Congresswoman Maxine Waters first came to my attention during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. She challenged President Bush for having a meeting in the White House to discuss the Los Angeles Rodney King riots without inviting her. Her message through the media told the President that she was on her way. She also stated that she was not intimidated because according to her way of thinking, “the White House is the people’s house.” Since seeing Congresswoman Waters’ valiant oratory that day I have been a staunch fan of Ms. Waters. Her first encounter with the first President Bush is even more impressive given the fact that she was only a first term Representative.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters was also one of the members of Congress who protested George W. Bush’s election in 2000. During the count of the Electoral Vote in Congress to certify Bush’s election, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus protested the certification of Bush as President. Among those approaching the well of Congress in order to vote their disapproval of the election outcomes was on other than Congresswoman Waters. As such Maxine Waters has been very consistent in utilizing her office as a strong voice for truth and justice.
Congresswoman Waters recently made national news due to a personal attack that was aimed at her from Fox News star Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly made an off-handed comment comparing Ms. Waters’ hairstyle or “wig” to that of deceased singer James Brown’s hairstyle or “wig.” The backlash has been quite palpable. Yet, O’Reilly and FOX News seem to be quite insulated due to the ideological rigidity of their viewers and followers. Nevertheless, Waters apparently came to O’Reilly’s attention due to her relentless and ceaseless criticism of President Donald Trump. Congressman John Lewis made headlines when stated that Trump was not a legitimate President and, therefore, would not attend Trump Inaugural. However, Maxine Waters has become the face and voice of Congressional opposition to Trump and his administration. Her unabashed call for Trump’s impeachment is accompanied by her calling out Trump on each and every lie that he has told since becoming President. At the age of 78, Congresswoman Waters’ boundless energy for truth and justice does not seem to be slowing down. She has become a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joy and a personal favorite of the host.
Maxine Waters is not alone in her role in Congress. There are several other outspoken women of color in the House of Representative. For example, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California was castigated due to her opposition to the war in Iraq. Lee is still speaking out against Trump’s use of military force. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas is also a voice of conscience emanating from House of Representatives. On the Senate side, the voice of Kamala Harris has been added. She is the second woman of African heritage to have been elected to the United States Senate. The first was Carol Moseley Braun who was elected in 1992. Braun only served one six-year term. After leaving the Senate she received an Ambassadorship from President Bill Clinton. Senator Harris served as the Attorney General of the state of California before being elected to the Senate in 2016. Her election was one of the few bright spots to emerge from the 2016 election.
Although Maxine Waters is a contemporary member of Congress serving with a woman of a similar fortitude, her legacy is definitely grounded in strong Congressional women who have preceded her. The first Congresswoman who comes to mind is Shirley Chisholm. Ms. Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress. She was elected from the state of New York and was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Congresswoman Chisholm is most remembered for her 1972 presidential candidacy. As audacious as Barack Obama’s candidacy was in 2008, Chisholm was the original audacious candidate. Her patented phrase, “Unbought and Unbossed” also became the title of a documentary, which detailed Chisholm’s quest to become the second Congresswoman who comes to mind as a forerunner to Maxine Waters is Barbara Jordan of Texas. Jordan became the first Black Woman to be elected to Congress from the south since reconstruction. Ms. Jordan is most noted for her elegant oratory. This oratory was placed in plain sight for the whole world to see during the House Watergate impeachment hearings. A portion of her historical remarks are as follow: Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “We, the people.” It’s a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I have not included in that “We, the people.” I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in “We, the people.”
It is because Congresswoman Chisholm was “unbought and unbossed” that Jordan was able to realize that she had been finally included in that “We the people.” It is because Congresswoman Jordan realized her inclusion that Congresswoman Waters came into the knowledge that the White House is the people’s House. And is because of Congresswoman’s revelation that countless other young women in general and Black women, in particular, will come to the understanding that this nation will not be able to rise any higher than themselves.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”