Thursday, February 26, 2009
Q&A with CA Rep. Barbara Lee, American Heroine
Here is one politician I'd probably "fawn" over because of her integrity, openness and wisdom. This is the interview posted at C-Span with host Brian Lamb. I'm posting the transcript in its entirety. Just open two windows or a tab and you can follow along. I don't really have anything to add just that I forget she's in her 60's when she looks 20 years younger. Unlike Cheney the evil didn't sink in and age her! In case you haven't picked it up yet I highly recommend her book, Renegade For Peace & Justice. You can watch her discuss it on Book TV as well.
BRIAN LAMB: Barbara Lee, Chairman of the Black Caucus and the House of Representatives, what’s been your personal reaction to seeing an African-American in the White House?
BARBARA LEE, CHAIR, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: I tell you, Brian, I knew it would happen one day. I believed it would happen. When I first met President Obama, this is when he was running for the Senate, then listening to him at the Democratic Party Convention; I told many people, I said, ”You know, one day he will be the President.” I didn’t know when. But I am excited, delighted and he is doing an unbelievable job.
LAMB: Go to next level, what does it mean – I know you say that you knew he would be there one day or somebody would be there one day, an African-American, but what does it – what do you think it means to the community?
LEE: Well, to the community, to the country and to the world, I think it means a major breakthrough in many, many ways and it is, as many have said, really transformative moment. I think what he has accomplished in his campaign and now as President has broken through many, many glass ceilings, many barriers, we have a long way to go. This was a quantum leap. I mean this was a major, major deal. And to see him as a President of the country, as a leader in the world is quite an amazing moment for all of us.
LAMB: Now you have been very visible about your one vote and lot of others, but one vote back in 2001 where you were the one of – the one out of 421 that voted to do what?
LEE: That was a terrible time. It was right after our country had been hit with horrific terrorist attacks. It was, I think, three days later a resolution came forward to authorize the use of force. And that resolution for me was so broad and so you know an open ended. It was a blank check, really. And what it did was it gave not only the previous administration, but any administration the authority to use force imperatively. It was not specific and again, it really authorized a President to wage war. Only Congress can declare war, our constitution dictates that. So, why would we grant authority to any administration to wage a war? The resolution, as I remember, it said the administration is authorized to use force against any nation, organization, individual; the administration deems connected to the horrific attacks on 9/11. And in retrospect, when you look at how that has been used, it set the stage for Iraq and must that repealed and who knows where we would go in terms of preemptive strikes. It was a dangerous resolution and I – I just couldn’t vote for that.
LAMB: Here is the video view on the floor right before the vote was cast.
How do you look, well, almost eight years later?
LEE: I tell you, I still feel the pain of that day; I still mourn the loss of so many lives. And I am so angry like everyone as it relates to Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and what took place. And in no way am I Pollyannaish about a terror – I mean we have to address a terror and terrorism in a real way. But we have to address it in a way that doesn’t create more war, more terror and more violence. And as I look back and I have to say during that time it was a very difficult time personally, for my office, my staff member, my former Chief of Staff, Sandre Swanson, his cousin Wanda Green was a flight attendant on 593. That morning I was sitting in the Capital, had to evacuate, we were in an early morning meeting with the administrative SPA.
So it was a very, very horrible time and I think that you know we have not first of all, found Osama Bin Laden. Afghanistan is you know back – the Taliban is back in Afghanistan, the poppy seeds are growing. You know so what has – have we done over the last five or six years? We have to redefine this Global War on Terror and really try to figure it out in a way that doesn’t create more violence. We have to seek global peace and security and determine the best strategies to do that.
LAMB: Did you know at the time you were going to be the only vote?
LEE: Well, I knew that many people were concerned about that resolution. We had discussed it in our Democratic Caucus meeting and we tried to make it a little bit better, less broad. But some – and when you look at the Congressional records, some said, in essence what I said, but you know that was a terrible time. And the – the horror of the moment was very overwhelming. And so, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be the only one or not, I thought maybe you know a couple of members might vote against it. But when I looked up and saw that one red vote, I must say it was quite a scary moment, but my friends tried to get me to change that vote in a very compassionate way. I mean they knew what that meant. But for me, that was a moment of truth. I think that everyone gets to that point in their life where they have to throw down on something they believe and then I firmly believed then as I believe now that that was not the proper resolution at that moment without any debate except for maybe a couple of hours without a rational response. And members of Congress are elected to lead. And I think in moments such as that and in times of national security threats, it takes more time, more debate, more rational thought to try to determine what the best possible strategies are so that we don’t end up in a quagmire and in more wars where we don’t need to be.
LAMB: How long after that did the Capital Police give your personal protection?
