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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Former U.S. ambassador speaks at Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture Series

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: News

Former ambassador and United States senator Carol Moseley Braun spoke Wednesday as part of the Womens and Gender Studies (WGS) Programs Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture Series. The series, which began in 2004, features speakers who have made significant contributions to social justice and womens rights. Past speakers include Patricia Williams, Mary Catherine Bateson, and Jamaica Kincaid.

Ambassador Braun is a former candidate for the 2004 Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and has done public service as U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, U.S. Senator (the first African-American woman elected), County Executive Officer, State Representative, and Assistant United States Attorney. Presently, having moved on to the private sector, she refers to herself as a recovering politician. She is the CEO of Ambassador Organics, a company whose goal, according to Braun, is to make biodynamic food more readily available to the world. She also runs a private law firm.

Professor Susan Lanser (WGS) helped coordinate the event and said that the approaching 2008 presidential election was taken into consideration when choosing Braun to give the lecture. I thought that she would remind us of the stakes in the election and inspire students to be politically active, she said.

Brauns lecture, called Colored Water and the Power of One, focused on the power of the individual to initiate change. What you do, what you say, and what you think matters…your decisions define the outcomes, Braun said. You make the future with your actions in the present. One of the examples she used to support this claim was an event that took place during the 1920s womens suffrage movement. The Senate was in the process of ratifying the 19th Amendment when Senator Harry Burns received a telegram from his mother instructing him to be a good boy and vote for suffrage. He obeyed his mother and with seventy-five percent of the states ratifying the amendment, it was passed, giving women the right to vote. Braun said, You can be the person that changes the direction of a person, of a community, of a society.

During her speech, she commented on positive societal changes caused by individuals. To do this, she detailed a personal event: Her family was traveling by train from Chicago to her grandparents farm in Union Springs, Illinois. When the train stopped it was hot and they were thirsty, but there were only segregated water fountains and her mother did not let her drink from the colored fountain. Her brother started yelling I want some colored water! over and over again because he thought the water itself was rainbow colored.

This evoked a chuckle from the audience. In response, Braun made the observation that today a situation like that is funny because of the illogic [nature] of racial segregation, while back then it was a painful reality.

Before the speech, Braun talked about her experience running for the presidential nomination. Braun explained that she joined the 2004 race because of her niece, who had told her in dismay all presidents are boys. Hearing this, Braun attempted to initiate change by running for the presidential nomination.

For Braun, the experience was a positive one. People seemed more open about hearing what I had to say, she commented, That was an important cultural development that an African-American woman was not looked at as an oddity but as a bona-fide candidate.

After the lecture, and during the question and answer session, Ambassador Braun stressed the importance of a shift towards a type of society where it is not physical form who defines who we are, but spirit.

The event ended with a standing ovation but audience reactions to Moseley Brauns message were mixed, I feel like she skirted answering some questions, it would have been nice to hear more about her journey rather than inspirational quotes, said Natasha Murdoch 08.

Speaking about Moseley Brauns message of individuals making a difference, Katie Kelly-Hankin 08 said, I thought that she made some very inspirational points, and that the message while simple shouldnt be dismissed as too simple. She then added, Still, part of me was hoping to hear something more concrete from her about policy, our situation as a country, or about the future rather than the progress of the past.

Cindy Kaplan 08 said, It was a very positive speech and very uplifting. Its nice to know that theres someone out there whos fighting for what were fighting for. Someone in power is on the same page.