By Will Norton-Mosher

According to Representative Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be in Washington today had he not been shot to death.

Waters, who has represented the 35th district of California since 1991, came to Santa Cruz Feb. 20 to discuss contemporary political issues and the legacy of Dr. King.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, which has taken place every year since 1984, was held at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Waters joined a list of previous keynote speakers including bell hooks, Shirley Chism, and Mirley Evers.

“We’ve had a range of extraordinary speakers over the years,” said Paula Powell, director of UC Santa Cruz’s African American Resource and Cultural Center and organizer of the event.

Waters spoke on a variety of issues including voting rights and immigration, but focused on the war in Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Waters also voiced a fear shared by other members of Congress that a United States attack on Iran is imminent.

“What we’re really worried about is that this buildup that [President Bush is] doing may be a cover for the fact that they would allow or encourage Israel to strike Iran and then the United States would move in as a backup,” she said.

Before becoming an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, Waters gained national prominence by delivering supplies to the devastated Watts neighborhood after the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

After the presentation, Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly presented Waters with a key to the city and proclaimed Feb. 20 to be Maxine Waters Day in Santa Cruz. The African/Black Student Alliance also awarded her with a plaque.

A performance by the UCSC gospel choir, led by Valerie Joi Fiddmont, concluded the event.

Curtis Reliford, the founder of Follow Your Heart Action Newtork, a volunteer group that goes to New Orleans to directly help Hurricane Katrina evacuee groups, also attended the event. Reliford said he appreciated Waters’ work.

“For a while I thought I was all alone doing this,” Reliford said.

Some attendees, like Isaac Collins, a Cabrillo College student who has traveled with Reliford in the past, thought the event was a huge success.

“I believe it was powerful, I believe it was inspirational, I think it’s the truth. Her words are going to shock the mayor, the government, and any official that represents New Orleans,” Collins said.

The day after the convocation, Waters went to New Orleans and led a field hearing for the housing subcommittee of Congress.

Afterwards, the mayor of Santa Cruz reacted to the event.

“It’s just so wonderful to be in the presence of someone who speaks the truth,” she said. “I’ll bet you that I’m not the only one whose going to be thinking over the next few days, what would Martin Luther King do? What would Maxine Waters do?”