LEE: Wasn’t too long after that because the threats started coming in immediately and may have been in two or three days. But I must say and I have to salute and thank the Capital Police because the Capital Hill Police were professional and they put their lives at risk for people that they provide protective service to. They were phenomenal in how they helped me out, they traveled with me and it was a very dangerous time.
LAMB: When did you give up that security?
LEE: I think it lasted probably about three months, I don’t exactly remember the timeframe, but it seems like it was about three months.
LAMB: In your book, Renegade for Peace and Justice, when did you actually publish this?
LEE: This was published in August of 2008, the initial edition.
LAMB: In your book you spent a lot of time on an era that I remember, the Black Panther days for you. How did you get – I mean you were a close friend and a confidant of Bobby Seale?
LEE: Yes, I was not a member of the Black Panther Party, but I was what, they called community workers. And community workers were people who volunteered on the survival programs, on the ten point program platform, which the Black Panther Party held, breakfast programs for children. Now – and the Panther Party really started the free breakfast programs for low income and poor children. So, I worked on those programs, I worked to help develop the community school. We held survival rallies where we gave out bags of food and shoes. People were desperate then as they are now just to have the basic needs. When you look at the sickle cell anemia movement, that began through the Georgia Jackson Medical Clinic, then later sickle cell research became more popular with the government. And so, the Panther Party started many social programs that I felt were very important for my community and made a lot of sense in terms of helping people just survive in terms of their daily needs and what they needed, housing, food, clothes, ten points was their platform.
LAMB: So how much of that past, we can’t possibly get it all here, the Black Panthers was full of drugs and violence and all that. I mean give us that; I mean Bobby Seale is still alive, isn’t he?
LEE: Bobby is a good friend and he is speaking throughout the country. He hasn’t – I don’t think believe that I receive the type of credit that he has owed because Bobby Seale was and still is a great organizer, a great intellect. I was a community worker in the early 70s and fortunately, I was focused on the part of the party that was the service oriented part, the school, the breakfast programs, the survival rallies. Actually Bobby Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland and he got into the run off. I was his fund raising coordinator in the early 70s. I think that the precinct operation, the way they organized at the local level, the grass roots organization really did help lead to the – it laid the groundwork for our first African-American Mayor of Oakland, Lionel Wilson.
And so, during the time I was involved with the Black Panther Party, they became very involved in politics, I got involved in politics through the Shirley Chisholm’s Presidential Primary in 1972 and that’s when I met many of the Black Panther leaders and they got involved in the Shirley Chisholm’s Primary Campaign also.
LAMB: Why didn’t you join the party back then, the Black Panther Party?
LEE: Well, I was a student at Mills College and I joined the Black Student Union. I was President of the Black Student Union, so I had my hands full. And I volunteered in many community efforts. It wasn’t only the Black Panther Party where I volunteered, I volunteered with many non-profit organizations in the community, with many churches. And so, my life was about trying to help others. And wherever I found, I could do that. That’s what I did.
LAMB: I have got a list here of things that you have done in your life and I just want to rattle them off so that the audience can catch up with what I know that you were born in El Paso, moved to Los Angeles in 1960, graduated from San Fernando High School in ’64, volunteered with the Black Panthers in ’68, ’73 you worked for Bobby Seale, you just said when he ran for Oakland Mayor. BA from Mills College in ’73. Where is Mills College and what did you study?
LEE: Mills College is in Oakland, California, is a wonderful women’s college. I majored in psychology in undergrad and then I went on to the University of California at Berkley and received my Masters of social work actually in clinical social works, I haven’t messed up yet.
LAMB: Worked for Ron Dellums on his Congressional Staff, ’75 to ’91, is that right?
LEE: Seventy five to eight six, and also I was an intern, Cal in the Capital intern in 1973 during the Watergate Era.
LAMB: What did you do for him?
LEE: Everything. It was really great. Ron helped me break many glass ceilings. There were very few African-Americans on Capital Hill in top positions and very few women. And I was his AA, and Chief of Staff and we really put together a team in the office that helped support Ron’s legislative agenda. He was my mentor, he is still a friend, he is the Mayor of Oakland now. We worked very closely together on making our great city, the model city that he envisions and that he is really working day and night to embrace.
LAMB: Now in ’91, if I understand right, you ran and won the State Assembly seat in California. But what did you do between ’86 and ’91?
LEE: Between ’86, I actually left Ron’s staff and started a business and it was Lee Associates, well, it was the WC Parish Corporation, Lee Associates, WC Parish was my grandfather and he was an unbelievable man and so we named the company in his honor and it was a family run business, facilities management. We ended up, actually at one point, we had about 400 employees. I really wanted to see if – if I could create jobs; you know jobs for people who didn’t have an opportunity to work, had a union contract, benefits, the whole nine yards. So, it was really quite an amazing moment because as a business owner, I was able to learn more about tax law, worker’s comp, how to provide a stable business for my employees, but also how to make sure that employees receive the type of benefits that they deserved. And it was quite excellent, I think, run business. And this business, let’s see, I sold it in 1998 when I – when I came to Congress.
