Before Maxine Waters (D-CA) ever went viral for reclaiming her time at a congressional hearing this summer, she was advocating for constituents domestically and globally.
That’s what makes her rise to popularity within social media feel familiar — she’s been about this life, battling injustice, inequality and systematic silencing for over 40 years. So when she delivered the now-famous line in a House Financial Services committee hearing in August after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin attempted to filibuster her, it was business as usual.
“It’s [the] regular order of business,” she told political commentator Angela Rye in ESSENCE’s Dec/Jan issue. “I think it was important for me to let him know that he couldn’t get away with that.”
For millennials — who affectionately call the California Congresswoman “Auntie” — that kind of no-nonsense advocacy has inspired memes and movements that position Waters’ words as bible for those looking to stand their ground, organize and activate. Recently, “Reclaiming Our Time” became the theme for the Women’s March Convention in Detroit.
For those who remember when Waters took on apartheid in South Africa through divestment in the 1980s, or who are familiar with her creation of the Minority AIDS Initiative in 1998, it’s clear that she has no plans to slow down or to give up on the communities she represents.
Maxine Waters isn’t a trending topic.
“One of the things I discovered a long time ago was that I make people uncomfortable and that my advocacy goes beyond what politicians normally do,” she told ESSENCE. “I have a strong sense of what’s fair and what’s not fair, and for vulnerable people who are being taken advantage of, or who are being bullied or intimidated, I tend to want to be protective or to fight for them,” she continued.
And in all, through her work as a wife, mother, grandmother, organizer and legislator, one thing reigns supreme.
“I want to be remembered as a courageous fighter.”
Read the full interview in the Dec/Jan issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands this week.
[MUSIC] Black is beautiful is an empowering statement. And I can remember when it first came about. And to hear young black people in particular who have been told that their lips were too big, their nose was too wide, that they didn't fit the profile of beauty. All of a sudden saying, hey, black is beautiful. And seeing the gleam in the eyes of black people when they Undertook this passage of going from not thinking they're so wonderful, to being able to say Black is beautiful. I can remember Angela Davis had the biggest, baddest afro of any African-American woman and everybody wanted to be like her. As a matter of fact, those who come from other communities who seem not to know the difference between us, they were calling everybody Angela Davis. And So I think it is wonderful to see young people now adopting that hairstyle. Growing their hair and Combing it out and absolutely going back to where we were just back in the 60s. [MUSIC] You come to the point in life where you're comfortable with yourself. You understand that you have power, you have influence if you decide to use it. And to exercise that influence. And so I don't have to question myself. About whether or not I'm doing the right thing, or whether or not I'm going to be criticized. This is who I am. This is what I do. And I'm grounded in that. It has not always been that way. I did come from a strong background with the mother who was extremely strong. She was not an educated woman but she was a woman of wisdom. And so she helped to teach us what strength is all about. Standing up for yourself. Being willing to fight for what you think is right and that has lasted with me up until this point. [MUSIC] If you think you want to run for office. I would encourage women, in particular only young African-American women, understand the responsibility that you are taking on. It can be very rewarding. There will be days when it will be very disappointing. But most of all, be sure that you are running for the right reason. That you have a passion for changing things and for making sure that the democracy works in the way that it should work. And that there's justice and equality for everybody and you're willing to fight for it. If you've got the passion, it will serve you well. [MUSIC]