This post is an excerpt from my new book, Women of the American Resistance, which will be published in January 2018.
If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably already enjoyed a good chuckle watching this video of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters in her legendary run-in with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
To dodge her question about why he hadn’t responded to her letter to him regarding the president’s ties to Russia, Mnuchin launched into a tap dance of meaningless verbiage, no doubt hoping to run out the clock so Waters would lose the rest of her opportunity to speak. Invoking House procedural rules, a stony-faced Waters kept repeating, “Reclaiming my time” until he was forced to yield the floor to her. It was a marvelous moment that instantly went viral, launching countless news stories, memes, and t-shirts, to say nothing of Mykal Kilgore’s now-famous gospel music video.
“Reclaiming my time” has become a catchphrase among Resisters who resonate with Waters’ sharp criticism of the current Republican administration. Millennials speak of her fondly as “Auntie Maxine” and praise her for “throwing shade,” a phrase that puzzled Waters at first. “I had to ask my grandchildren, ‘What does it mean? I threw shade?’” she said. (Translation: it’s black and Latino gay slang that means a public expression of contempt.)
Actress Rose McGowan speaks at the Women's Convention, her first public appearance after alleging that Harvey Weinstein raped her in 1997. Her theme: "I have been slut-shamed, I've been harassed, I am you."
Reclaiming Our Time at the Women's Convention
In October of 2017, the phrase “Reclaiming Our Time” became the theme of the Women’s Convention in Detroit, organized by the leaders of the Women’s March, attended by 4,000 people, and featuring a list of remarkable speakers, including Waters.
“In the halls of this convention,” wrote Monica Davey in the New York Times, “which at times had the mood of a raucous campaign rally, women were tackling a broad and sprawling list of issues, including Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, threats to the environment, mass incarceration, reproductive rights, workplace rules, the accessibility of child care, treatment of immigrants, protections for transgender people and more… Yet for all the disparate topics at this meeting, one thread ran through them all: opposition to the [new] administration and a pointed focus on elections next year.”
One of the co-organizers of the convention, EMILY’s List, is tackling the election issue head on. Founded in 1985, the organization takes its name from the acronym “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” a reference to the financial backing it provides to female, pro-choice Democratic candidates. “EMILY's List wins elections,” says their website. “Since our founding, we have helped elect over 100 pro-choice Democratic women to the House, 23 to the Senate, 12 to governors' seats, and hundreds of women to state and local office. EMILY's List has also become one of the largest financial resources for minority women seeking federal office.” Since the 2016 election more than 20,000 women have reached out to EMILY’s List to explore the idea of running for office — a giant leap forward from the 920 who’d contacted them in the previous two years.
"This is unprecedented,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List and one of the speakers at the Women’s Convention. “Women continue stepping up and demanding to be at the decision-making table – here in Michigan and in every other state across the country. This is a surge of grassroots energy unlike anything we've ever seen. We've spent more than 30 years preparing for this kind of moment, and we're ready to channel this energy into wins for women up and down the ballot, not just in 2018 but for the years and generations to come … I want every woman who's ever wondered whether she can really make a difference to know that she's not alone. They are part of a wave of now more than 20,000 women getting ready to run and change the face of politics. We at EMILY's List and our community of over five million members have your back."
Financing a campaign can be especially challenging for non-white female candidates. “Black women are one of the most active political constituencies in the nation, yet they are severely underrepresented in federal, state, and local government, according to a new study,” reported Theodore Johnson of MSNBC in 2014. “Within the black community, women make up over 52% of the population, represent nearly 60% of the electorate, and turn out to vote at a rate nearly 10% higher than men.”
The Democratic party is "too male, too pale, too stale," said Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York, when she spoke at the Women's Convention.
At the Women’s Convention, “the wide-ranging discussion frequently turned to criticism of the Democratic party, and how it can better support black women voters and black women candidates,” wrote Catherine Pearson in the Huffington Post. “Panelists called the party ‘out of touch’ and said it would not be enough to simply replace white male legislators with white women. ‘The Democratic party is too male,’ said Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York and the first woman of color to hold citywide office in the city. ‘It’s too pale and too stale.’”
I haven’t heard Waters comment directly on James’s remark, but I suspect she’d agree. “With a prominent platform and a withering side-eye,” wrote Christina Cauterucci in Slate, “Waters has embodied the unadulterated rage and indignation many have felt watching incompetent white men try to drive America off a xenophobic cliff … While Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer make chummy jokes about pens, Waters has loudly refused to legitimize [the president’s] leadership, calling him a “so-called president” in an interview with the Associated Press. ‘I don't see myself meeting with him, sitting down with him, believing anything he would say, or even respecting anything he would say,’ she continued.” And that, my friends, is throwing shade.