Congresswoman Barbara Lee returned to her alma mater, Mills College, on Apr. 15 to discuss her memoir as well as her work for social justice.
“How good it is be here, to return to the scene of the crime,” Lee said about her return.
Constituents from the Oakland neighborhood along with members of the Mills gathered in the Chapel at 6:30 p.m. to hear Lee speak.
Lee’s memoir, entitled “Renegade for Peace and Justice: Congresswoman Barbara Lee Speaks for Me,” details her life from her birth in El Paso, Texas to her work on Capitol Hill.
Lee said she decided to write about her life in order to give her side of the story after conservatives portrayed her as a traitor to the U.S., particularly when she voted against the 2003 Iraq War.
One such portrayal was John Fund’s opinion in the Wall Street Journal.
“One wishes Ms. Lee were just a clueless liberal, but her history leads me to conclude that she is … someone who ‘always blames America first’,” wrote Fund about Lee being the sole person in congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists former President George W. Bush requested after the September 11 attacks.
Lee said her life was already public. “It is important to understand that when you are a public official, 99.9 percent of your life goes to the public,” Lee said. “It was a real inspiration to put my life together in this book.”
Her book also included her experiences as a battered woman, which she said was a foundation her efforts to end domestic abuse against women.
“[My advocacy] is driven by a sense of righteousness to me, my mother, my grandmother, and other women,” Lee said.
Her advocacy and legislation has earned her community awards and recognition. Recent awards include the Humane Advocates Award from the Humane Society in March and The Heroes in the Struggle Award from the Black AIDS Institute December 2008.
She also received a grade of “A” on the 110th Congressional Scorecard from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America i October 2008.
After the book discussion, Dean of Students Joi Lewis facilitated a discussion between Lee and two Mills professors: Ethnic Studies Department Head Julia Sudbury and fellow Ethnic Studies professor Amina Mama, who is also the Barbara Lee Distinguished Chair in Women’s Leadership.
Mama praised Lee’s memoir. “The power of this book, the way you have written it; you are living history,” she said. “Anyone who reads it are empowered with your words.”
Members of the Oakland community came to see Lee. One Mills alumna, Estrella Redua Class of ’65 came with her friend Peggy Woodruff, Class of ’58.
“I said to Peggy when I first came into the Chapel that this is our dream – that we as alumni and the community can come see Barbara Lee,” said Redua.
Jessica Ewing, a resident of Oakland and an accepted applicant for Mills College, said she was excited about Lee’s visit because “my mom talks about Barbara Lee a lot.”
“I think that it’s great that Mills allows the community to be apart of her political process. And I feel that more young people should be apart of the political process,” she said.
Giuletta Aquino, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, also had kind words to say about the congresswoman.
“Barbara Lee is one of the crowning glories of Mills College,” said Aquino. “She is an inspiration to women from all generations. She is an advocate for all humanity.”
The Mills Ethnic Studies Department, the F.W. Olin Library and the Global Fund for Women all helped with the event.