CongressHouse FloorSenate Floor • U.S. Capitol: 202-224-3121

June 21, 2011

Teen Voices

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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I ask to have printed in the Record the remarks of my friend Donna Brazile at the 20th anniversary celebration for Teen Voices. Teen Voices is a journalism mentoring and leadership development program for teen girls which was founded in Cambridge, MA, and creates publications which reach hundreds of thousands of young women across the world. Donna's words do great justice to what a terrific program Teen Voices is as they celebrate an important milestone, and I believe this occasion deserves special recognition in the Congressional Record.

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The information follows.

Remarks of Donna Brazile, April 14, 2011

Now, Karen, I noticed that as soon as I started speaking you turned the music off. It reminded me of a few weeks ago when I was at the White House--let me start by bringing greetings from President Obama, who's in Chicago tonight. President Obama is having a rally tonight and he wanted to know why I couldn't come to Chicago to introduce him. I said, ``I'm going to be hanging out with Teen Voices and trust me, I want to be in Boston tonight, Mr. President.'' But I was invited a few weeks ago and some of you who are young enough to remember the Motown sounds, the President invited me, and it was one of those weekends when I wanted to see my sisters. I have five sisters. So I said, ``I really need three tickets.'' And he looked at me and said, ``Donna, this is Motown. Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, John Legend, Arthur Rees,'' and the list went on and on and on. So I said, ``Well, alright, then give me four tickets!'' And he said, ``Well I'm only going to give you one ticket. One for yourself, and one for a guest.''

Well, I have six sisters. I mean five of us and you know, my brothers. I said, ``Please give me a couple extra tickets.''

He said, ``Sorry, you know, we have rules. And you cannot get but one ticket.''

So I waited, I called the next week. And they said this was the public liaison office so they gave me one ticket. So I called the political engagement office. I thought, clearly they must have an extra ticket. And they gave me another ticket! So I called my sister, Lisa, and I said, ``Lisa, you can come.'' I already told my older sister she could come. And then I have another sister. She's number--Sheryl, Sheila, Donna--she's number seven! So I said, ``Dmitri, guess what, you can come!'' So there were four Brazile women in the house. So of course, we got there right before the performances. And then they said, ``Well, you all have to go back there.'' And I'm like, ``No, no, no. That's not right. We don't care. Because we're going to dance.'' And of course, they seated us way in the back. But the performers had to come out. So as John Legend came out my sisters were blowing kisses. They didn't want autographs (we're not into autographs from Louisiana). We want hugs. So the Jonas Brothers came out, and I whisper, ``That's Nick Jonas!''

``What! What! My daughter loves him! Hey baby!''

I said, ``No, this is the White House, you don't do that. This is a dignified place, this place has been here for 200 years.'' And so the night went on and on. And you know, back in the day, for those of you who are a little young, every time a new song came out--we had to twists and we did the jerks. And then with Jackson 5--I want you back, I want you back. So we knew all of the songs. Well, one song came on and of course, this was a rendition of ``Dancing in the Street'' and my sister decided this was her moment to do a dance that I had never seen. And a dance the Secret Service had never seen. So, the reason why, when the music started playing, I just wanted to give you all a warning, if my sisters were here, they would have come up with a song. So it's now like midnight, and I say ``Girls, the President has gone up. I know Stevie Wonder is still here, but we've got to go home, so come on, let's go.''

And my sister goes, ``Ain't no party like a White House party, like a White House party don't stop.''

I said, ``Where'd you all get that?'' And then the Marine Band, who knew the Marine band could actually play jazz tunes, and then she's teaching the Marine Band--``Ain't no party like a White House party, like a White House party don't stop.''

The next day I saw the President, I was at a meeting and I was trying to pretend I didn't know those women. I said, ``I know Mr. President was taped so hopefully you can edit my sisters out.'' Of course, when it was on PBS, they didn't edit us out. Alright, my sisters--I just wanted to let you all know if you go to the White House and decide to hang out for a party or an event just remember--``Ain't no party like a White House party, like a White House party don't stop.'' But ..... I'm chair of the Democratic Party. My dad is 80 years old. I called him and I said, ``Guess what. I'm chair of the Democratic party, one of the oldest political parties in the country.''

He said, ``It's a job.''

I said, ``Well, but it doesn't pay.''

He said, ``Well, that's like most jobs.''

