At 70-years-old, African-American Congresswoman Barbara Lee still hopes to “save the world.” The representative of the 13th district in California spoke in honor of Women’s History Month on Thursday night at an event arranged by AU College Democrats and the Kennedy Political Union.
Lee was born in a segregated city, El Paso, Texas, in 1946. She said she remembers the days when abortions weren’t safe or legal, and when white people wouldn’t sell or rent homes to black people.
Lee, however, was not always politically active. As a young woman, she refused to register to vote.
“I said no, I’m a revolutionary,” Lee said.
Lee enrolled in Mills College with two small children, on public assistance, to study social work. As a community worker with the Black Panther caucus, Lee invited Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to congress, to speak. Chisholm, dismayed by Lee’s skepticism, urged her to “bring a folding chair to the table,” and register to vote.
“She said no, you’ve gotta get on the inside,” Lee said, who went on to work for Chisholm’s historic presidential campaign in 1972.
Lee attributes her strength to her “very modest, very matter of factly,” activist mother -- the first of twelve students integrated into the University of Texas at El Paso.
“She said… don’t you dare think you’re not as good as another guy,” Lee said. “You’d better fight to let them know you’re here to stay.”
Congresswoman Lee arrived an hour late to the event because she was held up by a vote in the House of Representatives.
“This is what happens on Capitol Hill: you get late votes,” Lee said. “Thank goodness we got out!”
Most students waited the extra hour, eager to hear the congresswoman speak.
“If everyone was more like Lee, the world would be a better place,” AU senior Nick Guthman said.
Lee advised students to follow their conscience, and to know their “bottom line.”
Sophomore Shaan Chilukuri pointed to Lee’s pattern of voting against the status quo, like the Patriot Act of 2001, as proof of her “anti-establishment, trailblazing” political style.
“The military has enough money,” Lee said. “They’re wasting it. They want more funds to take it away from schools and education to build more missiles and more bombs. That’s not how you create world peace.”
Lee has also co-sponsored legislation to create a U.S. Department of Peace. The legislation, which has accrued 30 co-sponsors, would examine alternatives to war and violence.
“We have a Department of War, why not have a Department of Peace?” Lee said.
In terms of the new administration, Lee was irate. She dismissed Paul Ryan’s knowledge of healthcare and criticized President Donald Trump’s plan to cut foreign aid by 36 percent.
“I see what this Trump administration is doing, trying to roll back all of the gains that my mother and my grandfather and my ancestors fought for,” Lee said. “We’re not gonna let that happen.”