What We Are Called To Do, in a Screenshot


July 30, 2020

Promise and peril.

I was listening to the funeral service for Representative John Lewis through the Washington Post website. The view gathered up our moment: the long and courageous march towards justice that John Lewis urges us to continue, the forces that stand against the full expression of democracy, and the ongoing harm that such injustice inflicts. 

President Obama’s moving eulogy named John Lewis a “founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.” He told about how the televised views of state-sponsored violence against determined Black marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge shocked the conscience of a nation.  Then and now.  One of John Lewis’ last acts was to stand at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, to celebrate the new protesters.  He reaches out to us today in his words published in the New York Times“Democracy is not a state.  It is an act…” In deep red BREAKING contrast, the top of the Washington Post website reminded us of Donald Trump’s latest failure to uphold the constitution – in fact, his continued flouting of the laws and norms of our democracy.  And the opinion piece on the right, Trump’s racist housing tweet is par for his familyis more unsavory evidence.  John Lewis is telling us that we must act continuously to defend and extend democracy, because the forces standing for privilege will seize every opportunity to thwart it.  I was going to quote President Trump’s racist tweet here, but honestly, I don’t have the stomach for it – not on the same page with a remembrance of John Lewis.  But read it – and know again how much there is to fight for. 

At the bottom of the screen is the part that reminds us of the harm of injustice.  The pandemic tanked the economy.  Some of that would have happened no matter who was in charge.  But we see now that after a brief and minor respite, unemployment claims are rising again, because the Trump Administration has not cared about who would be hurt by a premature re-opening.  Time and again, we have seen how inequitably this harm is meted out.  The Black Lives John Lewis sacrificed for and represented are dying at close to four times the rate of whites from COVID-19 (adjusted for age). Since March 13, nearly six out of ten Black households have lost income from work, and about 30 percent are behind in their rent.  The Senate Republican majority proposes to do nothing about that in their grimly unhelpful COVID bills, except to make it worse, slashing unemployment benefits, proposing no new housing assistance, and letting an eviction moratorium end. 

John Lewis had a long vision.  He could see the possibility of gaining voting rights and better lives despite murderous oppression.  He would help make that vision a reality.  He also knew how tenacious oppressors can be. 

So that is our moment:  we grieve for a true hero but are impelled forward by what he teaches us.  Democracy is an act, that is, requiring our continued action to fight against direct and indirect forms of state-sponsored violence – whether in Selma, D.C., or Portland, or anywhere people are sickened and dying because of racism and poverty. 

Black Lives Matter
U.S. Rep. John Lewis