LAMB: But in ’91, as I said, you ran for the California State Assembly and won, and then in ’97, you ran for the Senate in California and won, but then right away, Ron Dellums, what happened, where did he go and how did you get into Congress?
LEE: I ran – I think I ran for the Senate in ’96. I was in the California Senate from to ’96 to – well, it may have been ’97 when I sworn in, it was about a year and a half. And Ron decided to retire in 1998 and he retired, I believe in the fall or winter, maybe it was November December. There was a special election and so, we decided that I would run. It was a surprise to me, I wasn’t sure when he was retiring but he decided that that was a moment for him. And so, we put together a campaign and I would never forget at the campaign kickoff, he actually brought a baton and he passed the baton to me. And it was a very interesting campaign. That year I had, I think, three elections, I had a special election, a primary and then a general. And so, that was a very intense year with campaigning. And the community rallied around me. You know Ron actually, I see, is the father of coalition politics. The 9th Congressional district is a wonderful district. It reflects the best of America. We have a multicultural district, a progressive district. We have people who historically have worked together, not always agreeing, but had put together the rainbow coalition really, and that’s what actually elected me.
LAMB: If my numbers are right, this morning I found 45 percent of the district is white, 21 percent is black or 20 percent roughly Hispanic, and 16 percent Asian and then 10 percent others. You know a very high percentage, 25 percent were born in other countries.
LEE: Sure. And it’s a great district because we have so many immigrants and that’s one of the beauties, I think, of my Congressional district because in many areas in the country, we are seeing more immigrants move into these Congressional districts and I always share how we worked together on our immigration issues, on – I mean my office, for example, the largest number of cases we handle are immigration cases, helping people with family reunification, with green cards. The department of Homeland Security historically hasn’t been you know quick enough in processing claims and what have you. And so, we handle quite a few cases in immigration and I am very proud of my immigrant community. We have immigrants from all over the world. And hopefully, we will have a comprehensive immigration reform in one of these days and we have to understand what immigrants bring to our country and that we are a country of immigrants and my district is really a district of immigrants from all around the world.
LAMB: I want to ask you about a speech that the Attorney General made this week, Eric Holder, what’s he pointed out that very sooner and this will be a country where there will be any one race that’s in the majority. And he said some things that have made the headlines and have some people talking rather controversially about, let’s watch a minute of it.
I know you haven’t seen that before because you are traveling. What’s your reaction to it?
LEE: Well, race has been swept under the rug. And I think we saw that after Katrina, the devastating response to Katrina. And that I think began a new dialogue about race and class and poverty. And we haven’t had these honest discussions as he said about race and I think he was absolutely clear in his comments that we do need to get past that. And personally, you know we, as he said, you know we may socialize during the day, we work together, but then in our personal lives, you see very little of the interaction that needs to happen in order to get beyond where we are and because often times and I – and I think about this a lot, we do get stuck, and there has not been a way to have an open dialogue about race. I was very pleased that President Obama you know gave his speech on race in Philadelphia. I think that’s an excellent speech and I think people need to reread that and understand that and not just leave it on the shelves but begin to understand what he was talking about and try to really you know open up more discourse on race.
LAMB: So what is he really talking about though? I mean are any of the code words, here is the – he didn’t get much publicity on the speech, not you, but he didn’t in the newspapers. USA Today had it on page four, America’s nation of cowards on racial issues, Holder says. What’s he talking about?
LEE: Well, I think you said what he is talking about in looking at the tape. He is talking about …
LAMB: Then how do we get beyond the word – you know we are not talking about this, so how do we talk about?
LEE: We start talking about it by a talking about it, by being honest about it. You know often times, for example, when you look at the disproportionate rates of incarceration among young African-American males, especially for non-violent drug offenses, there is a problem there. When you have you know the disparity in crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing, there is a problem there. When you look at the health disparities and when you look at the rates of HIV and AIDS, the disparities in cardiovascular diseases, there is a problem there as it relates to the African-American community. When you look at the unemployment rates, I think now over 12 percent in the black community, nine – unfortunately, nine percent, 9.3 in the country, there is a problem there.
So when you look at the institutional nature now of what has happened as it relates to race, its very devastating and we have to begin talking about it. There is a reason that there are so many African-American young men in jail. And it’s not just because they are bad kids. You know when you look at the fact that young African-American boys and girls drop out some – in some school districts, 50 to 60 percent, there is a problem there. And so, why don’t we talk about that instead of saying that, ”Well, that’s their fault. That’s their problem” There’s been a huge disinvestment of resources in low income communities, communities of color and the black community and people turn their – their head to that.
