If Barbara Jordan was alive, this is what she would say, again
Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver Velez
I make no secret of the fact that I think Barbara Jordan was one of the most brilliant women, and politicians of our time. She was "the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention". She is one of my all-time sheroes.
I was driving in my car the other day, listening to my local public radio station (WAMC) and there was her voice coming through the speakers.
It was a re-run of a program recorded back in May "The Power of Words: Barbara Jordan's 1976 Keynote Address to the DNC", (58 min. audio) an interview by Alan Chartock with another favorite Barbara of mine, leftist black feminist Barbara Smith, who is currently a member of the Albany New York town council.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Smith's body of work, I suggest reading "The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom"
The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom brings together more than two decades of literary criticism and political thought about gender, race, sexuality, power, and social change. As one of the first writers in the United States to claim black feminism for black women, Barbara Smith has done groundbreaking work in defining black women’s literary traditions and in making connections between race, class, sexuality, and gender.The hour long program, covers a wide range of topics, from the power of Jordan herself, to the rumors that she was considered as a running mate for Jimmy Carter, to Jordan's rhetorical style, black oratorical traditions, and Smith's thoughts on Hillary Clinton.
It was a very thoughtful and illuminating discussion by Smith, and what was clear was that Jordan's address to Democrats back then, still resonates today.
She described back then, where we are right now.
We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community. We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present, unemployment, inflation, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America. We are attempting to fulfill our national purpose, to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal.She spoke to the strengths of Democrats:
We believe that the government which represents the authority of all the people, not just one interest group, but all the people, has an obligation to actively -- underscore actively -- seek to remove those obstacles which would block individual achievement -- obstacles emanating from race, sex, economic condition. The government must remove them, seek to remove them. We.She spoke strongly about the responsibility of elected officials, our "public servants".
We are a party -- We are a party of innovation. We do not reject our traditions, but we are willing to adapt to changing circumstances, when change we must. We are willing to suffer the discomfort of change in order to achieve a better future. We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of America can one day be finally closed. We believe that.
This, my friends is the bedrock of our concept of governing. This is a part of the reason why Americans have turned to the Democratic Party. These are the foundations upon which a national community can be built. Let all understand that these guiding principles cannot be discarded for short-term political gains. They represent what this country is all about. They are indigenous to the American idea. And these are principles which are not negotiable.
As we watch the hypocritical racist Teahadist attempt to destroy our system, our government and our democracy, and many of us feel discouraged, these words rang in my ears once again.
And now, what are those of us who are elected public officials supposed to do? We call ourselves "public servants" but I'll tell you this: We as public servants must set an example for the rest of the nation. It is hypocritical for the public official to admonish and exhort the people to uphold the common good if we are derelict in upholding the common good. More is required -- More is required of public officials than slogans and handshakes and press releases. More is required. We must hold ourselves strictly accountable. We must provide the people with a vision of the future.She ended her speech with a pointed reminder to Republicans.
If we promise as public officials, we must deliver. If -- If we as public officials propose, we must produce. If we say to the American people, "It is time for you to be sacrificial" -- sacrifice. If the public official says that, we [public officials] must be the first to give. We must be. And again, if we make mistakes, we must be willing to admit them. We have to do that. What we have to do is strike a balance between the idea that government should do everything and the idea, the belief, that government ought to do nothing. Strike a balance.
Let there be no illusions about the difficulty of forming this kind of a national community. It's tough, difficult, not easy. But a spirit of harmony will survive in America only if each of us remembers that we share a common destiny; if each of us remembers, when self-interest and bitterness seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.
I have confidence that we can form this kind of national community.
I have confidence that the Democratic Party can lead the way.
I have that confidence.
Now I began this speech by commenting to you on the uniqueness of a Barbara Jordan making a keynote address. Well I am going to close my speech by quoting a Republican President and I ask you that as you listen to these words of Abraham Lincoln, relate them to the concept of a national community in which every last one of us participates:~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master." This -- This -- "This expresses my idea of Democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no Democracy."
P.S. Was driving home from school listening to President Obama's press conference - live. Had to pull over to the side of the road at one point...cheering. I hope someone will post the video, and am sure we will have plenty to talk about in comments.