Sat, Jul

We’ve Come Too Far and Fought Too Hard. The Clock Will Not Be Turned Back


VOTING RIGHTS-This week marked the one-year anniversary of the death of the civil rights icon, conscience of Congress and king of Good Trouble John Lewis, who over 50 years fought, bled and almost died for what he deemed "the soul and heart of the democratic process" - the right to vote.

With state and Congressional Republicans shamelessly working to shred that sacred right - and with gerrymandering, the filibuster and the Supreme Court on their side - civil rights leaders and other sentient beings are struggling to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or For the People Act, to protect Lewis' legacy and his core belief in "the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy." Three weeks ago, the Revs. Jesse Jackson and William Barber were arrested during a protest over voting rights and the filibuster; last week Texas Dems fled the state to protect their own constituents' rights as civil rights groups met with Biden to urge him to do more; Friday, black women organizers met with Kamala Harris to do the same. And Thursday, Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, led a protest at the Hart Senate Office building, where they linked arms, sang "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine”, and insisted, still, "Let the people vote." "We have come too far and fought too hard to see everything systematically dismantled (by) those who wish to silence us." Beatty said in a statement,later adding, "This is not a black issue...It's an American issue." For making Good Trouble,  she and eight other black women were zip-tied and arrested - like Lewis and many before her, but, she noted, unlike any of the thousands of domestic terrorists who rioted Jan. 6, which was weird.

On Saturday, the date of Lewis' death, he was honored in Atlanta, across Georgia, and in places like Nashville, Tenn. where his 1960 sit-in at a lunch counter - set upon by water hoses, wet brooms and fumigation machines - became "emblematic of civil rights in the Jim Crow south." Around the country, candlelight Good Trouble vigils were held urging we keep fighting for "the very foundation of our republic." For almost 60 years, Lewis was an exemplar of integrity and equality, likewise calling on his compatriots to "help redeem the soul of America." For his trouble, writes DNC chair Jaime Harrison, he "was harassed, beaten and bloodied within an inch of his life. And yet, he was one of the sweetest, kindest people you would ever meet. There was not a shred of bitterness (for) what he endured. In its place, he seemed to carry the spirit and power of the entire Civil Rights Movement." "As a man who had himself made history, he had a keen sense for when history was in the making," with "the power to break (people out of their bubbles and remind (them) their decisions were about more than the current moment...It was about bending the course of history a bit more in the right direction." Above all, Harrison writes, Lewis "truly believed in our ability to make change." Today, we can only beseech Congress and the rest of us to "show an ounce of the courage he would have showed in this moment." Lewis made his final public appearance last June, a few weeks before he died, at D.C.'s Black Lives Matter Plaza; thin but resolute, he watched a new generation take up his hard work. He wrote a searing essay about it - "Though I am gone" - published after his death. "I just had to see and feel it for myself," he said, "that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on." May it be so, and may he rest in righteous peace and power.


(Abby Zimet has written Common Dream's Further column since 2008. A n award-winning journalist who is involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.)