Maxine Waters Won’t Let You Stand Down

The outspoken Congresswoman tells GOOD about channeling anger into action

If you’re of a certain temperament, you’ll be stirred by California Rep. Maxine Waters’ now-viral press conference from last week. In the span of 21 seconds, she storms out of a classified intelligence briefing, barely tolerates the presence of reporters, then declares flatly, “The FBI director has no credibility!” before striding off in fury.

Though partisan politics occasionally felt like bloodsport in the past, there is no question that the gloves are off now. Just a few short (or is that interminably long?) months ago, this kind of outburst from a ranking member of Congress would have been beyond the pale. Then again, Waters has never exactly been mild in spirit—many still recall when she told the Tea Party it could go “straight to hell” in 2011.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever seen anything like this before.[/quote]

The 78-year-old politician has lived through her share of tumult and confrontation: the civil rights uprisings of the ’60s; Nixon’s attempts to subvert democracy; the aggressive, far-right agendas of Reagan and George W. Bush. But to her, the Trump regime is unprecedented. “I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever seen anything like this before,” says Waters, with a tone of ill-concealed disgust. “I am simply stunned.”

Despairing Americans need heroes right now, yet few politicians seem willing to risk their careers (or more) on the altar of resistance. Just as Senate Democrats have started approving cabinet nominees they’d vowed to obstruct, Waters—who’d planned to skip Trump’s inauguration before it was cool—simply won’t, or can’t, suppress her fire.

Waters spoke with GOOD on the evening she boycotted the inauguration. She flew into the capitol after the official ceremony and remarked with an arch note how “quiet D.C. seemed.” The city’s hush stood in contrast to her boisterous flight from Los Angeles, packed with women destined for Saturday’s march. Waters says many of the passengers were ecstatic to recognize her. Selfies abounded.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]No matter what, members of the Republican party don't cross their leadership. It doesn't happen.[/quote]

“They were jubilant, they were up, they were clapping, they were optimistic,” Waters says, “and there was a lot of fight in them. They want to oppose this president every step of the way.”

That fighting spirit buoyed her through the march itself, where she delivered more fiery invective, telling the new president he better keep his “hands off Planned Parenthood.” But after the good vibes drifted away, and Trump pulled out his executive order pen, Waters was left with the same question as millions of citizens: What next?

For all her passion, Waters is a dogged realist. She knows what a slog it will be to try and block much of Trump’s GOP-backed agenda. Though she appreciates that nearly 70 Democratic lawmakers sat out the inauguration, she isn’t certain there is unity in the fight. And as far as reaching across the aisle? Let’s just say she isn’t holding her breath.

“To tell you the truth, you and anyone else who asks me about bipartisan cooperation doesn’t really understand Republicans,” she says. “No matter what, members of the Republican party don't cross their leadership. It doesn't happen. It just doesn't happen.”

Waters sees a little hope in Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom have been outspoken critics of election interference, cozying up to Russia, and other issues. Still, she fears that might be a personal battle: “Trump treated those two badly, don’t forget,” she says. “Especially John McCain.”

But despite the force of the opposition, and Trump’s taste for exacting revenge, Waters will not be cowed. She sneers at the thought of being attacked on Twitter, the all-purpose mouthpiece for a thin-skinned scoundrel. “We saw what Trump did on Twitter with John Lewis—so what?” she says. “He might cause us problems down the line, but I don’t actually fear the man.

This courage will bear her up well. Like Lewis and the ferocious California Rep. Ted Lieu, Waters won’t give an inch to a man she views as contrary to the essence of democracy (not to mention a likely Russian patsy). The resistance plan is still “being figured out” by Waters and her cohort, but she is steely in her conviction to never stand down. And as for the average citizen, she believes we all have a role moving forward.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I still can’t believe this man mocked a disabled reporter on video—who does that? But we need to keep showing people that footage.[/quote]

In addition to protests and marches and calling one’s reps like mad (“Same things we’ve always advised, except more focused, and with more passion”), Waters suggests blowing up social media with information. The more we all know, the better prepared we are for the struggles ahead. Additionally, Waters sees a lot of value in wooing dispirited Trump voters. She thinks his many broken promises, combined with an eminently faulty character, makes for a solid conversion strategy.

“We need to educate (Trump supporters) that he is not a man of his word,” she says. “And I still can’t believe this man mocked a disabled reporter on video—who does that? But we need to keep showing people that footage. That, on top of all the lies and everything he’s done since November—it’s like 1,000 licks.” Waters gives a humorless little chuckle. “People have their limits.”

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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