Donna Brazile’s sister Sheila, who had suffered from a benign yet mentally debilitating brain tumor, lived in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Sheila, as Brazile said, had the mental capacity of a child as a result of the tumor.
Brazile expected the government’s policy to be to evacuate the elderly and people with disabilities before anybody else. That, she said, was not the case.
Unable to get Sheila released to leave the area, Brazile explained to Sheila exactly what needed to be done in her home.
“Sheila, I want you to fill your bathtub with water,” Brazile said.
“OK, Donna,” Sheila said.
“Sheila, do you have candles?”
“Do you have canned goods?”
“Sheila, stay there,” Brazile said. “Somebody will come and get you.”
A week passed by with no communication. Brazile contacted the White House, the Red Cross and others — all of them told her the elderly and people with disabilities weren’t the top priority for evacuation.
So Brazile appeared nationally on “Wolf Blitzer Reports.” She showed pictures of her sister. She supplied an address. She explained the situation.
Later that day, Sheila was rescued.
“I tell you this story because Katrina was the worst, the most difficult hardship in my entire life,” Brazile said. “It was humbling; it was humiliating.”
Brazile presented this story as part of her 10:45 a.m. lecture Friday in the Amphitheater. She was the fifth and final speaker in Week Five’s topic, “21st Century Women: The Road to Social and Economic Growth.”
As a political strategist, Brazile has worked on several presidential campaigns. Most notably, she was Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000; she was the first African-American to manage a major presidential campaign. She also served as interim chair of the Democratic National Convention.
Brazile replaced U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., as Friday’s speaker. Landrieu was unable to speak because of the current debt-limit bill debate in Congress. Brazile and Landrieu have been friends and colleagues for many years.
Brazile spoke about the events following Hurricane Katrina, during which many of her family members and friends were displaced from Louisiana.
Hurricane Katrina, as most Americans know, devastated parts of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in 2005, causing $81 billion in property damage. Looting, displaced refugees, oil spills and more than 1,800 deaths resulted.
Born and raised in Louisiana herself, Brazile was forced to watch from Washington, D.C., while her family struggled against the hurricane. She did what she could to help; she tracked the whereabouts of different members of her family to let others know everybody was safe — or if they weren’t.
While working for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Brazile was asked to confer with President George W. Bush — something she did not want to do. In the end, she agreed. She recognized the need for federal aid in rebuilding Louisiana. Though she did not agree with his policies, Brazile grew to respect him and his administration.
“For the last five and a half years, we have been fighting for the recovery of our state,” Brazile said. “We have been fighting to rebuild Louisiana safer and smarter and stronger. It’s been a difficult road to recovery. … Louisiana will once again be a state you can be proud of.”
After discussing the evacuations of her family from Hurricane Katrina’s path, Brazile changed her focus. With her political background, she was able to give an inadvertent preview of Week Seven’s topic, “The U.S. Economy: Beyond a Quick Fix.”
She called the extreme bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., a “children’s game.” The two parties refuse to come to a compromise, she said, and instead keep pushing to get everything they want.
“I’ve been inside Washington for 30 years,” Brazile said, “and let me tell you, I have never seen Washington so dysfunctional.”
She asked why the parties can’t come to an agreement, even though the “difference between the two parties is so miniscule.” The solution, she said, is to get more women in politics.
“See, the men are talking about cutting; we can carve,” she said. “While they’re slashing, we know how to do a little filleting. You know.”
Women represent less than 20 percent of lawmakers. She said if there were more women in politics, there wouldn’t be these “silly games.” Furthermore, she said, women use more common sense, which allows voters to trust them more.
With more women, she said, solving this budget crisis would go much more smoothly.
The U.S. debt is currently $14.3 trillion. Democrats and Republicans each have agreed only to about $2 trillion in budget cuts so far, she said. The partisanship, she added, is “no longer helpful.”
The bigger problem, she said, is that there’s a lack of civil public discourse. In such a diverse country, she added, conversation between differing people should be easy.
“Once upon a time,” Brazile said, “it was wonderful to wear these wonderful labels — you’ll notice I wore red today. All right, so what? I’m a Democrat. So what? I’m a Republican. So what? I’m independent. You know what? I’m an American.”
Veteran political strategist Donna Brazile is vice chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee and former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She also served for a brief time earlier in 2011 as acting chairwoman of the DNC. She is a former member of the board of directors of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, responsible for leading the state’s rebuilding process in the aftermath of two catastrophic hurricanes.
A New Orleans native, Brazile began her political career at 9, when she worked to elect a City Council candidate who had promised to build a playground in her neighborhood. The candidate won, the swing sets were installed and a lifelong passion for political progress was ignited. Four decades later, Brazile has worked on every presidential campaign from 1976 through 2000, when she served as campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore, becoming the first African-American woman to manage a presidential campaign.
Brazile is author of the best-selling memoir Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, a syndicated newspaper columnist for United Media, a columnist for Ms. Magazine, and O, The Oprah Magazine, and an on-air contributor to CNN and ABC, where she regularly appears on “This Week with Christiane Amanpour.”
In August 2009, O, The Oprah Magazine, chose Brazile as one of its 20 “remarkable visionaries” for the magazine’s first-ever O Power List. In addition, she was named among the 100 Most Powerful Women by Washingtonian magazine and the Top 50 Women in America by Essence magazine, and received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s highest award for political achievement. Brazile is founder and managing director of Brazile & Associates LLC, a general consulting, grassroots advocacy and training firm based in Washington, D.C.