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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, now in her ninth term in Congress, emphasized the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and voting rights issues during her Santa Cruz appearance. (Listen to podcast of the convocation.)

February 26, 2007

Rep. Waters asks, 'What would Martin Luther King do?'

By Louise Donahue

It's been nearly four decades since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life was cut short, but the civil rights leader can still serve as a guide for the nation, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters told the crowd at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on February 20.

Photo of Maxine Waters
Rep. Waters met with student leaders during a midday luncheon at the University Center.

Photos: Matt Fitt

Speaking at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation, Waters suggested the crowd ask "What would Martin Luther King do?" about major problems.

Waters, who joined an unsuccessful protest of the official count of the 2000 Electoral College vote, said she thought King would have a lot to say about everything from voter intimidation to the infamous "butterfly" ballot in the 2000 presidential race.

Waters, the chair of the "Out of Iraq" caucus in Congress, added that King would probably have been marching in Washington against the war. "He would shame those of us who did not have the courage to take up this issue," she said, adding, "We're doing everything possible to get our Congress to adopt an exit strategy."

The congresswoman also speculated that King would have had plenty to say about the response to Hurricane Katrina, "including the fact that the United States did not discover there was poverty in Louisiana until Katrina." (Photos from before and after Hurricane Katrina, taken by UCSC associate professor of art Lewis Watts, were shown before the congresswoman's talk, with musical accompaniment by Karlton Hester, associate professof music.)

Hurricane Katrina recovery has been a high priority for Waters, who was heading to New Orleans soon after the convocation to lead a February 22-23 subcommittee field hearing about post-Katrina housing issues.

Noting that King had worked hard to alleviate poverty, Waters said she will be pushing to see that such issues become part of the discussion in the 2008 political campaign. "I don't care who you are--Hillary (Clinton) or (Barack) Obama--but if no one talks about the two Americas but (John) Edwards, I'll support him."

Waters appearance drew an enthusiastic response from many in the audience, with one person's shout of "Maxine for President," triggering a suggestion during the question-and-answer period that the city draft Waters for president.

In giving the congresswoman the key to the city, Mayor Emily Reilly said, "I present you the key to our city. You already have the key to our hearts," and noted that Feb. 20 had been officially declared Maxine Waters Day in Santa Cruz.

Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal welcomed the crowd to the Civic Auditorium, with feminist studies professor Bettina Aptheker serving as emcee. The Rev. Deborah Johnson delivered the invocation, and Sister Paula Livers-Powell, director of the UCSC African American Resource and Cultural Center, introduced Waters. Students from the African/Black Student Alliance presented the congresswoman with a plaque.

The campus-community convocation is funded by UCSC's Office of the Chancellor, and cosponsors include the city of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Branch of the NAACP, and the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The convocation ended with a rousing performance by the UCSC Gospel Choir, directed by Valerie Jo Fiddmont.


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