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6 Inspiring & Empowering Points Made In Conversation With Rep. Maxine Waters

"I don't wait for permission."

Politics

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."

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"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."

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"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."

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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