The power of Democratic women in Congress was on full display Sunday night in Cobo Hall at the Detroit Branch NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Dinner, and President Donald Trump served as whipping boy while the two of the most powerful and most visible female legislators on Capitol Hill cut loose, sounding a rallying cry both for the 2018 mid-term elections as well as the 2020 presidential.
Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-CA, 43rd District) was the recipient of the Detroit NAACP’s James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award, and for good reason. For more than two decades, Waters has distinguished herself as a tenacious fighter for the causes she believes in, and who never has a problem speaking her mind. Most recently, Waters has attracted the spotlight as one of the most vocal Democrats on the Hill not only willing but anxious to openly criticize President Trump for his numerous transgressions, his incompetence, and his obvious inability to accomplish even a minimal amount of legislative achievements despite the fact that his Republican party is in control of both the Senate and the House.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), was the evening’s keynote speaker and, like Waters, she too has gained a respected reputation as a well-credentialed progressive who will fight hard and long for what she believes is right. Most recently, Warren gained notoriety (again) when she was removed from the Senate floor in February after attempting to strongly protest the nomination of then-Senator Jeff Sessions who was being considered for the position of Attorney General. Sessions, predictably, was eventually seated, but not without a strong fight from Warren who refused to be silenced in her protest and continued to read the searing words of the late Coretta Scott King who in a 1986 letter called out Sessions as an obvious racist whose actions clearly defined his objectives and successfully urged Congress to block his nomination for federal judge. Warren continued to read King’s words outside the closed doors of the Senate even after being removed from the Senate floor.
“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, who was responsible for having her removed. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
What was intended as an apparent attempt to intimidate Warren instead became a rallying battle cry for women across the country within a matter of days. “Nevertheless She Persisted” is now a T-shirt.
Waters praised her colleague during her acceptance speech as someone who has been consistent in her fight against injustice. She said the award itself held a special meaning for her, both on a personal level and also as a timely reminder of the true significance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Negro National Anthem, penned by Johnson.
“To stand before you today as the 2017 recipient of the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award, well this is a very significant honor. It also has great personal meaning for me. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a strong black woman. Ironically, I attended the James Weldon Johnson Elementary School in St. Louis Missouri.
“I want you to know that tonight’s honor reminds me of one of his greatest contributions to the African American community that was writing the lyrics to Lift Every Voice and Sing, which we now affectionately call the Black National Anthem.
“To me James Weldon Johnson’s words are especially relevant today as we work to confront the abnormal and dangerous threats that this current president of the United States poses to our community and our country. We now have a president who has disregarded and disrespected the historical contributions of many Americans, particularly African Americans. And in less than 100 days, he has already jeopardized our health care system, our environment, and national security. And to make matters worse, he is well on the road to undermining our democracy, and may have already done so if it is determined that he colluded with the Russians and Vladimir Putin to interfere with our elections and hack our government.
As you all know, I’ve dedicated my life’s work to speaking truth to power, and having the strength of my convictions. And I believe that it is my responsibility as a member of Congress, to work every day to confront and expose the dishonest, disrespectful and dangerous behavior demonstrated by this president and his administration. I’m not afraid of this man, I’m not intimidated by him, I’m not gonna back up when he bullies everybody. I intend to do everything that I can to help all of those involved in the investigation to connect the dots. And they’ve got to follow the money. Because this president I believe was involved in collusion. This president, if it is determined that he and his allies and his campaign were involved with colluding with the Russians, and the oligarchs of Russia, then he will have not only colluded with hacking into the DNC (Democratic National Committee), and into our phones, he will not only have tried to undermine our electoral system, he would have undermined the democracy that we all fight so hard for. And if he has undermined the democracy, I’m gonna work until he’s impeached.”
Warren’s remarks were equally critical as well as urgent concerning the need to rally and unite against the threat of Trump.
“I haven’t come to Detroit today in a moment of triumph. I come to Detroit today because our country is in a moment of crisis. A time when everything that generations of Detroit NAACP members have worked for is being systematically undermined by the folks in power in Washington. A man who calls African Americans thugs is now president of the United States. A man who embraces white supremacists is his senior advisor. And a man who was too racist to become a judge in 1980 now runs the Department of Justice. Each and every one of you has seen the ugly reality of what happens when our government turns its back on millions of people.
“I am the daughter of a janitor who became a professor at Harvard Law School and a US Senator because America invested in educating our kids. I know the power of an open door. But I’m worried that instead of opening more doors that America is closing doors. I’m worried that for too many of our kids, especially African American kids, those doors are locked tight.
“There’s no sugar-coating it; systemic racism has restricted opportunity in America, period. And if we can’t say that plain and clear, then we can never change it. President Trump isn’t advancing hatred and prejudice all on his own. He has a lot of help and we can’t forget that.”