After working with every Democratic presidential movement from 1976 through 2000, and ascending to political stardom as the first African-American woman to head a major presidential campaign in 2000, Donna Brazile stepped up to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC), committing herself to unifying the party behind Hillary Clinton.
Like anything Brazile, 56, does in politics, this isn’t just a job; it’s her passion.
“This is about transforming society, making sure that the gains we’ve made are maintained and protected, and ensuring we can move the country further,” says the interim DNC chair, who plans to remain in the role until January 2017. “So I’m on a mission again. I’m going to step up, do a good job and hopefully, after the presidential election is over with, I’ll call for the election of a permanent chair for the Democratic Party. I have no intentions of being permanent.”
The self-proclaimed “workaholic” says her main priority is rallying Democrats to the polls. “We need people to vote,” she says, with obvious urgency. “My goal is to make sure we have a good election cycle, a good election year and the party is able to continue to strengthen the bonds with the American people. [I also want us to] continue the legacy of Barack Obama and the great things he’s done with turning the economy around. His legacy matters to me.”
When it comes to the future of the Democrats, Brazile is adamant about helping the party stay abreast of our high-tech culture. “We’re a 21st century party and should have the latest technology to communicate with our donors, activists and stakeholders. We should have the very best tools at our disposal,” she explains.
Having grown up in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, La., Brazile says the emotional reactions to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 fueled her passion for activism. “Watching grown folks cry made me realize that there was something about this man that was personal to family, my community and my country,” Brazile, who was only 8 years old at the time, recalls. “So that ignited my desire to serve, give back and pay it forward.”
Despite her current accolades, Brazile believes she reached her career-defining achievement more than three decades ago. The moment that still evokes tingles for the political pro occurred in 1983 when she—then a freshly minted college graduate with dreams of making a lasting impact on the world—was working on the campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. “There’s nothing that will ever compete with that,” the Louisiana State University alumna gushes. Still, her resume continued to be peppered with iconic events. She rolled up her sleeves to work on Jesse Jackson’s celebrated bid for presidency in 1984, then served as an adviser to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996. The bruises of her biggest political battle came from managing Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 against George W. Bush and painfully watching the candidate she worked tirelessly for win the country’s popular vote but ultimately lose the election.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she reflects. “The hardest part was dealing with the voting irregularities, the suppression, the intimidation tactics, seeing and hearing about people trying to vote, walking to the polling site and seeing, in some cases, that their names had been removed. And, of course, those who voted multiple times because the ballot was essentially drawn up to confuse people.”
What’s next for the political pro who has already cemented her status in the history books? Teaching is always going to be part of the formula that keeps her whole, says the Georgetown University adjunct professor, whose biggest passion is inspiring youth to blaze their own political paths.
”Like everything else in my life, I’ll make sure it’s a delicious gumbo. It might not be as juicy and tasty as what I did in my 30s, 40s and early 50s, but as I prepare for what I call the most important days of my life—the years before retirement—I still want to shake things up, stir things up and essentially continue to cook with grease. I don’t feel no ways tired.”