John Lewis’ steady and persistent voice reminded us that the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in our democracy. We must protect it.
By: Terri A. Sewell, Op-Ed in USA Today
Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life. To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. While Congressman Lewis has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on.
Now, to honor John, our nation and our leaders must unite behind the cause most dear to him: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American, regardless of color, is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box.
Lewis’ voice has been consistent over the years. He reminded us that the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in our democracy. He dedicated his life to ensuring that all Americans were able to access that most fundamental right, and we owe it to him to ensure that his life’s work was not in vain.
We have seen increased efforts across the nation to make it more difficult to vote. Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, legislatures across the country have implemented proven discriminatory practices like strict voter ID laws, closures of polling places, gerrymandered districts and voter roll purges, disproportionately impacting Black Americans. While Republican lawmakers have defended the laws as necessary to protect against voter fraud, their cries — and fear mongering — is based on myth. Widespread voter fraud is not a legitimate threat to our democracy, but voter suppression is.
H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would serve as an antidote to the Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling, putting the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Lewis and so many other “foot soldiers” marched, bled and gave their lives for. It is languishing now in the Senate in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
Reflecting on Bloody Sunday during his last speech on the Selma bridge in March, Lewis said, “Our country is a better country. … But we have still a distance to travel to go before we get there.”
In memory:Honor John Lewis with a Senate vote on the voting rights he fought for his whole life.
Lewis knew that progress was elusive, that it had to be won and fought for every generation. He also firmly believed that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us. We must continue to call upon his unwavering optimism. As he would say: Never give up. Never give in. Never give out. Keep the faith and keep your eyes on the prize. And vote.
Restore the Voting Rights Act — for John Lewis, and the country he loved so deeply.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., is the first Black woman elected to Congress from Alabama. Follow her on Twitter: @RepTerriSewell