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January 15, 2007

Rep. Maxine Waters to speak at annual MLK Convocation on February 20

By Louise Donahue

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and a champion of voting rights now beginning her ninth term in Congress, will speak February 20 at UCSC’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation.

Photo of Maxine Waters

Maxine Waters has represented the 35th Congressional District since 1991.

The annual convocation, part of the campus celebration of Black History Month, will take place at 7 p.m. in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street. The event is free and open to the public.

Waters has represented the 35th Congressional District of California, which includes a large part of south-central Los Angeles, since 1991, and was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1997-98. She first achieved national attention in the wake of the riots following the Rodney King verdict in 1992, when she helped deliver relief supplies in Watts and demanded the resumption of vital services to the area. 

As chair of the “Out of Iraq” caucus in Congress, Waters has stated her views in her characteristic, pull-no-punches style. Responding to President Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Iraq, Waters said, “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. By sending more troops to Iraq, the president is digging us into a deeper hole.” Waters and other members of the Out of Iraq caucus have urged a vote by the House of Representatives on legislation opposing an increase in the number of troops on the ground in Iraq.

Issues of voter access have been a high priority for Waters, who joined an unsuccessful protest of the official count of the 2000 Electoral College vote during a joint session of Congress in January 2001. Following the election, she chaired the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform, which held hearings throughout the country to prepare for congressional consideration of minimum federal standards for election practices. Speaking in 2006 in Ohio--the site of considerable controversy in the 2004 vote count--Waters voiced concern about the lack of uniform standards for electronic voting machines. "As far as I'm concerned, give me a good old paper ballot," said Waters in a Dayton Daily News article.

The congresswoman has also been a vocal opponent of the 2004 Haitian coup d’etat, which overthrew the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti and has defended the rights of political prisoners in Haiti’s prisons. She has been active in congressional efforts to cancel the debts that poor nations in Africa and Latin America owe to such institutions as the World Bank.

Prior to her election to Congress, Waters served for 14 years in the California State Assembly, where she was elected Democratic Caucus chair and introduced legislation to divest state pension funds of investments in South Africa, prohibit police strip searches for those accused of nonviolent misdemeanors, and set up a statewide Child Abuse Prevention training program. She also founded the National Political Caucus of Black Women.

Waters supported Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy in 1984 and 1988. In the wake of criticism following comedian Michael Richards’s repeated use of a racial epithet at a Los Angeles comedy club recently, Waters and Jackson joined forces in calling on entertainers, companies, and Americans in general to help eradicate use of what has come to be known as the “N word.” Waters called the epithet “unacceptable” for anyone—black or white.

Born in 1938 in St. Louis, Missouri, Waters was the fifth of 13 children reared by a single mother. She began working at age 13 in factories and segregated restaurants, and later moved to Los Angeles. She has a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Los Angeles.

In addition to UCSC, the 2007 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation is sponsored by the City of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, KUSP Radio, Inner Light Ministries, and the Santa Cruz Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.


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