At age 80, after 60 years as a civil rights leader advocating non-violent protest for social justice, John Lewis has some encouragement for the ongoing struggle. At The Bitter Southerner, Cynthia Tucker writes about Lewis’ prolific history of activism, the people and principles that have inspired his work, and his advice to anyone determined to help make a difference.
As so many of us were, Lewis was ecstatic when Obama was elected, but he knew better than to believe that it heralded a “post-racial America.” Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, he said, “If you ask me whether the election of Barack Obama is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, I say, ‘No, it’s just a down payment.’ There’s still too many people 50 years later, there’s still too many people that are being left out and left behind.”
And, so, he kept on working, casting votes in Congress for progressive causes and making speeches around the country encouraging young people to “get in good trouble.” March, his graphic novel trilogy about the civil rights movement, was on The New York Times bestseller list for six consecutive weeks, introducing the power of nonviolent protest to a generation of young folk bored by speeches and history texts. (That trilogy, by the way, would be an excellent resource for the many leaders of the protests who are advocating non-violence and for those who intercede when they see interlopers at the marches fomenting trouble.)
And what about voting as “good trouble”? In an impassioned essay in The New York Times, well-known Democratic activist Stacey Abrams acknowledged, “Voting feels inadequate in our darkest moments.” Yet she urged those sick and tired of being sick and tired to cast a ballot. (She also quoted Lewis in the essay.) “Voting is an act of faith. It is profound. In a democracy, it is the ultimate power,” she wrote.
Lewis, of course, echoes that. “I happen to believe the vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society,” he told me. “We cannot give up on the democratic process. We have to vote.”