Waters to Women’s Convention: ‘We are reclaiming our time’

Detroit — U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, the woman who inspired the theme of the inaugural Women’s Convention, did not disappoint during her keynote address Saturday afternoon.

By the end of her speech to thousands of women fed up with President Donald Trump’s policies and actions, Waters, D-Calif., had everyone on their feet in Cobo Center chanting, “Impeach 45, impeach 45, impeach 45!”

The 79-year-old, affectionately called “Auntie Maxine” by supporters, was named the convention’s Sojourner Truth honoree. Taking the stage after an introduction from Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, activist Michaela Angela Davis and Women’s March co-chair Tamika D. Mallory, who assured the audience that Waters was the convention’s first choice to headline the event — not Sen. Bernie Sanders, as some believed. Sanders originally planned to speak, but dropped out to travel to Puerto Rico.

“The first person we worked to get here to this conference was Maxine Waters,” Mallory said. …While I like my brother Bernie Sanders a lot, he was not the headline keynote for the Women’s Convention.”

“I walked and I talked and I laughed and I cried and I saw those pussy hats, and I went crazy. It was wonderful,” she said. “That January march sent a message across the world, ‘We are reclaiming our time!’ …Today we gather once again to discuss the issues and organize a plan of action to continue our resistance.”

Waters’ fiery rhetoric focused on her disagreements with the Trump administration — spurring a standing ovation when she declared, “I believe he did collude with the Russians to undermine our democracy.”

She also highlighted the number of women who have come forth with accounts of sexual harassment, assault and rape in recent weeks.

“We learned it is not only Hollywood actresses and entertainers who have been assaulted by such perverted and disgusting people,” Waters said. “It’s also members of Congress like my colleagues Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, and other politicians, teachers, nurses, women in the military and so many others who may have lived in shame or fear, but have now boldly come forward with their own ‘me too’ stories and exposed just how prevalent rape culture is in our society.”

She encouraged attendees to continue to come forward.

“At this convention, there must be an effort to strengthen women’s courage and inspire them to continue to come forward,” she said. “…This convention must be designed as a declaration that women are unified and that we support one another in this fight, whether you’re black, white, brown, yellow, rich or poor.”

Waters declared that it’s time to wage a “war against rape and sexual harassment.”

“Enough is enough, we are not going to take it anymore,” she shouted, as women lept to their feet, applauding.

“Today we declare that we will not tolerate, ignore or be a part of a culture that turns a blind eye to sexual harassment. We don’t care who you are, how much money you have, how powerful you are… .Keep your hands off our backs and our goddamn bodies!”

Waters has served in Congress since 1991 and is known for being an advocate for women and women of color. In July, Waters — a ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services — stood her ground, showing she wasn’t going to let a man waste her time during a committee meeting.

In a video that went viral, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried side-stepping her question about why his office had not responded to a letter from her regarding Trump’s financial ties to Russia. Waters interrupted him, repeating, “reclaiming my time,” in reference to procedural rules.

The phrase turned into a rallying cry for women nationwide who have been talked over or ignored by men. Supporters, including celebrities, took to social media to turn the three words into a movement.

Producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted in July, “Yesterday, I used ‘don’t MAKE me reclaim my time’ on a room of entitled men. They shut up. The Maxine magic is real, y’all.”

Women’s Convention organizers announced in September that a spin on the catchphrase, “Reclaiming Our Time,” would be event’s theme. Waters was also the first speaker announced among a lineup that included actress Rose McGowan, U.S. Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Democratic Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and dozens of activists.

Before Waters spoke Saturday, Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March, told The Detroit News that Waters is “a champion of women’s rights.”

“She has become a leader of the resistance and also of our intersectional women’s movement today because a lot of us look up to her,” Bland said. “We see her being unapologetic. We see her speaking truth to power and we see her when she says the phrase, ‘reclaiming my time,’ that resonates so much with so many of us because our time is constantly being demanded of us, not asked.

“It’s demanded that women give 100 percent of ourselves to everything we do at home, at work, in politics and with very little coming back to us. So for Maxine Waters to say, ‘Reclaiming my time’ was very inspiring.”

Stephanie Mitchem, 67, is from Columbia, South Carolina, where she says white supremacy runs rampant. She came to the Women’s Convention because she’s thinking about getting involved in politics. A Waters fan and African-American, she said that the Congresswoman represents how women like her can be political actors.

“I think we as African-American women are coming into our own politically,” Mitchem said, “so I think she’s symbolic in a way that she’s showing it can be done, she’s showing it is possible to speak truth to power, she’s showing that there’s no need to back down.”

ssteinberg@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg