“It was many, many years ago, when we would visit the little town of Troy, visit Montgomery, visit Tuskegee, visit Birmingham, I saw those signs that said:
White Men / Colored Men
White Women / Colored Women
White waiting / Colored waiting.
I would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great grandparents, “Why?”
They would say, “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble!”
But one day in 1955, 15 years old in the 10th grade, I heard about Rosa Parks. I heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on our radio. 1957, I met Rosa Parks at the age of 17. In 1958 at the age of 18, I met Martin Luther King Jr. and these two individuals inspired me to get in the way, to get in trouble. So I come here to say to you this morning, on this beautiful campus with your great education, you must find a way to get in the way. You must find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble!!”
John Lewis was born the son of sharecroppers in one of the most racist parts of rural Alabama and had risen to become one of the most beloved and revered figures of the Civil Rights Movement and the Conscience of Congress. He spoke up against injustices and sought to undo the systematic racism that is so intricate to the constitutional fabric of the country he so deeply loved, and he tirelessly fought all his life, until his very last breath.
John Lewis never once wanted to burn it all to the ground or abolish a group of people or institution because he understood one fundamental truth:
Abolishing does not mean healing, it does not mean directly dealing with institutionalized racism; it simply means displacing the perpetrators to other organizations more open to accommodating their White Supremacy and giving them more power. The reality is that it takes tireless hard work to save organizations and institutions from its vilest elements; it takes willful perseverance to transform government bodies into ones of service instead of punishment; it takes deep understanding, a brutal honesty with this country’s own track record to steer clear from extremist actions that would create a vacuum for eager vigilantism waiting to occupy any space surrendered or neglected. And if you know U.S. history, you understand how vigilantism, under the guise of Justice, always sought to punish and murder Black People first.
And as I watch today how Black Communities celebrate every little win and fight harder whenever polls show the faintest of promises to flip a red seat (while Privilege criticizes and belittles their hopes and efforts sitting comfortably on the sidelines), I am reminded of the legacy of John Lewis who rose through the ranks enough to affect real Progress while being reviled and criticized for having worked with segregationists in the past by the very hypocrites cuddling and kowtowing to Insurrectionists today:
Getting in good trouble was never about hatred and destruction; it was always about loving one’s country deeply enough to fight and save her from the clutches of ugly bigotry.
Yesterday, the revised John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House of Representatives 219-212. No Republican voted for it. Now we turn towards the Senate and hope it passes too.
Have a great Wednesday, Politicadoes. And don’t forget to get in good trouble!