“The People’s Politician”: Shirley Chisholm

Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed
to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for
this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men.
— Shirley Chisholm

A few year back, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shola Lynch, independent filmmaker and director of Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed. My Q & A with Shola appeared at 3BlackChicks.com. An excerpt from the intro:

In 1968, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. She represented New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in the U.S. House of Representatives. During her first year in Washington, Chisholm was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was irrelevant to her Bed-Stuy constituents. An outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, she demanded reassignment and in an unprecedented move, was placed instead on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

“A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Chisholm wasn’t afraid to raise the ire of black folks either. She voted for Hale Boggs, who was white, over John Conyers, who is black, for majority leader. Boggs returned the favor by placing Chisholm on the coveted Education and Labor Committee. She was this Committee’s third-ranking member at the end of her tenure.

“In 1972, Chisholm became the first black person to seek a major party’s nomination when she ran for President of the United States…”

Check out the full interview at 3BlackChicks.

Chisholm ’72 should be required viewing for anyone who would presume to speak intelligently about presidential/electoral politics, campaigning, racism, or feminism.

Here are a few more excerpts and quotes from the interview:

I am the people’s politician. If the day should ever come when the people can’t save me, I’ll know I’m finished. — Shirley Chisholm, upon winning her U.S. Congressional seat


Shola Lynch on what led her to make Chisholm ’72:


“…I went back to some of the history books that I had read, and she was mentioned in passing. I knew who she was. She was a political figure, but she’s not really discussed in any major way, so it was very easy to be dismissive of her. Many people did not take her run for president in 1972 very seriously, so of course it wasn’t written about. But when I took the time to look back, though, and particularly at the age I was, in my late ’20s and on, it all began to make sense, that intersection of race and gender, as well as the idea of presidential politics–who’s participating, what democracy means, and what our role in it is. And all of this could be discussed through Mrs. C’s “Story of the [Chisholm] Trail”–without being didactic. I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted the viewer to see her and the story in action. So that questions are raised, and you can’t help but comparing to what’s going on today.”



My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which comes all kinds of things one shouldn’t always discuss for reasons of political expediency. — Shirley Chisolm


Shola Lynch, on why she wanted Chisholm ’72 to be released around the time of the ’04 election:


“Because it’s a story about presidential politics. We don’t often take our civic duty particularly seriously, and I think it’s an important duty. It’s a right that we have that we should exercise. This takes us back to point in the film with Ron Dellums again. He was a young man at the time [of Chisholm's run], and he’d seen Martin Luther King speak. And he said one of the things Martin Luther King used to say was, the most radical act that African-Americans can engage in is to assert the full measure of their citizenship. And in 1972, this black woman, Shirley Chisholm is doing that. But think about that. We were fighting for the ability to assert the full measure of our citizenship, and a lot of us don’t even vote… “We interviewed [sci-fi writer] Octavia Butler, and one of the things she said was about power. She used to think of it as a nasty thing. But she began to understand that power is just a tool. And if you don’t have it, someone else will and they will make decisions for you, and you’ll have to live with them. So opting out is a political decision.”

I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States.
I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people.
— Shirley Chisholm

I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.
The next time a woman runs, or a black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’
to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start.”

– Shirley Chisholm, in her book The Good Fight


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You are in the midst of a blogathon celebrating 32 Days of Black History! Yvette at Six Impossible Things…and I are joined by InkogNegro,Christina, Chris,and Tami.Visit, comment, bookmark!

2 Responses to ““The People’s Politician”: Shirley Chisholm”

  1. Deb Says:

    A story I can tell is how I met Shirley Chisholm.

    It was in 1984, Mrs. Chisholm was the keynote speaker for the Natinoal Laubach Literacy Action Conference in Seattle, WA. I had gone sightseeing with a friend whose influence on me was not a good thing. We were late getting to the Conference site. All of the seats in the rear and middle were taken and so we had to walk brazenly through the entire room to the only seats vacant on the very first row.

    In the ballroom sitting on the first row of seats was this quiet and petite black woman. I was so intent on cutting my boss’ view of me that I sat down immediately and tried to look wrapped up in the program. Mrs. Chisholm kindly turned to me with her hand outstretched and said, “Hello, my name is Shirley Chisholm how are you?” I ashamedly stammered my name to your and said that I delighted to meet her. She got up and gave the keynote address. It was an address that was visionary because what she implored us to do was and still is actually being done in the adult literacy field.

    Here was one of my heroes that I got a chance to meet totally by accident who was even more impressive in person. She would have made a fine President of the United States of America!

  2. First Carnival of White Noise (Black History Month) « white noise Says:

    [...] are two posts on the wonderful Shirley Chisholm: Mamalicious has The People’s Politician: Shirley Chisholm, and Knock the Hustle has Shirley Chisholm: The first Woman to Run for [...]

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