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John Lewis Is Your 2020 — And Forever — Legislative Badass

Kids, not to take away from those in Congress who are still fighting the good fight — Katie Porter and her Whiteboard of Justice, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez flaying witnesses with truth, Adam Schiff laying out the case for Trump’s impeachment — our choice for 2020 Legislative Badass has to be Rep. John Lewis, who died July 17, of pancreatic cancer. He left behind an America that he had helped to make measurably better, at a time when young Americans had taken to the streets to continue the fight for justice. As Wonkette’s Stephen Robinson wrote,

It hardly seems fair, as the demons he battled throughout his life still endure. The cops who beat him bloody in Selma aren’t the same ones who bludgeon protesters today, but they have the same Nuremberg excuses: “We’re just following orders.” Lewis defied the unjust laws of an unjust society, and that will always put you on the opposite end of a police baton, rubber bullets, or tear gas.

It’s easy to get sentimental about John Lewis the civil rights icon who talked about getting in good trouble, which is fine and well because God knows we do sentimental here. But it’s also worth remembering that Lewis and those he marched with faced billy clubs, tear gas, police dogs, and, not infrequently, the threat of the bomb or the bullet that would shut them up for good.

America loves its heroes, but not necessarily at the moment they’re calling attention to the problems with America that demand heroism to address.


At Lewis’s funeral, Barack Obama recalled the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and the beating by Alabama state troopers that left Lewis with a fractured skull, and the eulogy was suddenly as much about 2020 as it was about 1965:

I imagine initially that day the troopers thought they’d won the battle. You can imagine the conversations they had afterwards. You can imagine them saying, “Yeah, we showed them.” They figured they’d turn the protesters back over the bridge. That they’d kept, they’d preserved a system that denied the basic humanity of their fellow citizens. Except this time there were some cameras there. This time the world saw what happened, bore witness to Black Americans, who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans, who were not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment, promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that.

Lewis, Obama said, vindicated that “most American of ideas, the idea that any of us, ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame, can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo.” John Lewis, Obama added, was every bit as much a founder of America as it’s meant to be as those white men, many of them enslavers of other Americans, who wrote the nation’s blueprint but didn’t get the construction finished (it’s still not finished):

America was built by people like them. America was built by John Lewises. He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals. And someday when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it’s years from now or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.

And if that isn’t a thought to take us into a new year, with a new president, and the nation’s first Black woman vice-president, I don’t know what is.

There’s plenty of work to be done, like passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to make voting fair again. To do that, the people of John Lewis’s home state need to come through with their votes in just five days — we truly believe that can happen.

But let’s close, once again, with John Lewis dancing, in the spirit of the thing that old anarchist troublemaker Emma Goldman never actually said.

Happy New Year to us all, every one.

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