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‘Civility Won’t Save Us’: Black Women Push Democratic Leaders to Back Maxine Waters

Auditi Guha

“As women whose ancestors have lived through the incivility of slavery, segregation, and all other forms of discrimination ... we consider it an insult to characterize Ms. Waters’ call for the exercise of our constitutional rights as uncivil and un-American."

The civility-in-politics discourse in the United States has made a powerful Black congresswoman from Los Angeles its newest target.

Nearly 200 Black women leaders and allies expressed their “profound indignation and deep disappointment” at the failure of leading Democrats in Congress to support U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who has been chastised for her vocal opposition to the Trump administration and its policies that have taken immigrant children from their parents and drawn massive nationwide protests.

“We call on the Democratic Party leadership to step up and publicly support Congresswoman Waters, who has been receiving death threats for speaking truthfully and boldly in support of immigrant families and challenging the Trump Administration to end their inhumane and immoral policy that has yet to reunite over 2,000 children with their parents and continues to lock up refugees seeking asylum in the United States of America,” states the July 3 letter addressed to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who distanced themselves from Waters’ June comments about protesting administration officials in public spaces.

Pelosi recently blamed Trump’s “daily lack of civility” for provoking Waters’ remarks but called the congresswoman’s comments “unacceptable.” That led to a letter signed by more than 4,400 white women calling on Pelosi to apologize to Waters.

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“When you attack a Black woman for speaking out about injustice, and when you call for ‘civility’ in the face of blatant racism, you invoke a long history of white supremacist power,” the letter states.

“Congresswoman Maxine Waters is a valued leader whose passionate call for family reunification should be heard without any threats to her safety,” Pelosi responded in a Wednesday statement. Schumer has not responded to the letter from Black woman leaders, Bustle reported.

Trump escalated his attacks on the Black congresswoman with a social media post Tuesday calling her “crazy,” “corrupt,” and “ranting and raving.” He has called Waters “an extraordinarily low IQ person” and aimed a thinly veiled threat at her. “Be careful what you wish for Max!” he posted on Twitter last month.

The president has accused Waters of calling for “harm” to his supporters, which Waters fiercely denied. She pointed out that Trump is the one who has been “advocating violence” against peaceful protesters and those who oppose his policies.

The California Democrat has since canceled events in Alabama and Texas after receiving death threats, including one of lynching, for speaking out against Trump’s immigration policies at the southern border, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Donald Trump has sullied the bully pulpit with reckless disregard for the safety of others,” Pelosi said in a July 4 statement. He should stop his attacks on Congresswoman Waters and all Members of Congress, the free press, and all Americans who have the right and the responsibility to speak their minds.”

The letter signed by Black women and allies points out that Waters is one of the longest serving Black women in Congress and the longest tenured woman of color. “Millennials of every race and creed revere Congresswoman Waters,” the letter states.

“As women whose ancestors have lived through the incivility of slavery, segregation, and all other forms of discrimination, racism, and sexism, as people who have historically been told to ‘wait’ for justice, for freedom, for our turn, we consider it an insult to characterize Ms. Waters’ call for the exercise of our constitutional rights as uncivil and un-American. We call on leaders of all persuasion to practice the art of civil discourse,” the letter states. “We further believe Congresswoman Waters is owed an apology for your public comments insinuating she is ‘uncivil’ and ‘un-American’ for challenging the Trump Administration.”

The civility debate that was sparked by the refusal of a Virginia restaurant owner to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now focused on Waters. Almost half of U.S. voters blame Trump for the lack of civility in politics today, according to a national poll by Quinnipiac University.

Civil rights activists responded in a Color of Change video this week encouraging people in the United States to “be like Maxine” in the fight for justice stating that civility is not the answer when fighting white supremacist policies.

“Civility won’t save us because this administration and white supremacy doesn’t care about being polite,” said Alicia Garza, principal at Black Futures Lab. 

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