Lewis at Abrams' rally. AP photo
On the eve of the edge-of-our-seats potential unraveling of the republic, we went looking to the indefatigable John Lewis for hope, grace, fortitude. The civil rights icon and Georgia congressman turned up at a recent campaign rally for Stacey Abrams, the state's gubernatorial nominee who's faced down her opponent's brazen voter obstruction and vile robo-call targeting by white supremacists who called her a "magical Negro" and "poor man's Aunt Jemina." (Thanks Trump). Abrams has had high-octane support including Oprah and Obama, who has declared, “The character of our country is on the ballot.” At one rally, Obama noted, “We have been at these kinds of crossroads” - see stunning video making the rounds of a 1939 Madison Square Garden rally of 20,000 America Nazis - before pointedly calling on the heroic example of Lewis, who “saw this game being played before. John Lewis didn’t sit back and say, ‘Man, I hope some day things get better.’ It happened because some people marched... mobilized... organized, and (people) voted to make a better history.”
One of the last surviving members of Martin Luther King’s inner circle, Lewis, 78, was the teenage son of Alabama sharecroppers when he first met King. As a kid, he told Abrams' audience, he would gather his family's chickens before him, and preach to them. It was a time when blacks couldn't vote - a time "some forces in America now want to take us back to. But we're not going back. We've come too far. We're going forward." Lewis was just 25 on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, when he and hundreds of others marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and racist cops fractured his skull, almost killing him. "I gave a little blood on that bridge," he told the crowd. “I’m not asking any of you to give any blood - I'm just asking you to go and vote like you've never voted before." We can't decide what's more uplifting: Lewis' joyous dancing to Pharrell Williams' “Happy” before the rally, or his steadfast faith in our democracy after it, after all of it. His final Monday message: "Never give up, never give in, never give out."
Me voting in 2016 vs me voting in 2018 pic.twitter.com/wM8l1uGvLe
— Jennifer Reitman (@JenniferReitman) November 5, 2018