There are some perks and I took advantage of one of them just a night ago. I just want to let everyone know a little bit about it. And you know, some people want a car to drive. Not me. First of all, I want a man dropping me off. So it's bad enough I live one block from the head of the CIA and I have to explain to people who visit me why the cops are outside. I say, ``No, nothing's going on at the house. It's the CI--wait, never mind--it's okay, just come on in, it's alright.'' So no, I don't want a car to drive. That's too tacky, that's not me. I mean, I'm a girl from New Orleans. I can roll.

So they say, ``Well, do you want a phone?''

I mean, well, I worked for Al Gore. He created the Internet; of course I want a phone. ``So what do you have?''


``No, no, no. Dropped service. I'll stick with Verizon.'' And so they start listing all these other things, and I say no letterhead, no business card, no office, no secretary, no assistant.

They say, ``Donna, what do you want?''

I say, ``I hear you have tickets for the Easter egg roll.'' And, I want to tell you this story because when I worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore back in the 1990s, I was involved with the inaugural as well as the campaign. I went into the office one day and they said, ``Donna, what do you want?''

I said, ``All of the leftover tickets.'' Some people didn't make it; they didn't sell all the seats, and so on. So here you have rows of all the dignitaries all in the diplomatic core, all these people from the government, all these people looking good. And then you have rows of little kids. Rows and rows. And that was me. I said, ``Absolutely. I'm going across the bridge to Southeast, Washington D.C., and I am going to give tickets out to kids, who like myself, their parents are not rich. They don't have connections. But one day, one of these kids, one, maybe one, will grow up and become President of the United States.'' And I want to say that I gave them a ticket. I gave them an opportunity. So when President Obama won, and you all know I'm one for tickets--This is not my speech, I'm going to get to my speech. But I just wanted to let everyone know how I roll.

And so, this is why, at my age of 51, I have 300 children, don't ask me how I did it. I did it, I got 300, they are really well taken care of, different daddies; it's a long story. But when you've worked on as many campaigns--Karen mentioned my 7 presidential, my 58 congressional, and my 19 state and local campaigns, I worked on campaigns in 48 states. I've lived here twice in my life, 2 more states and I will become Miss USA. I've done a lot of work in my life, okay? I mean, I've worked in Alaska, I was up there. I was in Juneau. I've been to Utah, I've seen the mountains. So I've been all over the place, but I still keep it real. I'm still that little girl, that little girl who grew up poor. To a mother who was a maid, a father who was a janitor. And I was proud of my parents, my parents worked very hard. They wanted us to have everything; they wanted us to have the best of life. Sometimes, they couldn't afford it. But often times, they would put a little away. That's why I tell people I can wait. My mother used to say, ``It's a little away. How fast you need it?''


``Oh, no, no, no. How fast you need it?''

I'd say, ``Okay, next month.''

She'd say, ``Oh, I'll get it out by next month, don't worry.'' And then, my mother, or my father, would go out and work an additional job or longer hours so that we could get what we needed in order to be the people that we are, or the kids that we wanted to be, the grown-ups that we wanted to be as well.

But, I would get my tickets, so my kids would come in, and I'd say, ``Hey B.'' And by the way, I used to carry a big purse. Whenever you see my carrying a big purse, I'm coming after some tickets. That's not a bag, that's a ticket basket. And I would walk into (something?) headquarters--you heard the song ``Ain't too proud of the bag.'' I need it for my kids. So I had 700 tickets from the President, and let me tell you, everybody, every dignitary was hitting me up. They'd say, ``Donna, got tickets?''

I'd say, ``No I don't.''

Ohhh she's lying! And then I learned how to, for my purple ticket, oh so you want my purple give me 2 of your golds! Why! Because my purple ticket gets you up front but you give me 2 so think about it! I would get those big tickets so I could get 5 smaller tickets so I could get more people in. All I cared about was getting more people in. So I thought about it the other day, because I'm always into tickets. I'm a ticket person--so I said, ``How many tickets can I get as the chair of the Democratic Party? I need my tickets.'' And then I learned I got 10 tickets, I thought, oh thank you, Lord, I got 10. Now you all know I'm starting at 10. Watch me. Now the chair gets 10, how many does the Vice Chair get? I'm still Vice Chair!

And then I'm going to call my congresswoman, and then I'm going to call the congress people from Alaska. Nobody's coming here for an Easter egg hunt. And Washington State; and you know you can always hit up California; you know I'm going to hit up Kansas. I can't hit up Hawaii because that's where the President is from. But I'm going to get my tickets and you know, I'm giving them to the kids, like myself, kids who have grown up poor, kids who need to be able, because they live in Washington, D.C., to say that ``I went to the White House. I was at the White House and I saw the President, I saw the First Lady, I saw his two little daughters, and I met Bo.'' That's the dog, for those of you who don't know.

