Teen Vogue:
Maxine Waters

Both domes­ti­cally and abroad, young people have become dis­il­lu­sioned with the unjust state of the pol­i­tics at play, ques­tion­ing whether those in posi­tions of power can in fact make a dif­fer­ence. Despite this, a small number of those in office are shin­ing as bea­cons of light in a time of dark­ness. The youth of the U.K. have ral­lied around Jeremy Corbyn, the mil­len­nial vote helped Justin Trudeau become prime min­is­ter of Canada, and here in the States, in lieu of a pres­i­dent who stands up for fair­ness and equal­ity for all, Maxine Waters is speak­ing out.

I have always been a com­mu­nity activist, but I was also a defender of rap and hip-hop early on,” she says. I always embraced free­dom of speech in the Constitution and thought it was impor­tant for people to express what they wanted to say. So when Trump came into office, the first time I walked out of a clas­si­fied brief­ing where we had been lis­ten­ing to what had hap­pened with James Comey, the FBI direc­tor, and his actions during the cam­paign, I just walked out in front of the press and threw my hands up and said, The FBI direc­tor has no cred­i­bil­ity,’ and then it started to go viral.” She smiles, a glint in her eye.

At 79, Maxine pos­sesses an out­spo­ken hon­esty that has had her lov­ingly dubbed Auntie Maxine by a grow­ing legion of social media stans. The absur­dity of the news head­lines has had us look­ing to the politi­cian, who is noth­ing short of a pop-cul­ture icon, for inspi­ra­tion and asking, What would Maxine do?” Take her now-infa­mous run-in with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a House Financial Services Committee meet­ing, where Maxine repeat­edly stated reclaim­ing my time” while he stalled on answer­ing her ques­tion. Or the time in early 2017 when, after being heck­led by pro-Trump sup­port­ers at a crowded town hall in the California dis­trict she rep­re­sents, she hollered, For those who thought they could come here and inter­rupt, they’re in Inglewood!”

You need people like the con­gress­woman who are going to tell it like it is,” explains 26-year-old Shakinah Douglas, a law clerk in Maryland’s 7th Judicial Circuit. She’s not play­ing any games. She is com­mit­ted to making sure that the American people are not oppressed.” Shakinah grew up in the congresswoman’s dis­trict (Maxine was friends with Shakinah’s grand­mother, activist Bernice Woods) and, after seeing how she always deals with people one-on-one” and what an active role Maxine plays in her com­mu­nity, interned with her in Washington, D.C., last spring while com­plet­ing law school at Howard University.

One of the great­est lessons I have learned from Congresswoman Waters is to stay focused, not to get dis­tracted, and to per­se­vere,” Shakinah says. Not only for you but [for] the good of the people you’re serv­ing. When people crit­i­cized her for speak­ing out against the cur­rent pres­i­dent, or even when Bill O’Reilly was making cruel com­ments about her, she never lost sight of what her goal was: We need some­one to look out for the American people. There is work to be done.”

As we sit in a quiet room in a Washington, D.C., hotel located on the doorstep of the Capitol, Maxine, a vision of per­fec­tion in a powder-pink suit, explains: I am thrilled and hon­ored that young people have adopted me. I had to stop and wonder why, but the more I thought about it, I real­ized many young people didn’t know about my past and the issues I have been involved in.”

Coming from what she calls a huge family” (she had 12 broth­ers and sis­ters), Maxine says that from an early age she had to be respon­si­ble for others. I was taught there is noth­ing the boys could do that we as girls couldn’t do,” she says. We shov­eled coal; we painted; we did every­thing. That’s become my kind of phi­los­o­phy of life: Whatever needs to be done, you do it.”

Maxine joined the fem­i­nist move­ment in the 1970s and began speak­ing out about equal pay for equal work and on behalf of women seek­ing non­tra­di­tional careers. A lot of folks won’t remem­ber women like Bella Abzug, who was one of the lead­ers of the fem­i­nist move­ment,” she says. She insisted on wear­ing a hat; she was very out­spo­ken, very bold. And women like Dorothy Height, who led the National Council of Negro Women, and Bernice Woods, both of whom were involved in the civil rights move­ment. We didn’t even deem it fem­i­nist work; it was just the work of women in the com­mu­nity.”

As we patiently await the first female POTUS, thank God for Maxine Waters — a mentor in both life and work. When asked what cam­paign slogan she’d use should she ever run for pres­i­dent, she simply replies, Do the right thing.” Whatever you say, Auntie Maxine!