Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has been the reigning meme queen of the Trump administration for months, but her procedural pushback during last Thursday’s House Financial Services Committee meeting may be her most viral moment yet. It stands out because it resonates far beyond its original context.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was testifying before the committee about the state of the international finance system when Waters, the committee’s ranking Democrat, asked why his office had not responded to a letter from her regarding President Trump’s financial ties to Russia. Mnuchin tried to sidestep the question with platitudes and compliments, apparently attempting to run out the clock on her questioning.
It didn’t work. Waters shut down his rambling and redirected him to her question again and again with the phrase “Reclaiming my time,” a stone-faced invocation of House procedural rules. And yes, the Internet rejoiced.
Who among us, after all, hasn’t lost irreplaceable time to a uselessly meandering meeting, a pointless conversation or a draining social interaction? Waters’s phrase rang out as a rejection of that made manifest, delighting all of us who have been spoken over, ignored or had our time wasted by others.
In a year studded with absurd examples of men interrupting their female colleagues, a dignified woman’s firm insistence on being heard and getting straight to business was a welcome and empowering surprise. After all, most of the recent newsmaking male-female interactions have been notable for the male counterpart believing (wrongly) that his opinion should take precedence over anyone else’s — whether the woman in question was a prominent representative in the House or Senate, a distinguished board member at a company-wide meeting or even a renowned theoretical physicist at a science convention.
And for many women and people of color, the phrase “reclaiming my time” felt particularly poignant, with the idea of reclamation specifically speaking to both the present and the past. Society has been wasting not only their time but also their voices, agency and potential — for years.
Yes, there is the ongoing silencing and underrepresentation of women and people of color in boardrooms and business offices. But there are also centuries of being unable to vote, run for office or participate in public life. There are decades of enforced or de-facto segregation by gender and race. And, more recently, months of watching a self-satisfied and often glaringly non-representative administration make decisions about our citizenship status, reproductive rights or ability to access health care while expecting those affected to sit quietly by.
Waters’s quashing of Mnuchin’s attempted misdirection used long-established rules to her advantage. That allowed it to be read by many as a powerful overturning of a system usually used to keep her and those like her in their place. Rather than continuing to cede the floor to others, “reclaiming my time” signaled that it was the moment for Waters — and maybe all of us — to take our power back.