You may have seen the viral video of Congressional Representative Maxine Waters’ demands for “Reclaiming my time!” Video was taken during a proceeding in which Representative Waters is questioning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who responds with long-winded answers and indirect statements. Ms. Waters appears annoyed, and she is not interested in flattery. She wants a direct response to her question. When she does not get it, she appeals to protocol, which allows her to “reclaim” the time allotted to her (intentionally) wasted by a man who wants to dodge her questions.
The video was very popular on my social media feeds. I know of preachers who used “Reclaiming my Time” in their sermons the following Sunday. There were memes, of course. There was even another viral video of Mykal Kilgore singing his gospel composition of Waters’ words. He and Waters appeared on a TV show soon after.
It’s fairly obvious why this video–and the sentiment behind it–struck such a chord with so many people. We wish we could reclaim our time in situations where we are moving forward with a purpose, only to be met with delays and roadblocks from those who want to deter us. Sometimes, these delays are unintentional. But too often, they are strategic attempts to wear us down, distract us, and redirect our energy away from our goal. Ms. Waters wasn’t having it. She called out the delay tactics and held firm to what was rightfully hers. Her time.
Rep. Maxine Waters has attracted considerable attention in recent months as a vocal opponent to the President and his agenda. She is an icon to black feminists like me for embodying the kind of purpose and resolve that we seek to implement in our own lives. She is an example of a woman who knows her own power and is not afraid to speak truth to power to serve the cause of justice. Her example of fortitude and the appeal to reclaim time have been particularly inspirational as I feel the pressures of time constraints in the past week.
As August progresses, those of us in the US experience back-to-school time, when schools resume for the fall and children typically advance to the next grade level. It can be a busy time of preparation for students, parents, teachers, and school administrators. Even those who are not directly connected to schools feel the impact. Years ago, when I worked at an architecture firm, I would have to adjust my schedule at this time of year to compensate for increased traffic during my commute and an end to our office’s “summer hours” policy. As we head back into the school year, we leave summer vacations behind. For academics who have research demands, too, we face the end of a season that presumably has fewer interruptions and distractions from projects that demand focused attention and extended time blocks. I’m in the process of shifting to a new schedule and deadlines are approaching; this is why the call to reclaim my time feels so urgent right now.
Reclaiming my time is about being clear about what my purpose is and returning to it when the delays and detractors emerge. It’s not possible to add extra hours or minutes to the day to compensate for the ones that were wasted. So reclaiming my time requires being mindful about how I am spending my time. I need to determine whether certain interruptions are worth pausing for or whether I will ignore them and persist regardless. (I laugh heartily during the video when Rep. Waters interrupts Sec. Mnuchin’s response. She has no qualms about abruptly cutting him off, interrupting the delay!)
Reclaiming my time also means reclaiming a sense of what my time is really for. It is so easy for me, especially when facing deadlines, to evaluate my day on how productive I was. Did I use my time efficiently and effectively to do what I was supposed to? This mindset makes sense when I see myself as labor and my time as a commodity. But although I get paid to do certain kinds of work, and that work involves a considerable time commitment, it is dangerous to apply this “production” lens to my whole day. Even if my work is important, it must not eclipse everything that I bring to the world by being here.
I had an email exchange with a close friend and pastor earlier this week about reconceiving the time and effort I dedicate to work. She’s forming a church group to provide support and a foundation for artists to do prophetic work. When asked what I was hoping to find in the group, I wrote:
I don’t want to define myself by how much I do or even what do. And yet, I want to do the work God calls me to do. I feel like my motivation is different now. It’s not just for career success or to meet my employer’s expectations. I know that if I can trust God and be faithful in following my calling, I will be more fulfilled, and I will be of some use to others.
How we use our time is a test of faithfulness to the sacred power that gives us life. On what does my life depend? Reclaiming my time means becoming clear about what is most important and then refusing to cede power to the things, the people, and the mindsets that usurp it.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.