A group of black women is imploring House Speaker Paul Ryan to reverse his request for a public apology from Rep. Maxine Waters after she recently told people to confront administration officials in public places, including with crowds.
A little over a week ago, the group of leaders in politics, business, media, and technology who are calling themselves #IStandWithMaxine addressed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticizing them for their own less explicit criticism of Waters.
“We, the undersigned, are writing to express our full support for Congresswoman Maxine Waters who has been unjustly attacked by Republican and Democratic Party leadership for challenging the Trump Administration to end its morally reprehensible ‘Zero Tolerance’ immigration policy, which has resulted in separating more than 3,000 children from their families.”
In the letter, obtained late Wednesday by BuzzFeed News, Ryan is asked directly to rescind his request that Waters apologize for statements she made during a protest rally against family separations at the border. Her statements riled an audience who had come to stand against the Trump administration policy which had separated thousands of children from their families.
“Let's make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd,” she said. “And you push back on them. And you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
The comments drew sharp rebukes from the leadership of Waters' own party.
The response to Ryan, a top Republican, represents a different approach. But Ryan took his statements a step further than Pelosi and Schumer, calling on Waters to publicly apologize at a news conference late last month.
"When we in this democracy are suggesting that because we disagree with people on political views, on policy views, on philosophical views, that we should resort to violence and harassment and intimidation ... that’s dangerous for our society, dangerous for our democracy, and she should apologize and there’s just no place for that in our public discourse,” said Ryan.
Waters’ supporters and detractors have distinct interpretations of her intent, a split that is sharply divided along racial lines.
There are those who see the comments as too much — the idea of creating crowds around individual officials suggests, to these people, calls for mobs.
There are some top Democrats discussing privately the parameters of protest, according to various sources that have spoken with BuzzFeed News: Can marching, agitating, or engaging in direct action with the intent to create discomfort be considered harassment or intimidation?
A third view shared by black Democrats sees the type of political activity Waters encouraged as a bedrock of American democracy that has helped afford generations of black Americans greater freedom.
“Her advocacy of peaceful protest as a means to ensure responsive government follows a long tradition of such practice in American history, from the founding of this nation, the ending of slavery and segregation, to securing the right to vote for women and people of color," the letter reads. "By encouraging citizens to engage in peaceful protest and to hold government officials accountable for this administration’s policies, she has reminded us of the First Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States."
Kimberly Peeler-Allen, cofounder of Higher Heights for America, a group dedicated to electing black American women to office, said that Waters’ Democratic colleagues could be using the moment “when her truth is resonating with so many Americans across generations and ethnicities” to the party’s political advantage as a means to “fortify the coalition.”
But #IStandWithMaxine's letter to Ryan frames the issue more around defending Waters from invective.
"As the Speaker of the House, the third highest-ranking elected official in the nation, it is your Constitutional duty to lead all Americans and we ask you to demonstrate leadership now by calling for an end to these unmerited assaults against Congresswoman Waters’ character," the letter reads. "Our American democracy is diminished when you allow false narratives to fester in the halls of Congress and in the public for partisan gain. Incivility, name-calling, and falsehood is the tone set at the top."