Every now and then, an enormously beneficial soul comes along – someone whose work is so productive, honest and inspirational that he or she ought not be allowed to die. That’s how I felt last month when I heard that John Lewis had slipped away from us.
Since the late 1980s, it had been my good fortune to have known, admired and learned from this civil rights icon and U.S. representative from Georgia. Throughout his exemplary life of progressive activism, Lewis hurled his heart, soul and head [literally!] into fighting the Powers That Be to gain and protect the voting rights of all Americans. As a young movement leader in 1965, he was with Martin Luther King Jr. among the marchers on the front line in Selma, AL, who had their heads busted by state troopers for daring to insist that African Americans be allowed to vote.
That bloody encounter was televised to a horrified nation, prompting Congress to pass America’s historic Voting Rights Act just five months later. In turn, that law empowered grassroots organizers to usher in a remarkable era of political progress: Black voter registration jumped nearly 70% the next year, and Black citizens throughout the land were finally able to start electing their own representatives to office [including Lewis himself, who won a congressional seat in 1986].
The importance of Lewis, though, was that he didn’t just sit in that seat; he put it to use daily. He was renowned for battling the bosses, bankers, billionaires, big shots, bastards and BSers who keep trying to knock down the middle class, hold down the poor and tear down people’s democratic rights. He set an example of bringing moral strength to public service, striving for a little less greed and a lot more justice. But mostly, what he did was inspire ordinary people to recognize their own strength and common interest; he rallied each of us to unify, organize and mobilize to build a society solidly grounded in the fundamental values of fairness and respect for human dignity.
His lasting message was simple, direct and true: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.” If We the People are to control our own destiny, if we are to have and hold democratic power, we can’t wait on some politician to “save” us. We have to act, standing together against the moneyed and political elites who keep imposing their plutocratic control over us.
As Lewis put it, we have to be willing to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble.”
At the very least, we should all vote. For one thing, as Lewis warned just days before he passed away, our crucial democratic right to vote “is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”
That was no hyperbole, as millions of eligible American voters know from rude experience … and as many more of us might soon learn. You see, it’s one thing to “have the right” to cast your ballot, but it’s quite another thing to be able to exercise that right. During the past decade, Republican officials and funders have built a massive network of voter-suppression operatives who use legal technicalities, poll closures, fraud, fearmongering and plain old thuggish intimidation of voters to shut out people inclined to support Democratic candidates. Rather than winning votes, their game is preventing votes.
And now comes the manipulator in chief with a demented and pernicious scheme to prevent millions of people – maybe you – from having their say in November’s election. Here’s the deal: Because of the spreading COVID-19 health crisis, a majority of Americans are either afraid or outright unwilling to go stand in line at crowded polling places. Shouldn’t be a problem, though. Just let everyone who’s concerned use our nation’s excellent, reliable, trusted postal service to cast their votes by mail.
Aha, exulted President Donald Trump, if I ban mail-in ballots and force in-person voting, turnout will shrivel, and I’ll win because my supporters would eat a COVID virus to get to vote for me! Alas, he couldn’t just ban vote by mail, though, since five states already do it and anyone over 65 is allowed to do it.
Plan B: Defund the U.S. Postal Service so it can’t do its job, thus eliminating the mail option. In March, he personally killed a bipartisan provision in the national economic rescue package that would’ve assured continuous delivery of our mail. Then, in May, he installed one of his partisan mega donors as postmaster general. And the postmaster is now sabotaging delivery times by arbitrarily slashing the hours of postal workers.
Like a petty third-world potentate, Trump is willing to destroy a prized national asset in a pathetic attempt to cling to power. To help stop him, go to the grassroots alliance rallying to save our public post office – and our right to vote: USMailNotForSale.org/.