A few weeks ago, xoNecole was invited to attend Rep. Maxine Waters' (D-CA) third annual Millennial Media Row. I wasn't sure what to expect or why we were chosen specifically but that changed soon after the event started. Over the last four years, we have seen a dramatic shift in terms of leadership and it has raised concern for where we are headed as a country. With the 2020 Presidential election coming up quickly, a lot of support has been thrown behind candidates that can defeat Trump with consideration of platforms coming in second. In a perfect world with a perfect candidate, those two things would coexist but the question is, do they?
Before the last Presidential election, there was one voice that resonated with the thoughts of black women across the nation. Rep. Waters quickly became a refreshing voice to younger voters even though her career in politics was well established and extensive. She said what we were all thinking with unwavering, unapologetic confidence. With over 40 years in public service, Rep. Waters has become one of the most powerful women in American politics of current times.
After making history by becoming the first woman and first African American Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, she taught black women the importance of "reclaiming my time" and how to take up space when you get a seat at the table. Rep. Waters is nothing short of role model for black millennial women and trusted advisor for honest commentary on the state of our nation. So I knew sitting down and speaking with her was going to leave me inspired and ready to create change in my community.
Below are a few standout quotes from our conversation to encourage and ignite black women as we progress forward in this election season.
*Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
On black women’s power and leadership in the political arena:
"First of all, what I'm pleased about is finally there's some recognition that black women make a significant difference in these campaigns. And what the women did, I believe in Alabama, was it? Where they got so much press and the coverage has gone a long way toward absolutely sealing the fact that black women can and make a difference. But I've kind of always known that. I've always known that black women somehow took leadership without it being given to them. [They] stood up and even [as they were] accused of being confrontational and bossy and sassy and all of that, but spoke their mind in an effort to protect their children and their families, etc. So I think that black women know what the issues are. I think black women are concerned about not only their ability to realize their potential."
On the importance of black women supporting each other:
"I have found that black women not only can get along well but can organize and work together in ways where sisters appreciate each other. And I think that is being demonstrated more and more. And so when they take this togetherness that we are witnessing, and we're seeing, and apply it in the political arena, they make things happen. And so I think that black women are gaining more respect and not just being looked at as volunteers, but as paid personnel, [executing] jobs in all aspects of these campaigns.
"We have black women writers, we have black women that are graphic artists, we have black women lawyers, etc. And increasingly those talents are being, I think, appreciated. Increasingly black women are feeling more comfortable in coming forward and saying, 'I can do that.' Yes, I'd like to have a job here. And so, I just think that the future for black women is promising. And I think that we are going to see black women achieve success in the areas that were never thought of as places where black women could offer leadership. And I'm very comfortable and very pleased with that."
"I think that we are going to see black women achieve success in the areas that were never thought of as places where black women could offer leadership. And I'm very comfortable and very pleased with that."
On where black women millennials should start to break into politics:
"My advice is to get into a campaign, put your nose in everywhere, [and] learn what these relationships are all about. Learn how money is raised. That's an investment. Go and choose someone that you think exemplifies the kind of leadership that you would like to see in your community, in your neighborhood. I do like the idea of local politics. I do like the idea of city councils and state legislatures. As a matter of fact, I think it is more rewarding than being in Congress. Congress is a huge place where it takes a long time to navigate a piece of legislation from the House, through the Senate, and up to the presidency."
On why she doesn’t wait for permission and neither should you:
"This past weekend we had a busy schedule and I did a number of things. [Among those things,] I had an event at a church [that] was doing something extraordinarily inspiring with the young people telling the history of the civil rights movement and the voting rights movement. While I was in the church, the choir started to sing these old spirituals and gospel music. And there's one [that] says, 'Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord to be free.' And I thought you know what, that's what you call resistance.
"I got emotional about it because here you had songs like that, developed by black people who live that resistance and who meant what they said. And while we don't have slavery, I think sometimes our minds are still enslaved because we refuse to exercise our judgment and we're waiting for somebody to give us permission to do and to be. And now that's one thing that I pride myself on, I don't wait for permission."
"While we don't have slavery, I think sometimes our minds are still enslaved because we refuse to exercise our judgment and we're waiting for somebody to give us permission to do and to be. And now that's one thing that I pride myself on, I don't wait for permission."
On how to get things accomplished in the face of adversity:
"My mother said, 'Do with what you got.' So, I started taking all that I learned from my mother and my grandmother about how to do with what you have and not be stymied by what you don't have. So that's kind of a part of me. I really believe what I'm saying. I didn't feel any sense of danger. I didn't feel any sense of being worried about whether or not anybody likes me or not."
On what she encourages black women to do going into the future:
"Well, you know one of the things that has always bothered me is, black people as hard as they may be working, you know for their families and you know in the church and all that, don't demand anything of us. You don't tell us to come to your community meetings. I have white people call me from all over the country, telling me what they want me to do, not even from my district. Nobody asked us any real questions about public policy. What are the records of the elected officials? What are they voting for?
"We have elected officials who vote for payday lending and people don't know. That's what's trapping our community into long-term debt that they can't get out of. But nobody says anything to them about it. And so I think that I would say, particularly for black women, get together and invite elected officials at every level of government to come to where you are, organize an event because we do get together all the time. Let's just ask elected officials to come. And if black women do that, I think they will pay attention."
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