The Right Way to Honor John Lewis
Photo: By Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call
Friday July 17th dealt a double blow. First, I noticed that civil rights activist Reverend CT Vivian had passed away, and then later that evening Rep. John Lewis had also joined the ancestors. The internet was inundated with selfies with Lewis and tributes for the good trouble the two had caused.
A chorus started calling for rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where Lewis was beaten on Bloody Sunday, 1965, along with other protesters. (Pettus was a Confederate general, a United States senator, and a great wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.) But a number of people who had participated in the events of Bloody Sunday or the election campaigns in Selma were suspicious. Lynda Lowery, who, like Lewis, had been beaten on the bridge, Explain, “I left my blood and my tears in the cement of this bridge. John too. Like a lot of other people … if we’re trying to fix the things that are broken, then let’s fix the things that are broken.
There were reasons to be concerned. Seven years earlier, on February 27, 2013, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, then-Speaker of the House John Boehner, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Lewis and others joined the President Barack Obama to dedicate a statue of Rosa Parks. in the Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol – the first life-size statue of a black man to be installed there. Obama praised Parks’ “singular act of courage”, while McConnell celebrated, “What a story, what a heritage, what a country.”
That same day, across the street, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. The Shelby County, Alabama case challenged two parts (Section 4b and Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 dealing with what’s known as federal preclearance, which requires that any changes affecting certain states and municipalities vote to be authorized by the Justice Department before being enacted to see if they will affect voting rights or voter turnout. In June of the same year, the Supreme Court struck down part of the law (Article 4b) which decided which municipalities would be subject to preclearance, saying it had “no logical connection to the present”. They dropped the provision allowing preclearance (Article 5), but Congress would have to come up with a new formula to which municipalities would be subject. But seven years later (under Obama and now Trump), there isn’t one in place yet, which means voters – especially black and minority voters – are not protected from growing local restrictions on their votes. rights.
In other words, the day Congress and the President dedicated a statue in honor of Rosa Parks, a key part of the voting rights protection that Parks and his comrades fought for decades for s ‘ensure that it is besieged and ultimately lost.
There is a dangerous bait and change that these kinds of honors can accomplish. They place the struggle firmly in the past.
There is a dangerous bait and change that these kinds of honors can accomplish. As they celebrate the courage and lifelong service of freedom fighters like Rosa Parks and John Lewis, they place the struggle firmly in the past and focus the public’s task on remembrance, covering contemporary struggles and suffering. current. Erecting statues (and changing the names of bridges) too often becomes an end in itself. Political leaders appease us with these achievements, providing cover for those who avoid the hard work of racial justice to appear as if they are doing something. Such honors risk individualizing the movement, neglecting the myriad of people who have fought and risked their civil rights lives to this day. “To speak of one person would be to forget all that Ms. Baker taught us… and that we have reflected in all the organization that we, the people of SNCC, have made,” said Judy Richardson, Coordinating Committee activist. non-violent students. Explain.
Lewis, Vivian and Parks fought for the rest of their lives, insisting the fight was far from over. The way to honor them is to fix what is broken: voting rights, health care and the criminal justice system, from policing to incarceration.
In December 2019, the House passed a bill to restore the voting rights law by introducing a new formula that requires preclearance for 11 states: nine in the South, plus California and New York, found to discriminate against Latinos and Asian Americans. As Ari Berman abstract in Mother Jones, “The bill would also require all states to obtain federal approval for electoral changes that are known to disproportionately affect voters of color, such as strict voter identification laws, Stricter voter registration requirements and the closure of polling stations in areas with large numbers of minority voters. This bill sat on Mitch McConnell’s desk for over 200 days.
States with new voting restrictions adopted since 2016
|Year||States with new or additional voting restrictions|
|2016||Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.|
|2017||Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Texas.|
|2018||Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.|
|2019||Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas.|
And it doesn’t go far enough. From 2010 to 2019, like the Brennan Center document, 25 states have adopted voting rights restrictions. In the 2016 election, 14 states introduced new voting restrictions for the first time: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. In 2017, Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Texas adopted new electoral restrictions, and Georgia, Iowa, Indiana and New Hampshire adopted others. In 2018 Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin adopted new restrictions and in 2019 Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas adopted more restrictions. Half of the country’s states have enacted electoral restrictions in the past decade; most of them are outside the Deep South.
Given the scale of voter suppression in the United States, we need a new formula that applies to every state and makes every state’s voting rules suspect. All changes should be inspected to determine their impact on voter participation. We need automatic voter registration, early voting and election day as a national holiday.
In addition, we need national legislation restoring the right to vote for those currently incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. Prisoners are counted for reasons of political distribution within the municipalities in which they are incarcerated – a modern three-fifths compromise, as the cities where the prisons are located are more represented, while those incarcerated generally cannot vote . In many states, even after people have served their sentences, they are deprived of their right to vote through criminal exclusion laws or new types of voting taxes. The day before Lewis and Vivian died, the Supreme Court refuse to let Florida criminals who have served their sentence vote in a primary without first paying costs, fines and restitution. A voting tax was ruled legal by the Supreme Court last week.
And let’s be clear, McConnell isn’t the only problem. Most of these new voting restrictions are enacted at the state level. So the way to honor Lewis, Vivian and so many others means being endlessly in insisting that Congress – and our state legislatures – do an about-face and begin to protect and expand voting rights.
We should also be careful that honoring these two heroes of civil rights, who died of natural causes, does not deter us from seeing all the people dying today who were not obliged to do so.
Two weeks before Lewis died, Pamela rush died of Covid-19. Rush had exposed the racism, poverty and environmental degradation she and her neighbors in Lowndes County, Alabama, knew during a congressional hearing in 2018 and across the country through the campaign of the poor. In tears before the committee, Rush had described the open sewers, predatory ploys, lack of health care and the courage it took to overcome the shame of speaking out: “They billed me over $ 114. $ 000 for a crumbling mobile home. I trapped about four possums in my house. … And I have raw sewage. I have no money. I am poor.”
The average per capita income in Lowndes County today is $ 19,491, 72% of its residents are black, and it has the highest Covid-19 rates in Alabama and no hospitals. “As a pastor, I can no longer say that God called them home,” Reverend William Barber explained, praising Rush and other poor Covid-19 deaths. “The systems of this world are unjust. The structures of racism – from unequal access to health care to environmental racism to be lumped into ‘essential jobs’ – have resulted in the number of blacks affected and dying from the novel coronavirus disproportionately high.
In 1965, Selma’s March to Montgomery passed through Lowndes County, where not a single black was registered to vote due to voter suppression. The day before Rush’s death, the Supreme Court overturned an Alabama trial judge’s ruling that would have facilitated absentee voting during the pandemic.
One of the dangers in the way the nation tends to honor civil rights heroes like Parks and Lewis is relegating such glorious courage to the distant past, sometimes abuse the civil rights movement to chastise and correct young activists. But with the protests against George Floyd’s death at the hands of police constituting the largest wave of civil rights activism in the country’s history and 2.5 million people across the country participating in the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Rally on June 20, yesterday’s problems are just as urgent today. Today’s activists are picking up the slack with the kind of courage, persistence and faith in disruption that these elders have shown. Let’s not settle for a bridge name.
Correction: July 21, 2020
This article has been updated to more accurately describe Federal Preclearance.