LAMB: So what would you do if you acknowledge that there are always problems, what would you do to change them?
LEE: Well, I would say that we have to work, first of all, as federal official and my job is to look and I am on the Appropriations Committee, is to look at resource allocation, how we spend our tax dollars. Are we going to spend our money, are we going to fund after-school programs, are we going to say, ”yes, we have got to keep our young black kids in school”, are we going to say, ”yes, we are going to make sure that the HIV AIDS pandemic is addressed in a big way”, we are working out to develop a national HIV AIDS strategy. Are we going to fund those efforts? And so, we have to be for real in terms of how we do our public policy and understand that race is a factor, it may not be the only factor. But when you look at budget resources and resource allocation, you can look at how much money and where we have put our federal dollars and we have not been supporting schools that have – in urban areas that have young black boys that who need that type of support so that they can finish school and not drop out and end up in juvenile hall and then on to state or federal prison.
LAMB: What do you make of a district here where they spend a lot of money, one of the most expensive school systems in the country? The federal government spends it and it doesn’t seem to work.
LEE: Well, I think you have to look at structure it’s not only about money, but it’s also about class size, it’s about teacher salaries, it’s about curriculum, it’s about the overall educational system. It – and again, yes, money, as I said is very, very important, but you have to look at what – what young kids need in school. You know go into the history for example, our young people need to have art and sports and history in their classes and in the school – school grounds – on the school grounds, in the curriculum because that helps young people develop a self esteem. It helps young people understand who they are. It helps young people stay ground and many of our young people come to school from poor families, they don’t have enough to eat. You know I think when you look at how school districts are organized; we may need more health clinics on campus. No schools are there to provide healthcare but young people often times go to school without having seen you know a doctor and they may not be well. They may have – and I have been working on this for many years. We need more counselors in schools. Often times behavioral problems are seen as – they, yes, are disruptive, but they are seen as problems that cannot be corrected except putting kids out of school or expelling them. But maybe we need more counselors to intervene on campuses, mental health counselors to help young people and to help their families understand what they are going through.
So, I think it’s the overall school system that needs to be addressed and how we have the support on our school grounds to help these young kids stay in school and learn and grow and develop the way we want all of our children to.
LAMB: In your book and there is a lot in this book about your personal life that you are wrote. You write chapter six, and you start off by saying this has been the hardest chapter for me to write and it’s all about your personal life and what happened to you when you were 16 years old. Why did you write that and why did you want people to know all these details on your – your – those teenage years?
LEE: Well, it’s very important, let me just say, for teenagers and who read my book, to understand the issues around a women’s right to choose and women’s healthcare and comprehensive sex education. Young people need to know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, I didn’t. Young people need that information about sex education so that they don’t get pregnant you know until they marry. And I think this abstinence only policy is not working. And you know I think it was under the Clinton administration and the welfare reform bill where abstinence only was put into law. And I have been trying for many years now to repeal that. Federal funds could not be used in our public schools to teach comprehensive sex education. Federal funds could only be used to teach abstinence only. And what I say and what many are saying is that, yes, abstinence, but we have to teach our young people comprehensive sex education, how to also prevent unwanted pregnancies, how to prevent the transmission of HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and why we need to focus our resources and tax dollars on a comprehensive sex education strategy so that we can help young people prevent unwanted pregnancies, help young people know what they are doing and help young people understand what sex education should really be about, not just abstinence only.
LAMB: Well, in the – in your book, you start off by telling us that when you were 16 years old you got pregnant and then you had a series of – you had two marriages, how many children?
LEE: Well, I have two children. And I actually got married when I was 16. And this was very difficult, I didn’t want to write this, but my editors and – said you have to do this because a book is about trying to help others and trying to inspire other to know that they can overcome their own challenges. So, I had to do this. But I didn’t necessarily want to write those chapters. But during that time, Roe v. Wade had not been the law of the land. And so, you could only get an abortion, a back alley abortion or you know go to Mexico and that’s what I did. And I am a strong advocate of preserving Roe v. Wade. We have to preserve women’s right to have an abortion, a woman’s right to choose. Many young girls now believe it always was like this but part of what I am writing about is it wasn’t always like this. Young girls got into trouble; many, many, many died as a result of not having access to adequate medical facilities and so – and I am a person of faith, I am a very devote religious person. And so, the moral dilemmas around these issues are very personal and very deep. But I think that as a public person and a lawmaker, I have to be able to be an advocate for young girls and women and preserving women’s right to choose and not going back to where we were before Roe v. Wade.
LAMB: But here you were at a very early age where you had all of these difficulties and you ended up Chairman of the Black Caucus and a Congresswoman from Oakland, California. How did – how did you deal with that back then? I mean you got pregnant, got married and then you miscarried?
