“What was she trying to achieve by running for president?”

This was the question posed by Brian Lehrer to Dr. Zinga A. Fraser on the Peabody Award-winning program The Brian Lehrer Show. Originally airing in 1989 under the title On the Line, the WNYC broadcast combines interviews with influential figures with insights from listeners.

In response to Lehrer’s question, Dr. Fraser emphasized the practical significance of Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 campaign for the presidency:

She’s really trying to change the platform. She’s trying to not only bring in new and vibrant people into the Democratic party, and she’s really trying to say, “We want a true Democratic Party that represents all people, specifically marginalized people.” Chisholm doesn’t necessarily think that she’s going to win, but she believes that she has a position to really change the platform and the policies of the Democratic Party.

To illustrate, Dr. Fraser points out that Shirley Chisholm was the only candidate to launch a full-throated defense of a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive destiny. George McGovern, the eventual nominee of the 1972 Democratic nomination, has often been painted as a champion of progressive values (and, by some critics, too progressive for the electorate of the time). McGovern was “leery” of supporting women’s reproductive rights in a substantive way, Fraser says. “she’s really trying to push the McGovern campaign and the Democratic party to really come out in support of abortion.”

During the show, a number of callers remembered Shirley Chisholm as a kind neighbor, as a fashion inspiration, and as a savvy political strategist. Dr. Fraser further remarked on the Congresswoman’s ability to “redefine what presidential politics should look like,” both in terms of the candidates themselves and the nature of political coalitions.

You can listen to Dr. Fraser’s full interview on The Brian Lehrer Show here.

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