Maybe you’d barely heard of Georgia Congressmen John Lewis before he questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s tainted election and announced he would boycott the inauguration. John Lewis is an iconic American, one of the great civil rights activists of the ’60s, a courageous and articulate leader and, in this moment of need, he deserves our attention.
To fully appreciate John Lewis, you need to know that in the ’50s and ’60s, the American states of the Old South, states like Alabama and Mississippi, were de facto police states for the Blacks within their communities. The Jim Crow South was real – police enforced segregation laws and Blacks were dispossessed of the most fundamental rights by authorities that were immune to accountability. The American legacy of the Klan, of lynching, was part of everyday life. The fight by civil rights activists was dangerous, and it required passion, commitment, and courage. Take a minute to listen to this link of protest singer Phil Ochs on “the state of Mississippi“.
John Lewis led the fight for equality in the South. As a freedom rider, at sit-ins, and at marches, he was beaten, arrested, and beaten again. On March 7, 1965, leading marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge into Selma, Alabama, he was beaten by Alabama State Police and his skull fractured by a blow from a nightstick. Lewis was with the Black leaders that negotiated with Lyndon Johnson to obtain the basic federal civil rights legislation including the voting rights act. And while, today we know about Martin Luther King, who gave his life in the fight, Lewis was there too, courageous, and articulate, and demanding justice and equality. So also take a minute to listen to yesterday’s tribute to John Lewis by Robert Reich on Reich’s resistance report. Finally, because listening to others talk about Lewis doesn’t give you the full flavor – that Lewis is the real deal – listen to this link to John Lewis himself in a speech yesterday in honor of Martin Luther King. (See also the Wikipedia article on John Lewis to understand the reach of this remarkable man, who Trump tried to slur “as all words, no action”. Never has Trump been so far from the mark. “Sad”.)
John Lewis is important today because, in his election campaign, Donald Trump evoked the American reactionary core – the same right-wing racists, bigots, and xenophobes that followed Jim Crow, and Joe McCarthy, the Klan, and the John Birch Society. That reactionary core never went away; they have been stewing, biding their time. And now, they have their man. They are out to consolidate their power and make hay while the sun shines. While Hillary and Bill Clinton and the bulk of our elected officials are making plans to attend Trump’s inauguration, thereby giving cover and legitimacy to the self-evident evil of a Trump presidency, Lewis, alone among national leaders, has, again, courageously stood up for our rights. Let’s rally behind him. Our officials should join his boycott.