LEE: Yes, it was hard. And you know everyone goes through challenges. I pray a lot, that was one thing that helped me get through.
LAMB: Are you Catholic? Are you still Catholic?
LEE: I am not a Catholic now, no I am a Baptist now, but I go to Catholic Church periodically. But I was a devoted Catholic there. And my family supported me, they helped through many of these difficult challenges that I have to overcome, domestic violence, I write about that. And so, it’s been a series of traumas in my life like many young girls, Black, White, Latino, Asia-Pacific, American had. And I think that what’s important is that whatever it takes you use and utilize to get through these issues in your life and what’s important again and why I wrote about this again, I didn’t want to, but I felt you had to be authentic. And if I were going to write a memoir I had to be authentic. You have to be able to help others.
Once you experience these issues, once you overcome them, it’s not just I have overcome and I am OK now, but it’s my duty and responsibility wherever I am, whatever I am doing to help others overcome their challenges and their problems and try to change those conditions that give rise to that. You know like I carried the Violence Against Women Act in Sacramento and I was a staunch advocate – Vice President Biden, of course, that his legislation at the federal level, I carried the implementation law for the state of California. I worked for many, many laws as it relates to domestic violence. And as I wrote this, and thinking about, I said, ”You know, this was it. This was what I have to do so that I can help other women understanding where some of the – the gaps were in these laws and have an experience, what I experienced, I had to do what I had to do.” And so you have to make things better.
LAMB: Let me read from your book, page 21, by age 20 you had two children and you lived in England and you were divorced. So, up by age 20, you married, you had a child, you miscarried, then you had an abortion, and then you had two boys? How old are they today by the way?
LEE: Boy, they are in the forties, 43 and 44 and I have five beautiful grandchildren.
LAMB: And then you said you went on warfare? I am going to quote here. ”I had to give my ex-husband pretty much every asset worth anything just to gain custody of children because I was one – I was the one who left Carl, who was a good husband and a father and I think he was guilt that he kept me from being more aggressive in pursuing child support. Carl was a good provider, husband and father, but that was not a problem, it was me, it was discontent with my suburban life and began to dislike him, resent him for no reason. Is this tough to put down on paper and have people to read it?
LEE: It’s very tough.
LAMB: Why did you do it though?
LEE: Why did I do it? You have to be for real in a memoir and in an autobiography; otherwise there would be so many gaps in the book, why would I write it. And so, I think honesty and integrity is very important.
LAMB: ”I would spend hours watching the television as if in a daze. Later on you said that breaking points – my marriage with Carl where he decided to go Jamaica for a vacation I didn’t rather than talk things out like adults, I refused to go. So Carl ended up going by himself. While he was away I moved out without telling him and took the furniture and my clothes and left.”
LAMB: Carl is still around?
LEE: Yes, that’s honest, he has remarried, two beautiful kids. What can I say? That was – I was in my early 20s and I think it’s important you know especially for public people and by no means did I talk and write about my entire personal life, but there were some issues in my history that I felt if I were going to write this you know I had to write about because hopefully, it’s instructive to others and it really also I hope helps the reader understand that not all members of Congress get to Congress as a result of charmed lives or having it easy and that we all come with history, and some with a lot of baggage, and some have broken through some of this and have tried to work and which I have tried to do all of my life to hopefully help clarify issues that may be muddy for other women and families and also to use my life to make things better for others.
LAMB: Tell the story that you open up the book and you tell the story about your birth and the forceps.
LEE: Yes, you know again growing up – I was born in El Paso, Texas, segregated. My mother, when she was pregnant went to the hospital; it was a Catholic hospital, hotel to deliver me. She needed a c-section. They wouldn’t admit her because she was Black. And so, my mother was in labor and she couldn’t get into the hospital. Now my grandmother, and again, going into family histories with African-Americans as a result of our segregation and slavery, my grandmother’s grandfather – her father was actually Irish. And so she looked white. And so, my grandmother had to come up to the hospital and say, ”This is my daughter.” Now my mother is beautiful, she is 84 and lives in Arizona and she has green eyes and she is fair but she wasn’t as fair as my grandmother.
So my grandmother went up to that hospital and say, ”You let her in, this is my daughter.” And so, you know and of course the admitting staff was a little confused because here they thought a white woman trying to get this sort of looking half way you know fair skin woman into the hospital. So they finally got in touch with the doctor and they let her in. But they didn’t do anything, they just left her there and I think it was – she sat on a gurney or a bed on – in the hallway and she needed a c-section. She was in pain, she was delirious. And they just did not attend to her or they didn’t do anything, just left her there. And so, finally the doctor got there and he said, ”Oh yes, this is my patient, let’s get here in, but it was too late for the c -section then. And so, she really almost didn’t make and I almost didn’t make it. So, they had to deliver me, use some forceps and I had the scar over my eye for many, many years.