But I'm honored to be here with you, I had to tell my tickets stories. Everyone who knows me back in DC calls me the ticket lady. And I love tickets--not parking tickets--but tickets. But it is an honor to join you tonight as you celebrate 20 years. I've had some time to read up on Jenny and all of the work that you all have done and have committed to do. You are an inspiration. You have empowered millions of young girls who not only read your magazine but those who also contribute to it and those who want to be a part of it. You are a source of inspiration and extortion of empowerment and I want to thank the Board. I'd like to thank Lisa. I'd like to thank all the sponsors and of

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course Denise and Seema. And yeah, I've been checking out your shoes. They come in size 11, baby?

But I also want to thank you for helping young girls find their voices and helping them amplify their message and lifting them up. Your message is one of hope and change. I want to say, I remember what it's like to be young--it was just 2 weeks ago--the grey hair may throw you off a little bit, but the truth is, I'm still 15 at heart. Now, notice I said 15, not 18. Fifteen not 13. Because, I believe at 15, I had a life-changing, what I call, experience.

My grandmother, who took time to raise most of us, because my parents were busy working, she got sick that year. And throughout our childhood, Grandma was the rock; she was the foundation in our house. My grandmother was from Mississippi. She was the daughter of former slaves. And though she had lived to see so many changes take place in her lifetime, she had 12 kids. In fact, my daddy was number 12. My grandmother had my father when at the age of 48--yeah I guess that's made him the way he is.

But my grandmother, in my judgment, was my role model. She was my rock. She was my inspiration. I wanted to be just like Ramon, because she knew everything. I would get up in the morning at 4 o'clock--``Ramon, what are you doing?''

She'd say, ``I'm soaking the clothes.''

``Well, okay.''

``We going to go hang them up outside.''

``Well, okay.'' I did that. At 5:30, she was in the kitchen making buttermilk biscuits. As you can tell, I ate a couple of them. They were the best buttermilk biscuits in the world. She made her biscuits from scratch. But by 7:00, before we went off for school, Ramon told me that I had to read the newspaper with her. Her eyesight was failing. So I would read the newspaper, from front to back. The classified section, the sports section, and of course, I read the opinion columns. I was excited to know what was going on in the world and Grandma even taught me how to read the comics, and of course, her horoscope--every day.

But when Ramon took sick, it really changed my life. All of a sudden, I had to grow up. All of a sudden, I had to learn how to take care of her. Along with two of my other siblings, we took turns watching over her, bringing her soup, bringing her water, helping her get up, and of course, helping her put on her petticoat and slippers so that she could sit in her rocking chair. A few months before we were to return back to school, Ramon took a turn for the worst. And my mother and father sat down along with Dr. Beam and said ``Ramon Frances has to go into a nursing home. We can't afford to take care of her--you're going back to school, and she will need help.'' And so I talked to my baby sister, Lisa, and I said, ``Lisa, you like to comb hair. I can help bathe her. Sheryl can make sure that her clothes--my grandmother liked all her clothes ironed, we could not just put on anything. After all, she did make our slips.'' She made everything but our underwear.

She was the most important person in my life because she taught me responsibility at a very young age. But, she also taught me to pursue my dreams, and not to be afraid of what was out of our homes. Ramon was one who believed in the future; she was one who taught us not to be fearful of anyone. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received, and God knows if it comes in handy now, is she said, ``Donna, it's not what they call you. It's what you answer to.'' And so, as a cable call girl on CNN, when they call, I go! I got called last night--MSNBC--for three weeks, I can go on MSNBC and Fox, so I'm having fun. Anderson called me last night, ``I miss you!''

``Baby, I know you're my boo, but I'm going to see what's going on at MSNBC and Lawrence O'Donnell and Debbi Gregrory, and George Will-Karen.'' I told George the other day, ``I wanna see you in jeans before you retire.'' I want to tell you all something about conservative men. If any of you all are in the room, I know your secret--it is Victoria, it's out. George Will, George Will has a soft spot. His soft spot is that he is really a baseball fan, he loves sports. And George Will loves anyone who knows sports. And so I often bring in my baseball metaphors and my football metaphors and that's how I get George to really warm up to me. And then I do my zingas.

