December 29, 2019
My life is a small one among the lives John Lewis has touched, but I wanted to think through some of the ways he’s influenced me. I’m thankful he is still with us, and I want to keep him in my thoughts in his current struggle.
The first time I voted for him was in 2008, because that was the first time I voted.
In 2009, I met him. I was a small part of organizing a rally in Atlanta in the Invisible Children days, and we asked him to come speak, and he did. He said brilliant things to us for a couple minutes, and then stayed to talk and take photos with everyone who wanted to.
In 2010 something pushed me to educate myself about the Black-led Southern Freedom Movement. I started with reading all of MLK’s collected works. Lewis’ influence is all over them. I wrote a little about that at the time.
We visited the King Center in Atlanta several times while we lived there. I wrote a little about that at the time, too (I’d write it differently today, of course). His influence is tangibly present there, more so because it’s more than a museum but an advocacy for nonviolent social change. Still more so because you know that Atlanta is his city, still the city he fights for.
I remember when Occupy Atlanta started. I wasn’t part of that because we had just had a baby and we were in survival mode. I followed it online though, and I remember how absurd it was that they tried to shut Lewis down when he came to speak there. You don’t shut John Lewis down. Not anywhere, but especially not in Atlanta. He’s earned the right to speak anywhere, human though he certainly is.
When we moved on to these movement years, I have often thought of him. Of the ways he seems to root for us to struggle on, even when he clearly sometimes disagrees with us on things. He clearly knows we’re on the same road and that’s a big deal.
I learned to disagree with him on votes he took and process what it means to do that, as minor a thing as that sounds.
I think it’s a beautiful thing to have lived on the earth, lived in Atlanta, been in the same spaces, even so briefly, and to still live on the earth and be in the movement, with John Lewis.
Update: I don’t often make additions to posts I write, but I have been thinking a lot about these particular articles on Lewis. The above things are moments in my life. Important moments, and shaping moments. But these are articles about his life, his work, his views on his work and the work of others. They’re some of my favorites, and I want to celebrate them.
- Sarah Jaffe interviewed Lewis and asked him about the Dream Defenders in 2013. I was transformed watching them from Georgia as they organized in Florida.
- Angus Johnston wrote about how he had to tone down his March on Washington speech because it was too radical.
- I regularly think about this Democracy Now! interview with him where he talks about how on the bridge at Selma he felt like they were trees planted by the water, even as they thought they would die.