Sunday marked two years since the passing of two giants of the civil rights movement. On July 17, 2020, Rep. John Lewis and C.T. Vivian transitioned from respected elders to honored ancestors. Now two years later, amid attacks on Democracy and the rolling back of rights both men fought for, there is strength in remembering their words and work.
Leading political figures used the day to remember their lives and work and encourage people to follow in their footsteps. Former President Barack Obama tweeted that everyone should be following in the footsteps of Lewis and Vivian.
“John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian dedicated their lives to fighting for freedom and equality,” tweeted Obama. “They believed we could remake this country until it lived up to its full promise, and now it’s up to all of us to follow in their footsteps.”
Sen. Reverend Raphael Warnock shared a photo of him sitting with Lewis to honor and reflect on the life of his “hero, mentor and parishioner.” Even before taking office, Warnock has been a persistent voice in the fight for voting rights and protecting Democracy.
“In his honor, today and every day, we must continue fighting to ensure every American has access to the ballot, and until then — we’ll keep making #goodtrouble in his name,” tweeted Warnock.
Lewis’ successor in Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, Rep. Nikema Williams has had her own taste of good trouble in late 2018, when she was violently arrested by Georgia Capitol Police while observing her constituents during a protest demanding every vote be counted. While some have tried to compare that demand to county every vote, with the fraudulent claims that arose after 2020,
“Two years ago, we lost a giant and a hero in Congressman John Lewis,” Williams tweeted. “I also lost a friend whose memory I cherish dearly, from his visionary leadership to small things that brought a sparkle to his eye. We honor his legacy by always getting into #GoodTrouble.”
In the past, many of his former colleagues across the aisle claimed to revere and respect him but stopped short of supporting efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shortly after his passing, the Voting Rights Advancement Act which Lewis championed was named after him.
After state legislatures moved swiftly to invalidate the measures passed in 2020 to make voting more accessible and roll back other protections and from abortion access to how to talk about race in education, it has become clearer than ever we can’t let up. In many ways, honoring the legacies of Lewis and Vivian is about the act of protecting Democracy and ensuring people can continue to enjoy the rights and liberties both fought to provide for all.
As the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights noted the freedom to vote and democray itself are unfortunately not guaranteed. “It has to be practiced and protected,” the organization tweeted. “With ongoing threats to voting rights across the nation, it’s up to all of us to continue his fight.”
Back in 2015, Vivian spoke with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now” about why it’s important to keep pushing and fighting for voting rights.
“There is nothing we haven’t done for this nation,” Vivian said to Goodman. “But we kept knowing the scriptures. We kept living by faith. We kept understanding that it’s something deeper than politics that makes life worth living.”
Reflecting on both men’s lives is more than a call to the ballot box. Their lifelong commitment to voting rights and democracy encouraged others into organized action year-round, not just at election time.
The time is now for all of us to consider how we are ready and willing to show up in this moment. There are many organizations engaging year round on the issues and more. Find one that aligns with your personal politics and throw down.
“Democratcy is not a state,” Lewis once said. “It is an act.”
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