Shirley Chisholm Gives Democrats Some Advice
By Felicia Lewis
Vol. 9, No. 2, 1987, pp. 18-19, 22
At 62 the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black woman to run for president has neither slowed her pace nor quieted her voice: “Most persons recognized that Shirley Chisholm says what she has to say.”
And among what Shirley Chisholm has to say is that the Democrats need a Southerner on the ticket in ’88, that the Democrats should be cautious about continuing to take the black vote for granted, that black women have and increasing-though difficult-role to play in U.S. politics, and that Jesse Jackson definitely should run.
“People may say Jackson will split the party again,
that he can’t win. Catalysts for change in a society, however, know they have to set the tone, chart the course and gain a bit each time. When I ran in 1971-72, nobody was ready for me. I was not only a black person, I was also a female person. But I started something. We cannot achieve things through revolution in this country, therefore the only other course is through evolution.”
She believes “Super Tuesday” will work to Jackson’s benefit. “There’s no doubt that he would end up with a tremendous number of votes. And that would definitely push him as a real force to be reckoned with. I think that is why so many politicians have a fear of what Super Tuesday can really do because they do know that Jesse went over very big in the South. And when you see that concerns of the black population, blacks again will move behind Mr. Jackson and this concerns the power boys.”
Chisholm says, “The Democratic Party is in trouble with black people in this country. It has had as its most faithful followers through thick and thin the black population of America. But over the past 40 years the white ethnics have deserted the Democratic Party from time to
time. They deserted the Party in 1980 and ’84 when Reagan was elected president. Now our Democratic Party is saying we have to get back the white ethnics if we’re going to the White House. We recognize how important it is to get back those wonderful persons who made up the great coalition of labor, minorites [sic] and women, but in trying to call home these groups, blacks have been taken for granted once again.”
She said labor unions are reassessing their political situation and suggests a similar reassessment is needed by blacks. “All these blue collar people who are in labor unions went for Reagan. Labor leadership went for Mondale for labor has always been allied with the Democratic Party. But they coln’t deliver the labor vote in ’80 and ’84.”
The party’s attitude is, ‘Where are blacks going to go anyhow? They don’t have anyplace else to go. So even if they get mad, they still have to come back to us.’ But a lot of black folks today are saying, “Oh no, we don’t have to do that at all.’ They are not afraid to move in other directions.”
Republicans are giving Democrats hope for 1988, provided the Democrats can “get their act together,” Chisholm said. “The economic situation in this country has placed a lot of people who were middle class yesterday into the lower class today and has brought about disproportionately high unemployment all over this country.”
She said it is vital “that we have a Southerner on the Democratic ticket in 1988. We missed the boat last time out in putting tow Democrats who were essentially of the same philosophical ilk on the ticket, thus leaving out a large section of the country.”
Chisholm sees an increasing role in politics for black owmen. She is the national chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women. “Its broad-based objective is the political empowerment of black women. Four members on our board of directors ran for elections this past time and won. However, it’s going to be difficult for black women to be elected to the the [sic] United States Congress. When Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm and Yvonne Burke left, our places were not taken by black women.”
It is difficult for a black woman to run, and difficult to be elected, she said. “Two of the reasons are that people, black people also, still have feelings about supporting women for office, whether they are black or white. And secondly, to run a Congressional campaign takes tremendous money. And unless you have good fund raising mechanism and unless you have the where-withall to have knowledgeable sources to plan the strategy, the tactics for your campaign, it’s most difficult.”
According to figures from the League of Women Voters, Rep. Cardiss Collins of Illinois is the only black woman currently serving in Congress. Women overall hold only twenty-five of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and no Senate seats. Of fifty governorships, women hold three. And of a total of 7,450 state legislators, only 1,105 are women, although more than one-half of all Americans are women.
Felicia Lewis is editor of the Alabama Tribune, a black-oriented newspaper. Her interview was conducted while Chisholm was in Montgomery recently to speak at a fundraiser for a local organization.