Yesterday, while dignitaries gathered in Atlanta for John Lewis’ homegoing, The New York Times ran a column by the famed civil rights leader and representative: “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.” You should read the whole thing, but I was particularly moved by these words:
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
That had a deliberate echo in Barack Obama’s eulogy later that day:
He knew that every single one of us has a God-given power. And that the fate of this democracy depends on how we use it; that democracy isn’t automatic, it has to be nurtured, it has to be tended to, we have to work at it, it’s hard. And so he knew it depends on whether we summon a measure, just a measure, of John’s moral courage to question what’s right and what’s wrong and call things as they are. He said that as long as he had breath in his body, he would do everything he could to preserve this democracy. That as long as we have breath in our bodies, we have to continue his cause. If we want our children to grow up in a democracy — not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, a big-hearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self-creation — then we are going to have to be more like John. We don’t have to do all the things he had to do because he did them for us. But we have got to do something. As the Lord instructed Paul, “Do not be afraid, go on speaking; do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Just everybody’s just got to come out and vote.
(You should also read the whole thing.)
John Lewis devoted his career to ensuring that the ideals of this country — and the rights, including the right to vote, enshrined in the Constitution — would be accessible to every American. I’ve always been reluctant to use the phrase “American exceptionalism” — especially given the current situation — but, at its best, this country is capable of transcendence.
One more quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: When asked if we had a democracy or a republic, he reportedly replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” We have to do our utmost to honor Franklin — and John Lewis. Vote.