But my grandmother taught me another important lesson. And at a very early age, she taught me that lesson. She taught me to listen. She taught me to listen to what other people were saying. So I know what it's like to grow up in a household where people don't talk to you, or listen to you. I know what it's like to grow up and not know what it is you wish to do with your life. I know what it's like to be silenced, even when I'm screaming my head off sometimes to get people to listen--I know what it's like to have people think that you have nothing to say. And I know what it's like, because I experienced it also as a child growing up down in the segregated deep South.

I can remember when I was often the youngest person because I was so active in politics back in my native state of Louisiana. So often they would invite young people in the room just so the picture would look right but they really didn't want us to say a word. They didn't want us to even give our input. And it used to drive me crazy when I was growing up, to just be out in the world not knowing if I could make a difference, not knowing what the sound of my voice would do if I was able to contribute. But it was my grandmother who kept pushing me and others out the door. And she gave me all of the courage I needed to go out there and to try to make change in the world.

So I want to first of all say to all the teens in the room, and those who still, like myself, are young at heart--you have so much to give. The world is waiting for you. The world needs you. And why you? Because there's no one better. And why now? Because tomorrow is not soon enough. This is your moment. This is your time. This is a time that not only can you find your voice but you can find it in ways that will allow you to soar and to make a difference.

I didn't wait until I was 18 before I decided to find my voice. I started writing poems at an early age hoping that someone would discover me. Perhaps I didn't know the rhymes at the time but I had a story, I had something to say and I wanted to share it. I wanted someone to listen to me. Then again, my mother bought a tape recorder one year for Christmas. She said, ``What do you want Donna?'' I said, ``Donna wants a tape recorder.'' And so my nickname became ``Tape Recorder.'' And I recorded every conversation and then I put music to it and made it a soap opera for everyone to listen to.

And so I wanted to be in the world, I wanted my voice heard. And so this is your moment to begin the dream about your future. And what kind of future are you looking to have? And what do you want to do with your life?

You have to begin thinking about all of these questions early because the world is not going to wait for you to catch up with it. You have to begin to hurry history and catch up with the world, especially now with all of the technology at our disposal. We can talk to someone on Skype all the way across the world. We can text right now and reach out to people standing in line waiting for a (something). And yes, we can find out with our own Twitter accounts and Facebook that we can be part of a revolution taking place thousands and thousands of miles away from here. So you are the future, and it's time that you learn that ``the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.'' The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, when she said that, she could not envision that we would live to see so many changes in this country, yet we still have a long way to go.

So I want to leave you with some ingredients, and I want to pour them into you right now. Because this is the moment for you, many of you, who are ready to enter the world, ready to make a difference, ready to use your voice, out there to try to stir things up. When I was a young girl, I used to tell my grandmother, ``Ramon, I want to be like Harriet Tubman.'' Harriet Tubman was one of my favorites. I figured anyone who ran away from slavery was a good role model to have.

So I said to Ramon I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be a leader like Harriet Tubman. So some of you are probably thinking, ``Wow, how can I become a leader?'' So this is what I knew about being a leader. A leader is defined as someone who is in command, as someone who guides, a person in a position of influence or importance, a role model. Now let me say, I'm a leader. Not only am I elected to an office that allows me to help guide the oldest political party in the country, I'm also a party leader that helps devise political strategy, a campaign consultant who has also helped to organize and manage campaigns at every level. But I'm also an owner of a small business that employs staff, consultants, and interns, I also teach at a major college. So the foundation of good leadership is being honest and fair. A leader is someone who listens as well as asks questions. A leader has courage and a leader treats others with respect and dignity. A leader admits to mistakes and takes responsibility for his or her actions. And a leader has integrity and can be trusted. A leader also inspires and motivates others to take action in the pursuit of the common good. Now, there are more traits; leaders are often problem-solvers because they seek solutions and leaders are also visionaries because they help to set long-term goals.

So it's important to learn how to use your voice to become a leader, and that you begin to see yourself as a leader and as someone who can become successful because you are important and because we need you. We need more young women, more young women willing to serve in public office. We need more young women willing to write news articles, tweet, posting blogs and stories on Facebook, and not just that stuff that makes your friends happy. But the stuff that can really make other people think. And so, here are my other ingredients.

Believe in the power of your dreams. If you don't, no one else will.

