Since Donald Trump’s arrival on the political stage, few voices have been as consistently outspoken against this President’s divisive rhetoric and policy agenda than that of Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D- CA 43). Thanks in part to the internet, Water’s characteristically sharp tongue and fearless devotion to the issues that matter to her constituency have made her a national figure of resistance– from being one of the first to call for Trump’s impeachment, to the now iconic shutting down of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in his attempts to circumvent her questioning during testimony by repeatedly cutting him off saying “I reclaim my time”, to her controversial encouragement of civilians protesting Trump staffers in public.
But followers of national politics have seen her be a tenacious, thorn-in-your-side to Democratic and Republican Presidents alike for the past 30 years, as she spoke up against police brutality during the Rodney King riots of the early 90’s with the same fervor as the killing of George Floyd earlier this year.
For Waters, who was one of 13 children growing up outside of St. Louis, Missouri, the fighting spirit is something she’s had since day one.
“I was raised and educated with the understanding that we have a responsibility to know the civil rights movement and be dedicated to the proposition that we
can help our communities have people do better. I came in with that kind of attitude,” says Waters, who began her tenure in Congress in 1991 after serving in the California State legislature. “And then, coming from a family of 13 , I had to fight for everything so I have no fear of fighting. I have no fear of standing up for myself. Through my work, I’ve walked with the kind of courage that has shown truth-to-power in ways that has got me
recognized as a highly controversial figure, and as a fighter.”
“Coming from a family of 13 , I had to fight for everything so I have no fear of fighting. I have no fear of standing up for myself. Through my work, I’ve walked with the kind of courage that has shown truth-to-power in ways that has got me recognized as a highly controversial figure, and as a fighter”– Maxine Waters
Now at the age of 82, Waters, whose supporters have lovingly dubbed “Auntie Maxine”, is running for her 16th consecutive term and is making the case that she has the leadership and policy expertise to lead our ideologically torn country through the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic and into a more dignified political era.
While her fighting spirit is most often seen and attributed to her outspoken political stances, much of her fighting is done in her less glamorous work– namely on the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) where she sits as Chairwoman.
And the agenda of the HFSC is heavy to say the least.
Besides being an overseer of financial services agencies both in the public and private sector, Waters is looking ahead to reinstating the mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau– a public watchdog organization set up under Obama to protect consumers against predatory financial organizations– which has been undermined under the Trump administration.
“We’ve got to make sure that we continue to work on denying our big banks the opportunity to engage in predatory lending, which harmed our community so much in the 2008 crash,” says Waters. “We’ve got to pay special attention to payday loans, which are made to lure poor people who are desperate into borrowing situations where they will never get out of debt, and make sure that is outlawed.”
In addition, Waters is using the power of her position to create the first ever Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion in HFSC, creating more room at the top for money managers of color.
“We are looking at what we can do to advance asset managers of color in government agencies which is an opportunity that has not really been available to us due to exclusions and discrimination, which is something I am very excited to be engaged in.”
On top of her regularly jam-packed workload, there are the financial woes resulting from the pandemic to deal with. With millions of workers, homeowners, renters, small business, and landlords looking for some type of bailout, Waters and the Democrats are deadlocked in negotiations with Republicans on further allocations of funds.
“I’m focused, as one of the standing committees of Congress, on what is known as the HEROES Act. We passed the CARES Act which included $1,200 stimulus checks and $600 additionally to those who lost their job. But that ran out,” says Waters. “So now we’re negotiating the HEROES Act, but we have no support from Republicans– they don’t want to spend the money.”
Congressional Democrats have passed the HEROES Act twice now, first for $3.2 trillion then compromised down to $2.2 trillion, only to receive a stiff ‘no’ from Senate Republicans both times.
“They don’t want to give citizens and states the money, but we have to insist so that we don’t start laying off all of the people who provide essential services and keep our economy going,’ says Waters.
Waters also helped craft the HEROES Act to address the pandemic-induced evictions crises with $50 billion in rental assistance and up to $550 billion in relief for landlords who have been left on the hook.
“We’re in a crisis now,” says Waters. “People are desperate to put food on the table and not be put out on the street and be evicted. This president really doesn’t care about this, he interfered with negotiations and extended the moratorium on evictions with no money.”
With hospitalization rates 4.7 times higher for black people than their white counterparts due to the pandemic– Waters recognizes that, like so often is the case in America, communities of color have to fight harder to get
the same treatment. “We had to fight for more testing in [black] communities and to ensure that we had the equipment in the hospitals that serve our constituency,” says Waters. “The next thing that we have to do is be on top of the vaccine and make sure that it’s safe, we have access to them, and
they’ll be distributed fairly.
We have to fight for everything. We cannot sit back and believe that somehow we are going to be treated fairly because history tells a different story.”
Waters is also working with leaders of faith through virtual meetings on how to reinforce the directives of how to protect yourself from the virus.
