Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has a unique perspective in politics. Once a single mother of two boys on public assistance, she became a delegate for the first time under Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign in 1972. This evening at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, she’ll help deliver remarks by the party's platform committee. She tells ESSENCE what to expect and why this election is so important to Black women.
ESSENCE.com: You’ll be presenting the platform committee results tonight. What can we expect to hear?
REP. BARBARA LEE: I’ll discuss the general parameters of our platform, basically showing the contrast between President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s agendas. The platform is a very important document because it sets forth what the President has accomplished and what his vision is moving forward. We’ll talk about raising the educational standards, early childhood education and investing more funds toward historically black colleges and universities. But I’m also going to talk about how tax cuts for millionaires have got to stop, especially if we are trying to build a middle class. And moving forward, not backward, to the same failed ideas and policies that created this crisis in the first place.
ESSENCE.com: You started out as a delegate to Shirley Chisholm and now you’re speaking at the DNC on the main stage. What is this feeling like for you?
LEE: It’s very exciting and humbling. I was a student on public assistance when I first started working with Shirley Chisholm in 1972, and I keep thinking the fact that I was able to go to college, raise my kids, start a business, work as a congressional aide and now [serve as a member of] Congress is really a testament to the opportunities that Congresswoman Chisholm and those before me fought so hard to make available.
ESSENCE.com: What are some of the most important things you want Black women to know about in this election?
LEE: African American women need to know about those Republicans who wish to deny women equal opportunities and our rights to control our health care decisions. I remember the days of back-alley abortions and some of the terrible things that have taken place in this country as it relates to Black women. We must continue to work for pay equity, for Medicare, which of course many African American women rely on for a decent standard of living when they are elderly. And for so many African American women who are single mothers, we have major investments in early childhood education, housing, workforce training and all the structural issues that need to be maintained and built for our children. This is a defining moment for Black women and we must ensure the President’s victory in November.
ESSENCE.com: The message of the RNC was “We built it” and asking “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” What’s your take on that?
LEE: Remember what was taking place when President Obama ran and won? This country was on the brink of a Depression. It was losing hundreds and thousands of jobs, [giving] tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, [and involved in] two wars — so can you imagine if the Bush Administration stayed in place? President Obama stopped the bleeding and put in place the Recovery Act, which passed but not with Republican votes. We saved millions of jobs, many in the African American community. Yes, we have a lot more work to do, but it's the Republican obstruction of Congress that has not allowed any of the President's bills to come forward to reduce the unemployment rate. They instead have been fighting to make sure that he’s a one-term president. We have to push and fight harder so that we can move forward with the President’s agenda. So I would say yes, we are much better off than we were four years ago.
ESSENCE.com: This is ESSENCE, so of course I have to ask — who will you be wearing tonight?
LEE: I have no idea, but not red. That’s for sure.