Forty years after Fannie Lou Hamer

Published July 29, 2004 2:06AM (EDT)

Donna Brazile spends a lot of her time these days in front of the camera, but she was behind it Wednesday afternoon, to document a history-making reception by Future PAC, known by the shorthand "the black Emily's List," since it focuses on electing black women to office. On the 40th anniversary of Fannie Lou Hamer's historic trip to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., where her Mississippi Freedom Party members challenged the seating of the whites-only official delegation, Future PAC honored three black women who represent "the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer," in the words of its chairwoman Gwen Moore -- Connecticut treasurer Denise Napier, philanthropist Gloria Gary and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris -- along with at least a dozen other black women elected officials who turned up.

Black women are by far the most reliable Democratic voters, but their representation among elected officials doesn't match their voter turnout. Future PAC is an effort to marshal their growing if still limited economic power to change that equation. "Black women give money to church, church, church," said Kathy Taylor, managing director of WGBH and a board member, marveling at the crowd of women who paid $125 to attend. "We are the change that we've been looking for," Moore told the group.

Future PAC was also a good place to observe that the party's African-American caucus this year is far happier than at past conventions War Room covered (in an earlier more youthful iteration). In 1984, black women were angry there were no African-Americans on the list of women Walter Mondale considered for vice president. In 2000, Sen. Joe Lieberman had to go reassure the caucus, in the person of Rep. Maxine Waters, that he wasn't out to abolish affirmative action or embrace school vouchers.

"This is a new Democratic Party," Donna Brazile said. "Black delegates no longer come and expect nothing. We have the keynote speaker, and no one could have captured the spirit of the party better than Barack Obama. He gave the Democrats a reason to be joyful, and we hold the power in at least eight battleground states. This is a new political season."

Still at almost every convention event it's obvious that black delegates remain far more disturbed by the Florida debacle in 2000 than most white delegates, and that was true at Future PAC too. They hailed "Queen Corrine Brown," the congresswoman from Orlando, Fla., for her efforts to make sure the disenfranchisement of black voters isn't repeated this year. They also hailed two black women leaders in nontraditional roles -- Napier, the treasurer, and Harris, a prosecutor. Harris drew the most applause when she exhorted the crowd to avoid the polarities of being "soft on crime, or hard on crime" in favor of getting "smart on crime."

Future PAC leaders also thanked their friends who aren't black, notably House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, hailed as "sistergirl" by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Cleveland, who made her the first African-American woman on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. And Harris, who is of mixed racial descent, cited her East Indian mother's teaching as being strongly in the spirit of Future PAC: "She always told me, 'You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last.'"

By Joan Walsh

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