“We tell people to listen and follow the advice of experts, put on your mask, wash your hands, and be involved with social distancing. You’ve got to do this in order to avoid getting infected,” says Waters.
While Waters’ work seems to be cut out for her, opponents on the right have made sure that she can’t look past her re-election bid this November. Her challenger is 34-year-old first time politician Joe Collins III, who despite only receiving 11% of the vote in March’s primary election, has received massive amounts of campaign funds largely due to his backing from Trump Republicans. Collins, who is a former sailor in the Navy, claims he left the military to run for public office which he couldn’t do while on active duty.
He is an outspoken Trump supporter who is running on an agenda of restoring the 43rd district’s economic livelihood, schools, and combating the lingering crime and homelessness issues, while painting Waters as a selfserving Washington elitist. Collins has run an aggressive campaign with a large ad budget, regularly slamming Waters on social media. In his latest video “Mansion Maxine”, Collins calls out Waters for her lavish $6 million home which is not in the 43rd district.
“Do you know where I am?” says Collins in his video. “Maxine Waters $6 million mansion. Do you know where I am not? Her district. I was born right here in South L.A. in the place Maxine Waters refuses to live. Maxine doesn’t care about our district, she only cares about herself.”
It should be noted that it is not required by law for Congressional leaders to live in their district, and also that Waters’ home was once in the district she represented, before redistricting changed the borders. Waters’ answer to Collins claiming that the woes of the 43rd district are her fault since she’s represented the area for 44 years with the same systematic problems persisting is that he doesn’t understand the general hierarchy of government.
“The young man that is running against me not only has no experience, he doesn’t even know how the government works,” says Waters. “He doesn’t know the difference between City Council, Legislatures and Congress,
and who oversees the agencies who have different responsibilities. For instance, members of Congress fund cities to deal with homelessness. City Councils the ones in charge of contracting non-profit agencies to help shelter
the unhoused. His arguments have not been substantive at all, in fact, he’s been missing arguments.’
Waters has also gone on the offensive attacking Collins character flaws, like the fact that he received a dishonorable discharge from the Navy which disallows him from referring to himself as a ‘veteran’ in any official capacity– including on the ballot where his title is ‘sailor’. Waters also brought to light the information alleging that Collins has some outstanding child support cases.
“It’s not just a lack of experience, it is a flawed character and the inability to represent that he can be a role model for the people he wants to represent, especially young people,” says Waters. “He is holding some food giveaways at his headquarters, and someone remarked to me that he talks about feeding people in Los Angeles, but he doesn’t even feed his own children.”
In coming to her defense, over 30 leaders of faith held a press conference outside the Waters campaign headquarters in Hawthorne to pledge their support for the Congresswoman’s reelection bid.
“Maxine Waters has a history of being there for her community,” said Reverend K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles. “Her opponent is someone who just popped up off the scene. We know what a wolf looks like in sheep’s clothes. We can see the handwriting on the wall. We know that narrative this GOP candidate is trying to put out there. So, we just want everyone to know that we the faith leaders are praying for the Congresswoman in all her goals and priorities.”
Pastor Shane B. Scott of Macedonia Baptist Church also said that Waters’ record speaks for itself.
“In case Mr. Collins needs to be reminded, you don’t just serve 15 terms in Congress if you’re ineffective. But rather you serve 15 terms because you have been a champion for justice, for all people whether they are Black,
White, Asian, Latino, or Native American.”
Proof of her effectiveness can be seen in Waters’ popularity amongst the much younger millennial generation, many who affectionately refer to her as ‘Auntie Maxine’. “As far as I’m concerned it’s a nickname of honor,” says Waters. “The aunt in the family is considered, oftentimes, to rise above the parents because they take up for the children and they’re able to not only criticize them, but to help direct them in ways that sometimes the parents can’t. So, the aunt is always favorably embraced, and I love it!”
It’s this affection that drive Waters’ passion to fight for her constituents and the office she is proud to hold.
“One of the reasons I fight so hard is because people believe in me and they call on me, so I really want this election. I want to be re-elected because I want to continue to be a voice they can rely on,” says Waters. “And to be someone who will actually work at this job.
“This is what I do seven days a week. So, no matter whether I’m criticized by those who don’t like the way I do it or think I’m too confrontational, it doesn’t stop me. I believe that people know I want to continue my work and to really represent and give everything I can give to my constituents.”
Besides her own re-election, the single most important thing to come from this historic election is replacing the man in the White House, who according to Waters, is the source of the divisive polarization in today’s political climate.
Her solution? “Vote him out!”
“The President of the United States has been the most divisive, most deplorable human being that I have really ever experienced in my life,” says Waters. “He has created polarization, he has dog-whistled to the white supremacists and those who have never been comfortable with the fact that they live in a country where blacks and others have a right to a decent quality of life. The solution is to get rid of those who cause the polarization, from the top of the ticket on down.”