Second, be true to yourself. I've done a lot in my life because someone else wanted me to do it or I thought about it. Sometimes it turned out well, sometimes of course it hasn't, but I have never ever given up on any of my dreams. I keep working toward them. And when I finished writing that first book, I will see a minority or woman as president and four years later, we have our first bi-racial president. And if I continue to work hard, one day, you all will be invited to the White House as we inaugurate our first female president, or Hispanic, Asian-American, person of color, and so on.

So you have to live your dreams, you just can't dream and then walk out of the room and expect someone to stir up all the ingredients. You gotta go into the arena and stir

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it up. Sometimes, you have to bring your own pot and sometimes you have to bring your own fire. It's called Tabasco, for those of you who don't know.

Number three: Never accept no as a final answer. I've been told ``no, no, no;'' I know ``no'' in just about every language. I often tell people after they say no, ``That's a yes, isn't it?'' Nah, figure out a way. Go around it, go beneath it, go above it, go below it, just find a way. Find a way, find a path. If you really want to do something, go for it. You can't stop at no. A friend used to tell me that no is just a prelude to yes. Now, when I hear no, I think ``Good, now I'm just one step closer to yes.''

Now number four: When you stumble get back up. I have stumbled a lot. My knees are good, my elbows are even better, sometimes I've had to work my way up, because I've had some hits. I have fallen. But you get back up, it's as simple as that. You're gonna fall, you're gonna fail, you're gonna make mistakes, people will not always listen to you--I've got three minutes left, I am not Baptist--I am Catholic; I need five, and Ill wrap it up in four.

Number five: Keep a little spice handy. Life gets boring. It is really boring sometimes. But never be afraid to spice it up. Were all unique, no two of us are exactly alike--but think about your limits. And then push them a bit. What makes you uncomfortable? Sometimes you gotta know that so you can just add those missing ingredients that might give you some spice. For me, I was scared of horses. I had to spice up my life and I had to ask myself--why? What's keeping me from embracing something that I'm scared of? It was fear. Took me until I was in my mid-40s, but I conquered that fear. I had that horse following me, and I didn't even have an apple.

And let me tell you number six. Courage isn't the absence of fear; courage is facing your fear and overcoming it. Sometimes, you know what you're scared of before you even know what you like! Don't let your fears stand in the way of your success.

And then there's number seven. This is about faith. Because when I was a little girl I had so many people invest what I would call and consider now a lot of energy into me. They'd say, ``Donna, you gotta do this.'' I'd respond, ``Okay!'' They'd say, ``Donna, can you make this happen?'' I'd say, ``Yes!'' And they would run off, and I'd be thinking----AHH! I would freak. But I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, who inspired me as a little girl, said ``Faith is taking one step, even when you cannot see the entire staircase.'' And for me, I often have to just take that one step, and then it comes right there. It just, it appears.

And Mrs. King, his wife, I was just over 21 when I met her and worked for her as a young girl. And Mrs. King said, ``Donna, we want to make the birthday a national holiday.'' And I said, ``Okay!'' Everybody else, from the time Dr. King died in 1968 'til 1981, they just said, ``We'll, maybe,'' and then Ronald Reagan was elected and they'd say, ``Well that'll never happen.'' And a bunch of us, we were all young, were just out of college, we said, ``We have time.'' We'll do it.'' And within 18 months, we had a holiday because we had faith.

And so, let me close up a little bit by saying that I learned growing up, with a large family, with brothers and sisters, with parents, grandparents and others, with neighbors who loved us, and with friends who would always stand by our side--I learned that I could really go to the next step. That I could move beyond the limitations placed on me simply because of where I was born. I knew that when I was a kid that no matter what people said about my skin color, what they said about my hair, what my sisters continue to say about my hair. I'm like, ``Will you all stop?'' They say, ``Donna, it looked like (something) last night.'' And I say, ``Your TV, maybe you should get HDTV. Maybe you should get rid of that box.'' But I know they're telling me with love to get myself to the beauty parlor. But I learned as a little kid, it's not what people say, and it's not what people see about you. My grandmother was right. It's what you believe in. It's not what they call you, it's what you answer to.

So let me close with a poem that continues to inspire me every time I read it. It's Maya Angelou, called ``Still I Rise.'' And I close with her words:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise .....
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

To my friends, to the young ladies, to the sponsors, to all the supporters of this great organization, it's now your turn to let these young women rise, to give them the wings that they need so that they will soar and make a difference. To rise up to your full potential, to rise until you feel the air surrounding you. Rise up, rise high, and make us all proud. Thank you and God bless Ðyou.

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