"Can I help you? What do you want?," said Congresswoman Maxine Waters on January 16th, days before the inauguration of Donald Trump and minutes after being briefed on the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. In that moment, that press conference, the current iteration of Congresswoman Maxine Waters was born.
Keyword there being current iteration because Rep. Waters is not new to politics on the national stage. She is the longest serving Black female member of Congress having been first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990. 1990! Congresswoman Waters has been in the House longer than I have been alive so it bothers me to see her painted as a millennial hero with no real context or discussion around her larger contributions to American politics, the Democratic Party, Congressional Black Caucus, and causes of freedom or social justice more broadly.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters is more than just your Auntie, even if she is okay with us millennials calling her that. And while I understand the importance of riding a wave and that my generation is fickle, I think it's incredibly important that we pay homage. Homage to not only what Rep. Waters is doing in our current moment with her deep and publicly facing anti-Trumpism, but also homage to all that she's done throughout her time in public service. She's more than a meme, viral video, or the latest face to put on a tshirt (though I will buy yours if it's cute enough). She is a national treasure - has been, and forever will be. So, put some respeck on her name. Put some respeck on her voting record. Put some respeck on her years served.
Whether securing the largest divestment of state pension funds from South Africa in California, founding community based organizations and dealing with the aftermath of the Rodney King riots in 1992, serving on the Democratic National Committee (since 1980), expanding access to healthcare or resisting the war in Iraq, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has seen it all and been around the political block a few times.
She was with Coretta Scott King shooting in the gym y'all. Coretta Scott King!
I am not saying any of this to deny her power in our current political climate. But I am saying it so that we millennials will know who we are dealing with and show due respect. Rep. Waters is not new to this, she is true to this and we all would do well to glean from her lessons of sticking it out through administration changes, dangerous rhetoric, and all the other nonsense a life in politics, a life dedicated to helping our communities, country and the world brings.
Yes, we do need to impeach Trump. Yes, the FBI director has no credibility. And yes, I love the way Auntie Maxine responds, engages, and deals with all the madness that has ensued since election night last November. She is a beacon of hope in a bleak moment for a dazed and confused Democratic Party. She is a shining light and example of what living your values out loud looks like.
But, she always has been. I remember hearing about Congresswoman Maxine Waters as a kid watching the news or discussing politics with my dad. So, I just do not want our current love for her to make this powerhouse of a woman into the latest joke, marketing ploy, or nothing more than a meme. I don't trust the media with our superwoman and so we have to do the work of protecting and honoring her ourselves. I'm worried that like Bill O'Reilly attempted to do, the media will come for her. I don't like the images they often use to depict her. And deep down, in my heart of hearts, I don't want her to come to be seen as nothing more than another angry or incensed Black woman - even though she has everything to be upset about.
Irregardless, if we don't make sure she's good, I know Auntie Maxine will because like so many Black women before her and so many who will come after her, she's a strong Black woman and cannot be intimidated. Meme's, articles, rallies, or not, I'm thankful to have this woman with a backbone and voice in office. Black women, we're always doing that saving America thing.