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An Essential Primer on the Legendary Maxine Waters

Maxine Waters

The California politician may be Trump's most vocal critic in Congress, but fearlessness has long been a trait of this trailblazer.

Political junkies and most Los Angeles residents are well-acquainted with Maxine Waters, the outspoken congresswoman who's lately been the target of right-wing commentator Bill O'Reilly's lampooning -- he has called her clueless in her criticism of Donald Trump and said he was distracted by her "James Brown wig," a reference to the legendary soul singer. O'Reilly has apologized, and Waters has taken it all in stride, telling MSNBC's Chris Hayes, "I am a strong black woman, and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O'Reilly or anybody."

Well, Waters has shown that strength throughout her life. For those unfamiliar with her, here are some facts about Waters, a Democrat who since 1991 has represented a district covering much of south-central Los Angeles and several neighboring communities, making her the most senior African-American woman in Congress.

Waters was born in St. Louis in 1938. She was the fifth of 13 children, and began working at age 13 in factories and segregated restaurants.

She worked her way through California State University in Los Angeles with jobs in garment factories and at the telephone company -- back when there was just one. After earning her degree, she worked as a teacher and a volunteer coordinator in Head Start.

Before she was elected to Congress, she racked up a considerable progressive record in the California State Assembly. Among the things she championed were the divestment of state pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa; landmark affirmative action legislation; the nation's first statewide child abuse prevention training program; and the prohibition of police strip searches for those accused of nonviolent misdemeanors.

In 1990, Waters helped launch the group African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.

In 1992, in the wake of civil unrest in L.A. following the acquittal of police officers charged with using excessive force toward African-American motorist Rodney King, Waters helped deliver relief supplies to affected neighborhoods. She also founded Community Build, a nonprofit that works on economic revitalization in south-central Los Angeles.

In 1996, Waters voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, even though many of her fellow Democrats supported it, and it was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. DOMA prohibited federal government recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states. It was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

Waters led the effort to create the Minority AIDS Initiative, a federal program that since 1999 has funded organizations working to reduce the spread of HIV in black, Latino, and other minority populations, and improve health outcomes among those living with HIV or AIDS.

She was an early opponent of the war in Iraq as a founding member of the Out of Iraq congressional caucus in 2005.

She's now standing up to Trump. In the speech that drew O'Reilly's comment, she said, "When we fight against this president and we point out how dangerous he is for this society and for this country, we're fighting for the democracy. We're fighting for America. We're saying to those who say they're patriotic, but they turned a blind eye to the destruction he's about to cause this country: 'You're not nearly as patriotic as we are.'"

Her tweets against Trump have been particularly blistering. Here's a sampling:

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