Lee recently repeated that speech—which led some to brand her a traitor—before Congress on the 17th anniversary of its delivery. Many have since cited Lee’s remarks to highlight her foresight, but it bears repeating, given the recent death of former President George H.W. Bush, who apparently also felt that the second Iraq War was a mistake. And there is, of course, the war that preceded it in Afghanistan, the very one that has yet to end and continues to cost so many American lives. I know what that war has done to so many Black men and women who served our country but were sent to fight an unwinnable war and return home to a nation that largely keeps it out of sight, out of mind. To wit, little fuss has been made over Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s call on Monday for the international community to help end the war in Afghanistan after declaring that nearly 40 years of conflict “is enough.” Yes, but these types were all warned, weren’t they? When people mention how Black women have been the conscience of the Democratic Party, I think of the risk Lee took in that moment and how improbable it is that many of her colleagues, then and now, would ever dare to be that courageous. We live at a time when an ignorant narcissist whose callousness is exceeded only by his ignorance sits at the top of the executive branch. We need people in leadership who will challenge him at every turn instead of caving in to his ridiculous border wall, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). And frankly, while my aim is not to pit Black against Black, all the same, I am disappointed that Lee was defeated by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York for chair of the Democratic caucus. In July, when Lee announced her bid for the position, she told Politico that Black women have been the “backbone of the Democratic Party” and should be “the face of leadership also,” and went on to say that Black women have long proved that they can “lead not only our communities, but lead our country on the very tough issues facing us.” Lee has never had the sort of leadership position typically given to her clueless, corporatist male counterparts, and it is about time that changed. To be fair to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the likely next speaker of the House, she did create a third co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee and named Lee to fill the position in response to her defeat as caucus chair. Of that choice, Pelosi said in a statement, “As a leading African American woman with a place at the decision table, the appointment of Congresswoman Lee is even more meaningful as we mark the birthday of her friend: the trailblazing Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.” Pelosi’s invocation of Chisholm’s name makes sense given Lee’s history with her and the history of Black women in the Democratic Party, period, but as one alum of former President Barack Obama’s administration recently pointed out, Chisholm ran for caucus chair in 1977 and received 100 votes, while, more than 40 years later, Lee received only 113. That is not progress, even if the man who defeated Lee is Black. About that: As The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported, the outgoing caucus chair, Joe Crowley, “played an integral role in Jeffries’s election.” Crowley did so by telling “a number of House Democrats that Lee had cut a check to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, painting her as part of the insurgency that incumbents in Congress feel threatened by.” In essence, he soiled her candidacy. I agree with author Rebecca Traister’s characterization that “this is how women who dissent & challenge power as it has been historically organized are viewed: as an insurgent, chaotic mob.” When asked about Crowley’s involvement, Lee said, “Those rumors took place and that was very unfair. We’re moving forward now.” Lee also went on to say of Crowley’s loss in the primary, “I didn’t even know he had a primary.” The rumor worked because, with Lee as a dissenting voice on 9/11, it registered as plausible. So although Pelosi may have provided damage control, it’s difficult not to remain angry over how Lee was treated. Jeffries, like Crowley, is another Democrat backed by big money who dances in moderation to the detriment of the rest of us. This was the Democratic Party’s opportunity to make up for past treatment of Black women. The consolation prize is fine, but it does not negate the fact that Democrats once again failed miserably.
17 years ago, I gave a speech on the House Floor opposing the 2001 AUMF. Today, I read that speech once again on the House Floor. This #EndlessWar must be stopped. pic.twitter.com/j6cLBLL5OE— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) September 13, 2018
Rep. Barbara Lee Deserved Better
When people mention how Black women have been the conscience of the Democratic Party, Lee's history of risk-taking makes her stand out from the crowd, and it's time she was recognized for it.