appraisal of no fewer than 15 Republican presidential hopefuls and five Democratic contenders.

Concerning the potential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) she said, “He’s not actually a Democrat, and he’s not an insider in what’s considered a very insider’s process. He also has a very small fund-raising base.”

On the plus side Sanders “has potential, the progressives love him, he’s outspoken, he’s unabashed, and he’s courageous. And if he decides to get in the race, all I can say is I am going to buy a bunch of blue suits this time” – a reference to her earlier quip about wearing red suits when CNN assigned her to cover the Republican presidential debates in 2008 – “because it will be a very interesting race."

Brazile 1
Brazile's ebullience filled the stage at Mead Chapel. 

The 55-year-old Brazile (who dressed in a navy blue suit, pale blue blouse, and heels) said she was happy to be visiting the Green Mountain State during the spring, now that winter has released its grip on the beautiful landscape. “I am accustomed to four seasons too,” the New Orleans native said. “The four delightful, delicious seasons of shrimp, crab, oyster, and crawfish.” 

About Middlebury specifically, she said, “I am honored to be on the campus of a college with such notable alumni as Alexander Twilight, the first African American in the United States to receive a bachelor’s degree and the first African American elected to public office [Vermont state legislature] in America.” Brazile also referred to the fact that Middlebury College has produced eight governors, 18 members of Congress, and five U.S. senators.

She mentioned by name Ari Fleischer ’82, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush, and Ben LaBolt ’03, the former press secretary to President Obama’s re-election campaign, but said that she learned the most about Middlebury College from the late Ron Brown ’62. A former trustee of the College, Brown was Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and “the first African American chairman of the Democratic National Committee.” (Brazile, who was interim chair of the DNC in 2011, was the second.)

The speaker traced her lifelong interest in politics back to when she first learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Just eight years old at the time, she went door-to-door in her Kenner, La., neighborhood handing out voter registration cards. That led to the election of a city council candidate who had promised her he would build a playground.

“We got the playground,” she said, “and I used my voice to make that happen. And I am still using my voice and my talent to make sure that the doors of political opportunity are open to all Americans, including young people,” and she challenged Middlebury students to do the same.

More than a dozen students lined up to ask questions after her 50-minute talk, including one student who asked about student debt.

“It is the number one issue on the college campuses I visit,” Brazile replied. She called the banking industry “predatory” for the interest rates it charges on student loans, and said the high cost of college was another reason young Americans should go into public service. “Our lawmakers in Washington are not giving higher education the help it needs,” she concluded.  

-- With reporting by Robert Keren and photos by Todd Balfour

 

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