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Congressmember Eleanor Holmes Norton on the Life of Shirley Chisholm

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Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress and a 1972 presidential candidate, has died at age 80. We talk to Congressmember Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C. [includes rush transcript]

Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress and a 1972 presidential candidate, has died at age 80. She died Saturday night in Florida. Chisholm was known as an outspoken advocate for women and people of color during seven terms representing New York City in the U.S. House. She was raised in New York City and was elected to the House in 1968. She went to Congress to represent New York the same year Richard Nixon was elected to the White House. She was a strong critic of the Vietnam war and served in Congress until two years into Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president. She also was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.

  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.’s Delegate to the US House of Representatives.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C. Last night, she put out a statement about the passing of Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress and a 1972 presidential candidate who died this weekend at the age of 80 in Florida. Shirley Chisholm was an outspoken advocate for women, for people of color, a fierce opponent of the Vietnam war, raised in New York City, went to Congress to represent New York the same year Richard Nixon was elected to the White House. She served two years into Ronald Reagan’s tenure. She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969, and just few minutes after this broadcast, Eleanor Holmes Norton will join with others in being sworn in as Congressional Black Caucus members. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Eleanor Holmes Norton.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Thank you, Amy. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Thank you for spending this few minutes before you head off to Congress. Can you talk about Shirley Chisholm and what she would think about this Congress and the agenda that you are facing?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: The woman who knew how to fight on all sides, you could never surround Shirley with too many enemies. And because she would be among the most senior members, she would now be ranking member of an important committee. She would have served her term as chair of the African — of the Black Caucus, and she would be out front leading us in what is going to be a formidable battle. To understand Shirley, one has to understand that she’s not just the first this, that or the other, she was up against the whole world when she ran for Congress. She was up against the Brooklyn machine, probably the most formidable in the country at the time. She was up against men, because the whole notion of this woman getting this rare seat to come up in New York was unheard of. Who did she think she was? I was there. I lived in New York. I’m a native Washingtonian, but my children were born in New York, we lived in New York at the time, and I heard what they had to say. Finally, she was up against history. We were only then beginning to get used to having a critical mass — that’s all they were — of African-American men in Congress. She, for example, was part of the group that formed the Black Caucus. Now, here comes a woman, when there aren’t even many men, and said, look, I want to join you guys. Nobody was ready for it, but the black women in Brooklyn, who I think are chiefly responsible for putting her over, and then everybody joined the crowd.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, you’ll be sworn in as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and as the Congress is sworn in, Republican lawmakers met last night, some political analysts say in a meeting that was intended to strip Democrats of ammunition against the Republicans in the ethics scandal dogging majority leader Tom DeLay. House Republicans suddenly reversed course Monday, deciding to retain a tough standard for lawmaker discipline and reinstate a rule that would force majority leader Tom DeLay to step aside if he’s indicted by a Texas grand jury. Already three of DeLay’s associates have been indicted by a Texas grand jury in connection with illegal fund raising. The prosecutor has said the investigation is not finished. The surprise dual decisions were made by speaker Dennis Hastert and by DeLay, who asked the Republican colleagues to undo the extreme act of loyalty they handed him in November. Then, Republicans changed the party rules so DeLay could retain leadership even if he is indicted. Republicans gave no indication before the meeting that the indictment rule was going to change. A spokesperson for House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi said Republicans pulled back on the rule because the issue simply became too hot for them to handle. What does this mean, Eleanor Holmes Norton, for you and Congress?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: I don’t think that we who are Democrats can take full credit for this, but I think they knew we were loaded for bear. There has to be a debate on the floor on the rules package, and there already were a full line of speakers lined up to talk only about this extraordinary move to say that if you are indicted, and you are the leader of your party, you can continue to be the leader of your party in the House of Representatives. That was so over the top, and thanks to people like you, and journalists all over the country I think the Republicans came to understand that every time any issue came up, Tom DeLay would be the issue. They also remembered Newt Gingrich, who went down on an ethics violation, and ultimately, left the House and of course, left the Speakership. I really think that this is a lesson to the Democrats. Get loaded for a fight on every issue the way we got loaded for the fight, the ethics fight. Particularly get loaded for the Social Security fight.

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor Holmes Norton, I want to thank you for joining us. I know that you are heading off to be sworn in.

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