When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as Democratic National Committee chair just as this week’s convention was getting underway, there was no shortage of Democratic leaders ready to step in.
Veteran Democratic strategist and past DNC chair Donna Brazile immediately took the helm as interim chair. She joined Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, chair of the Democratic National Convention, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who gaveled the convention open on Monday. All three are black women, along with convention CEO Rev. Leah Daughtry, who is overseeing the organization of a Democratic convention for the second time.
The symbolism of so many black women in high-profile leadership positions in a political party is profound, said Julia Jordan-Zachery, a political science professor at Providence College in Rhode Island.
She pointed to the 1964 Democratic convention, where the party refused to seat as voting delegates black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which had been formed to challenge the all-white delegation from Mississippi.
Jordan-Zachery says the party has gone from one that refused to seat black women to one that is now relying on black women to “fix something that was broken.”
It’s also powerful given the fact that black women are a major part of the Democratic Party’s base, and key to the coalition that put President Barack Obama in office, said Kelly Dittmar, a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden.
Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research showed that 96 percent of black women supported Obama in 2012 and in 2008. And census voting data shows about 7 in 10 eligible black women reported actually voting in both those elections, the highest participation rate of any group.
“It’s important, I think, when you look at that from a voter perspective that black women’s voices are also heard in the leadership of the party,” Dittmar said.
Dittmar also raised another historical tie, that of the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York, who was the first black woman elected to Congress. In 1972, Chisholm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, the first black presidential candidate from a major party.
“It meant that simply by putting her name and face forward throughout the country as a real contender for the presidency, that she would challenge those long-held norms and expectations that presidents are white men,” Dittmar said.
The Democratic National Convention Committee and the Charlotte, N.C., host committee recently adopted a policy promoting diversity in contracting for the September event.
The policy states that the DNCC has a goal of spending at least a third of its aggregate dollars with minority businesses, women businesses, disability-owned businesses, LGBT-owned businesses and veteran-owned Businesses for its contracts and projects.
“I am proud of the major steps we are taking to further strengthen our commitment to diversity at the DNC and 2012 convention,” said DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative from Florida. “Our party values economic inclusion and shared prosperity and I believe that this groundbreaking effort will increase opportunity for all.”
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said, “Never before has a host committee or a convention committee dedicated the resources and effort to diversity contracting at the levels we see here. Not only will the 2012 Democratic National Convention stand as a model for the inclusion and utilization of diverse businesses, but it will have a lasting impact on this community and the surrounding region for years to come.”
In October 2011, the party hired a chief diversity officer, whose first task was to work with the convention committee and the host committee on a contracting policy.
The policy states, “Since its inception, it has been the practice of the DNCC to provide equal opportunity to all business enterprises to participate in all aspects of the DNCC’s contracting and purchasing programs without regard to race, creed, age, sex, national origin, ethnic identity, physical or mental disability, veteran status, marital status, economic status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other legally protected basis.
“The DNCC has and will continue to conduct outreach and informational programs with constituent groups, businesses, and trade associations to prevent discrimination against any person or business enterprise on the basis of any of these factors.
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