And I learned the story as a child you know and it really moved me. Early on it was like how could they not let my mother in the hospital? You know what is that about the hospital, what is it about my mother? How is that that I never – that I almost did not make it? And I think for me and in writing this, I think that really began my life in terms of my commitment to try make things better for others and to try to address racism and sexism in a big way. And I wrote in my diary when I left El Paso, Texas, when I was 13 that – and again, my dad was 25 year military, Lieutenant Colonel and I can remember going to restaurants with him in his uniform and being told, ”I am sorry, we don’t serve and they would use the N word. And so, I experienced this racism, like others experienced in the South and in El Paso, Texas in a very big way. And that combined with how I almost didn’t make it here as a result of my birth really prompted me to write when I was 12 or 13 as we were moving California that I did not know how I would do this, I did not know when or what, but my entire life had to be about trying to correct these injustices that my family and my community and that I have been experiencing since I was born.
LAMB: Great grandmother is it? – was raped, repeatedly raped by a white Irish man. Explain that.
LEE: Yes, you know again, like with many black families, you know my great grandmother was a domestic worker in Louisiana in a household of Irish people and her – the man of the house was an Irish man who continually raped her. And that resulted in the birth of my grandmother and my aunt Anna.
LAMB: How did that word get pass down to you?
LEE: That word got passed down through my aunt, who is now 97 years old and still alive in Arizona.
LAMB: How – how old were you when you learned that?
LEE: Well, I heard it throughout my life, bits and pieces, snippets you know but you know how families, we don’t like to talk about those things and it was very difficult, my mother and my aunts, no one talked about it, really. But every now and then, I would hear a little bit here and there. And so, finally several years ago, I sat down with my aunt and we talked about it and I taped her and my mother and oh my God, the stories and what she told me and we talked to other people and I found out a lot. And I would encourage anyone who has an elderly family member to sit down and talk about their history and what transpired in their lives and what they remember and my aunt was very clear and so she put the pieces together for me. I said, ”Oh, so grandma Charlotte was in Louisiana when all of this happened, I didn’t realize that because grandma Charlotte, she died when she was 100 years old when she was in California. And so, you know and I remember her very well and I used to hear little bits and pieces of stories from her, but I wasn’t quite clear on her – how my mother and grandmother and my aunts, why they look the way they looked in terms of them being very fair skin when she was brown skin. And so she kind of told us a little bit about it, but not a lot and so my aunt, my 97 year old aunt, you know – you know put all the pieces together for me.
LAMB: Let me read this to you and have you explain some more. ”We were having dinner and everything was calm and normal at the table. I was using my bread to sop up the gravy on my plate, which for some reason made my father so angry that out of the blue he rolled up a newspaper and hit me with it like I was a puppy. This of course, made my mother angry and in retaliation she threw a glass of – bottle of water at him. She then grabbed me and my sisters ran out of the house and took us to stay with one of my aunts who lived nearby.” Now, there is a – as you go on to tell us, there is a hiccup on who really was your father? So, was that your real father there at the table at that time or he is?
LEE: I thought he was, but again and – he had legally adopted me and he was a wonderful man who loved us very dearly. He took care of us.
LAMB: He had gone?
LEE: And he passed last year, yes. And when I was 14 and I received a phone call in the middle of the night, and I was told by this man on the phone that he was my father, not my father and my mother was in the hospital and I had no idea what this was about. And it was very sad and traumatic for me and come to find out because he had been very abusive. My mother, of course, left him and she was a battered woman, he had threatened to kill her. And so we were actually in hiding for many years, my mother didn’t want us to know what had transpired. And so, my stepfather legally adopted us and I thought he was my dad and he took care of us and he is my dad. But my biological father had actually, he actually died about three or four months after he made several phone calls to me and my sister reaching out, trying to – I guess these were his – he knew he was dying and he wanted to establish contact. But my mother in talking to her and remembering now what was taking place, she really went through a lot and she finally just couldn’t take it anymore and left and left with her two little girls. And you know when you look at domestic violence, and when you look at those – the multigenerational cycles of domestic violence and how all of that happens, I wrote a little bit about that because battered woman syndrome and battered woman really have a hard time and you need to provide every bit of support for battered women, and we need to have a dialogue. Again, a public dialog, we need to talk more about domestic violence.
LAMB: What did you do – and let me read some of it, you meet your second husband, Bill, ”As our relationship progressed, he became increasingly violent. He would hit me and I went threatened to leave him, he would apologize, tell me how much he loved me and begged me to stay. There were periods of calm in our relationships but most of the time Bill beat and badgered me so much that my eyes were always swollen from crying. Living with Bill was a like a brutal cruel nightmare come to life from which there was no escape.” And what year was that and how long did you stay married to him?
