Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author. Her most recent book is, “Are We Better Off: Race, Obama and Public Policy.”
If you are a Democratic Party insider, the women who give us “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics” are familiar names. Under the tutelage of former commerce secretary and Democratic National Committee chairman Ron Brown, and former labor secretary and DNC operative Alexis Herman, these women helped shape a more inclusive Democratic Party. Donna Brazile has served as interim chairwoman of the DNC and was a ubiquitous talking head on CNN and ABC News. Yolanda Caraway chaired the DNC’s Fairness Commission, which pushed states to change rules from winner-take-all delegate appropriations to proportional representation. Leah Daughtry has chaired Democratic national conventions twice. Minyon Moore was the first African American woman to be political director in the White House, under President Bill Clinton. Along the way, the women became close — and sometimes contentious — friends. This book is the story of their friendship and their political history.
If you aren’t an insider, fasten your seat belt. You’ll learn a lot about the inside machinations of the Democratic Party. You’ll also discover the backgrounds of these women. All come from relatively humble beginnings, and all are grateful and amazed at the roads they have traveled. You’ll learn about how Brazile and Moore, who worked on field operations for the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, stood their ground when they were told that their offices would be relocated to another floor, out of the mix of campaign activity. In response, they commandeered a conference room, claiming it as their own and putting up a hand-lettered sign that read, “COLORED GIRLS . . . WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED.”
Because I know all of the “Colored Girls” personally, reading this book was like walking down memory lane. My reading was punctuated with exclamations. “No she didn’t.” “Um, hum.” “Oh, spit.” “Right on, girl.” I can hear each of their voices in the book, and I must compliment their co-writer Veronica Chambers, who has deftly interwoven their challenges with their political histories, and their mother wit with their sage wisdom. The book’s title echoes a play by the recently deceased Ntozake Shange, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” a groundbreaking work that “has inspired women for decades,” the authors write.
Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign gave the women, and many others (including myself), a first taste of politics and political leadership. Each played a key role in 1984, and each remains connected to Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. They are generous in their praise of him and the people around him, and grateful for the doors he opened.
Climbing up the ladder at the DNC, the Colored Girls inevitably connected with the Clintons and remain fond of Hillary Clinton. They recount the disappointment of the 2008 primary campaign and the crushing and disheartening defeat in 2016. Each was, in some way, immobilized and traumatized by Donald Trump’s election, as many Democrats were. Without knowing about Russian interference, they knew that something was wrong. This book is part of their recovery. “I’ve never felt so helpless,” Caraway writes of her reaction after the election. “I just didn’t know what to do. . . . When the s--- happened with Gore, we fought it. But this one — I just couldn’t believe [Hillary] conceded so soon. . . . We all wanted to fight. Who knows what would have happened if we had done that?”
The Colored Girls have distinctly different temperaments and different approaches to life and politics. Caraway, the eldest, is often described as “the black Martha Stewart” for her impeccable taste, stylish dress and entertaining skills. Moore, a partner at a Washington lobbying firm, is the “connector” who brings people together and smooths ruffled feathers. Brazile is blunt and bold, often aggressively so, and doesn’t mind taking flack for it, even when she finds herself in hot water. Daughtry is both a political strategist and a faith leader, and she relies on her faith to manage adversity — particularly Clinton’s 2016 loss, when she took to her bed for a while but then found the strength to carry on.
Sometimes the Colored Girls’ friendship has been strained. These women have cried together, yelled at each other, reconciled and been pulled apart again, and the book is candid about some of it. Brazile’s book “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House” is featured here because it disappointed and hurt the other Colored Girls. Her book revealed flaws of the Democratic Party, and the criticism stung these loyalist women. But the four authors say their friendship is on the mend. Chapter 24, titled “Broken Friendships and Healing Spaces,” explores some of their challenges without going into much depth. This guarded candor may help others find their way back to one another after their friendships stumble over politics.
In the last chapter, the women offer advice to young people who have considered politics. Their words are, like Brazile, blunt; like Caraway, kind; like Moore, pragmatic; like Daughtry, full of faith. Anyone who has considered politics will be renewed by the strength, vision and sharing of this volume.
By Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry and Minyon Moore with Veronica Chambers
St. Martin’s. 316 pp. $28.99