Dear Representative Barbara Lee,
In 1998 you were elected to the House of Representatives; I was ten years old. Over the last nineteen years you have served my community and myself with courage and integrity. Please consider this a very belated thank-you note.
In 1998, I was getting bullied at school. Maybe I’d heard your name on the radio, but couldn’t have connected your representation with anything that would affect my experience. Now I see how you’ve stood up to bullies throughout your entire career—even and especially when it is unpopular.
Three days after the 9/11 attacks, you were the only member of the House or Senate to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which allowed then-President Bush to use military force against anyone behind the attacks—and "associated forces." You called it a “blank check”; I wish your words hadn’t been so prescient. Again and again you’ve drawn attention to this authorization, fighting to finally end an unprecedented war. In 2002, while Bush administration officials pressured your colleagues into supporting the Iraq War, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, you chose to answer to your conscience.
In the last few months, you’ve been speaking out against an administration led by a man who attempts to intimidate anyone who questions his actions—someone who has vowed to imprison his political opponent through extrajudicial means.
When no Senators were willing to do so, you refused to vote to certify the Electoral College’s votes for Donald Trump, citing evidence of voter suppression in communities of color. You were one of the first members of Congress to boycott his inauguration and commit yourself publicly to resisting the man who “rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House." You signed a letter opposing white nationalist and domestic abuser Steve Bannon’s appointment as White House Chief Strategist. You took to the floor to oppose the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions, a racist, sexist opponent of human and civil rights, as Attorney General. You drafted amendments to protect Planned Parenthood services from the budget resolution gutting the Affordable Care Act, and stood up to the Rules Committee when they refused to even allow debate on them.
In every stand you take, you bring your memory of past injustice to bear. You reminded Congress—and the American public—of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution when it passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force act after the 9/11 attacks. You reminded us of Senator Sessions’ racist comments, opposition of the Violence Against Women Act, and disregard for the Voting rights Act. You reminded us that the people most affected by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would defund Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings and STI testing, will be those whom our government has seldom afforded equal protection: “low-income women, women of color...the poor, seniors, and disabled individuals.”
This weekend I marched, with millions of others, in protest of an open racist and sexual predator being sworn in as our President. Many of us are looking for something productive to do in what feels like a hopeless time. Calling, emailing, writing elected officials is a powerful tactic, and it’s much more effective to contact those who represent your own state and district. There are many of us out there writing and calling our representatives in warranted anger. But your record is so aligned with my beliefs that when I write to you, it’s to thank you; if that’s a problem, it’s a good problem to have. When I think about the courage it takes to stand up for those in need, to stand your ground against people who will try to punish you for it, I am so proud to know you represent the East Bay, the place that made me who I am and continues to be my home. You’ve inspired me to speak boldly and stand my ground. I will do whatever I can to help you organize and prepare for resistance; as you said, the fight is coming. I am so grateful to have you on my side.
13th district Oakland, CA
Art by Sara Jacobson