LEE: That was, I think, early 70s, late 60s, early 70s. Actually we had gone together maybe for about a year and didn’t got married and I, of course, I thought it would get better. You know the abuse was taking place during the relationship and when we got married, it just got worse and worse and worse. And I think we must have been married maybe a year or so and then I finally just had to leave.
LAMB: What is it? You have studied psychology.
LEE: Psychology, yes.
LAMB: What is the violence with men come from in your opinion?
LEE: It’s very complicated. You know it’s a very complicated issue. There is so much, first of all, anger and frustration as a result of, first of all, when you look at what’s happened in our country in terms of African-American men and the economics of it, the discrimination, races, and you know the struggles that many men go through each and every day leads to frustrations that often times, not always, but often times are taken out behind closed doors. And I think it’s very important to recognize that you know we have to see domestic violence in a comprehensive way, not just as a personal anger thing because you know it is – that’s how it’s manifested. But there are many, many external circumstances that create the environment for domestic violence. And it’s again, it’s a very complicated issue, but women, I think, there are some women because of, as in my case, family history, you know haven’t figured out how to break out of those circumstances and it’s very important that we learn how to empower ourselves as women so that we don’t stay in situations like that and how we help men. I think men need, who are batterers, of course need to – the counseling and they need the support to get out of themselves. And so, it’s not just about the woman, it’s about the woman and the man in trying to figure out how to get the anger and frustration and the economics and all of those issues outside of the relationship.
LAMB: But let me ask you though. You know the question was about the man and you have come through all these years, experienced all this that you consider yourself – are you violent? And if you are not violent, why is it you haven’t been – why did you let the men off the hook? Why aren’t women more violent then? I mean they have gone through all the same things that men have gone through.
LEE: Well, I am not a violent person. And I think that I was taught non-violence in an early age and I witnessed violence in no way would I accept myself being a violent person. I mean there is only one way that we are going to survive is human beings and that’s understanding conflict resolution and mediation and peaceful solutions to our problems, both internally in our own families and also throughout the world. And so, I though, you know when I was in the legislature, worked a lot with the Governor then, Pete Wilson to try to and make sure that the battered women who were in prison who needed their sentences commuted or deserved clemency would be released from jail and I would never forget this and I wrote about this in my book that we had hearings and then I believe and she is a phenomenal Congresswoman, Jackie Speier and she was in the legislature then. We went down to Frontier Prison in Southern California to hold hearings with women who were incarcerated as a result of killing their spouses. And it was a – it was a very moving hearing because these women had histories of being battered. There were emergency room records, I mean they had been half dead many times. And for whatever reason, during one of those encounters, they reacted and they killed their batterers and so they were incarcerated many for life. And that was before and we worked very hard to get Battered Women Syndrome admitted into courts as it admissible evidence in court records.
And so, some women just can’t take it and react in those ways. And we have to understand that violence begets violence and trying to find peaceful solutions to conflicts and that’s what my life hopefully is about.
LAMB: All right. In your book, the title of your book is Renegade for Peace and Justice. I looked up the word renegade in the dictionary. You know what the definition is?
LAMB: Well, there are two of them. One is – and I want to ask you which one you are the one, ”A deserter from one faith, cause or a religion to another” or the second definition, ”An individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior.” So, which one are you?
LEE: A little bit of both. I think conventional behavior; I reject conventional behavior in many ways because you have to go against the grain to make things better. And I remember Shirley Chisholm who – she really helped me get involved in politics and encouraged me to register the vote. She said you can’t just go along to get along that if you see some injustices, conventional behavior is going to allow those injustices to continue. So, you have to go against the grain, you have to say if this is wrong, how do I make it right? And often times that means going against what the norm would be. And I think that’s what women and people of color have always done. That’s what Dr. Martin Luther King was about, that was Harriet Tubman and, Sojourner Truth, our ancestors, those who paved the way just so I could in Congress, so we could do the things that we are doing, so that Barack Obama could be President. They all went against the grain and conventional wisdom.
LAMB: Let me ask you about numbers. Is it still 42 members at the Congressional Black Caucus?
LAMB: And you are in sixth full term?
LEE: Sixth full term.
LAMB: You are Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus?
LAMB: How did you get there?
LEE: Well, I tell you, first, the Black Caucus is an unbelievable body of brilliant committed individuals who come to Congress from different places and who had been committed for 40 years, this is the 40 years of their existence and their founding, have come to Congress to make not only the Black community benefit from the fruits of our American society but the whole country in terms of making America better. And we are and have been considered the conscience of the Congress and I worked with my colleagues over the years on many, many issues and have supported them and they have supported me. And they decided to elect me as – as the Chair for this next two years, which I am very proud of and very humble to be leading such an august body of committed men and women.
