Former President Barack Obama on Thursday in a fiery eulogy of Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights movement hero who died July 17, highlighted the existential threat to democracy represented by the Republican Party as he called for expansion of voting rights, statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and the end of the filibuster to overcome legislative obstructionism in the U.S. Senate.
"There are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting—by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws," said Obama. "And attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that's going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don't get sick."
Must-watch video of Obama: "You want to honor John, let's honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for."
"Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better" pic.twitter.com/WzbNZDFDQf
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) July 30, 2020
The former president called for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would guarantee "that each American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C. and in Puerto Rico."
— Jonathan Cohn (@CitizenCohn) July 30, 2020
Obama also urged lawmakers to take relatively radical action to ensure the law's passage that went beyond the scope of even his own policy priorities while in office.
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"If all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do," he said.
That seemed to me to be the most explicitly political Obama has been in his post-presidency. Seems fitting that such an address would come at John Lewis' funeral, with the Nov 2020 election fast approaching
— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) July 30, 2020
The remarks came in the midst of the former president's impassioned remembrance of Lewis, who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a young man before later heading to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served for over 30 years.
"Spoke to a quarter of a million people at the March on Washington when he was just 23," said Obama. "Helped organize the Freedom Summer in Mississippi when he was just 24. At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery."
“Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
- Congressman John R. Lewishttps://t.co/iB3gbY421G
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) July 30, 2020
Before his death, Lewis penned an opinion piece for the New York Times—an open letter to the youth of the country—to be published the day of his funeral.
"Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe," Lewis wrote. "In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring."