Updated: Sep 22
Why you should say and do something in 2022
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on February 24, 2022)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
Congressman John Lewis over the years
When I look at the disarray that our country is in, I often ponder what I can do to be a beacon of hope for those who are so discouraged, uninspired, frustrated, depressed, and led astray by politicians. I cannot help but think about the inspiration that Congressman John Lewis gave to so many with his words and actions. Congressman Lewis often stated: “My philosophy is very simple, when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something, do something, get in trouble, GOOD TROUBLE, NECESSARY TROUBLE”.
John Robert Lewis was born near Troy, Alabama in 1940. His parents, Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis were sharecroppers in rural Pike County, Alabama. He attended segregated public schools in the Jim Crow South. As a young boy, he was inspired by civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and many others who helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
One of John Lewis's most memorable moments was on March 7, 1965, when he joined over 600 other marchers in an orderly, peaceful, and non-violent march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama. This march was in response to an event that happened a few weeks prior in Marion, Alabama, when state troopers clubbed protestors and fatally shot an unarmed voting rights protestor, Jimmy Lee Jackson, while he was protecting his mother from being struck by police.
John Lewis’s goal was to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to protest African Americans' basic right to vote. In Dallas County, Alabama, African Americans made up more than half of the population, while only accounting for only 2 percent of registered voters. To stop them from crossing the bridge, Alabama state troopers charged the crowd of peaceful protesters, violently pushed them to the ground, and brutally attacked them with billy clubs. This day will forever be known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday is just a snapshot of our nation’s long history of suppressing the votes of those who are deemed as unworthy.
As a Black man, I strive to follow in Congressman Lewis’s footsteps. Other’s plight is our plight. As I strive to raise awareness and inspire others to be concerned about the wellbeing of all in our community, I am motivated by the words of late Congressman Lewis. Words that deserve to be elevated at a point in time, when once again, the rights of minoritized groups are at grave risk.
In 2018, Congressman John Lewis warned, “it's a very difficult time that we are going through in America and my greatest fear is that one day we may wake up and our democracy is gone”. While this quote may have been viewed as irrelevant in 2018, it is fully relevant today as state legislatures pass laws to suppress votes, attack trans people, and limit women’s right to body autonomy. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, John Lewis declared, “Too many people struggled and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.”
Despite the Republican party’s continued efforts to suppress votes, it is more important now than ever for folks to fight for their right to vote. History has shown us that Black and Brown people have been the targets of voter suppression for centuries. There is a perception and reality that our country is changing, demographically and ideologically. Over the last decade, research into voter suppression has shown that it's not just affecting Black and Brown people, it’s also affecting college students, elderly people, and low-income communities.
For example, in 2020 the Brennan Center for Justice found that the state of Texas allowed handgun permit holders to vote with their state-issued concealed handgun permit, while college students were not permitted to vote with their state-issued college ID. The study further found that 80% of handgun permit holders were white, while more than half of the students in the University of Texas system were racial or ethnic minorities.
In April of 2005, Republicans in Congressman Lewis’s home state of Georgia passed no-excuse absentee voting. At that time, most absentee voters were registered Republicans. Fast forward to the November 2020 general election, when most Georgians who voted by absentee ballot were registered Democrats. Within a few months, the Republican-controlled legislature passed SB202 which contained measures to restrict voting access. SB202 mandated that drop boxes would only be available inside polling locations during office hours and required all no excuse absentee voters to provide a state-issued identification card. Giving election officials more power to decide what ballots can be counted and which ones cannot be counted.
While I welcome debates about voting rules and standards, I think we should all be concerned when elected officials pass laws to placate a base. A base, who has bought into a lie that more than 60 courts - including the US Supreme Court- has deemed as, “without any merit.”
For those who consider themselves good citizens, now is the time for you to “say something, do something, get into trouble, GOOD TROUBLE, NECESSARY TROUBLE.”
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