LAMB: We covered a news conference of the Black Caucus. You were there, Charlie Rangel was there and Jim Clyburn, who is the Majority whip in the House, number three person in the leadership. Tell me, if – when I saw this I said this looks like a transformation of attitude based on the fact of Democrat’s power in the Congress in the House and the Senate and in black man in the White House. And just watch Jim Clyburn here and tell me if you see the same thing that I saw?
Couple of things, over his right shoulder was Bobby Rush, Congressman from Chicago, former Black Panther?
LEE: Absolutely. And when you look at that and when you look at what the Congressional Black Caucus accomplished in this economic recovery package, I am very proud of what took place. I established an Economic Recovery Taskforce right after I was elected in January and asked Congressman Cleaver, a phenomenal Congressman and Minister from Kansas to Chair that taskforce. And we early on looked at what we thought should be in this economic recovery package. And we decided that early on we were going to put forth what we thought needed to be that such as, of course, a large amount for our infrastructure and jobs. But we recognize that many in our communities throughout the country don’t have the necessary training for those jobs that are going to be created. And so, we were strong advocates for workforce training and for training funds in this package. We recognized early on that our schools are dilapidated and we wanted the modernization money and construction money for our schools. And we recognized early on that many people may be left behind or could have been left behind in this economic recovery package and we didn’t step up and talk about what we thought needed to be included to make sure that it became the broadest package to cover and employ the most amount of people.
And so, we proceeded on that and it was a very intense process and I have to thank Speaker Pelosi and our Majority Whip, Mr. Clyburn for you know looking at what the Black Caucus thought would be important in this package and being strong advocates in the negotiation. When you look at the neighborhood stabilization piece, many and – our neighborhood, many houses have been foreclosed on. Our neighborhoods, the entire neighborhoods that are just like demolished in many ways. And so, through the efforts of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who chairs the Housing and the Community Opportunity Subcommittee, we were able – initially it was $4.2 billion for neighborhood stabilization. The Senate zeroed it out and we were able to get $2 billion back in, not enough, but we are going to keep moving on that front to try to get more resources into neighborhood stabilization.
And so, as a result of the advocacy of our leadership and what the Congressional Black Caucus, as part of those negotiations, we believe that this package is a much better package that the entire country can be proud of.
LAMB: Just in the couple of minutes remaining, you did everything you could to stop the funding of the Iraq experience. What is your reaction to the fact that there has been no announcement that those troops are coming out yet and we have just heard an announcement this week from President Obama that there are 17,000 additional troops going into Afghanistan, which will take our numbers up to, well, it’s over 60,000 American troops, plus another 20,000 NATO troops. So, we are getting up there 80,000, 85,000 troops which is almost more than half the number that was in Iraq.
LEE: First to Afghanistan, let me just say Congresswoman Waters and myself, and Congresswoman Woolsey, we co-founded the Out of Iraq Caucus. And we wrote to the President last week about Afghanistan and we indicated in our letter that we hope that we would have a comprehensive strategy with regard to Afghanistan that we believed and historically we can see that military action alone is not going to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and that we have to really reevaluate and understand what this new definition of the Global War on Terror should be. And we are pleased that he has established a commission or a taskforce to really look at this and what we need to do. We are very careful about this because we don’t want to see this hole dug deeper. And …
LAMB: Are you pleased with 17,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan?
LEE: And these are combat troops, let me say, I think that it’s very important that we help in Afghanistan in terms of stabilizing the country so that we can help with their development processes and so we can help with figuring out how the farmers can find alternative ways to make money instead of growing you know poppies and what have you. And so, I am not – I think we have to be clear about what the mission is, is it stabilization or is it combat? I don’t want to see our troops put in harm’s way and another total combat situation emerge and that’s why we wrote to the President asking him to you know or at least encourage him to make a total comprehensive plan so that we know where we are going in Afghanistan so that we don’t end up with another Iraq. I have always opposed the funding for the operations in Iraq. This is a war that did not need to be fought. There were no weapons of mass destruction. You know, this administration knew that, we knew that.
And I have offered and will continue to offer the Lee Amendment which says that the only way we should provide money for Iraq is to protect our troops and contractors and to begin a redeployment. And I am pleased that President Obama has said that he does want to begin a redeployment; timeframe, I believe it was 16 months, I think and of course, there are some of us who think that it should be quicker, but we are going to work very closely with the President to make sure that we begin to bring our young men and women home. And they should come home and we need to provide for their economic security when they get home and for the benefits because they have fought, they deserve, they have served our country and they deserve to be taken care of when they come home.
LAMB: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, we are out of time and the book is Renegade for Peace and Justice and we thank you very much.
LEE: Thank you. Good to be with you.