Our reading is by the late John Lewis, from the documentary, Good Trouble. I would see those signs that said, ‘white men, colored men,’ ‘white waiting, colored waiting’ and I would ask my father and mother and my grandparents, “why?” And they would say, “Boy that’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble.” But at 15 years old, the actions of Rosa parks and Martin Luther King inspired me to get into trouble. What I call good trouble, necessary trouble. It is time for all good people to get in trouble. I got arrested a few times in the 60s, 40 times. And since I’ve been in Congress, another 5 times, and I’m probably going to get arrested again for something. But my philosophy is very simple: when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something. Do something. Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. We have to save our country. We have to save our democracy.
Our movie with a message this week is the 2020 documentary film John Lewis: Good Trouble, available on Amazon Prime. Watching it was a wonderful way to grieve the passing of this remarkable man and remember his life’s work for justice and equality. As we heard in the reading, ‘Good Trouble’ became Congressman Lewis’ rallying cry, reminding us that silence in the face of injustice is not acceptable. If we see something wrong going on, we must say something and do something about it. One of my favorite parts of the film is the interview with his brothers and sisters. Congressman Lewis often talked about growing up poor in a family of share-croppers in Troy, Alabama, and here we get to hear from his brothers and sisters about those times. His brother said that even when John was a young boy, they all knew that he had bigger things in mind. He would sneak off to school instead of picking cotton with the rest of the family. Finally, his brother said he would do his work and John’s, and his father agreed to let John go to school. His sisters talked about him preaching to the chickens and them, and their neighbors, and said that every day of high school, he dressed up, wearing a tie and carrying his bible. In college, he met a group of like-minded people, and they joined together to learn and practice non-violent resistance. In February of 1961, they held a sit in at McClellan’s lunch counter in Nashville. They were arrested, and when they were given the choice of paying a 50 dollar fine or spending a month in jail, each of them chose jail. They gained enough attention that Nashville became the first major city in the Southern United States where black and white people could eat together in public places. He was a Freedom Rider that same year, which led to the desegregation of public transportation across the South. And two years later, he helped organize the March on Washington to advocate for civil and economic rights for Black Americans, which led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act. There, 23 year old John Lewis told the crowd, “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in the streets and stay in the streets of every city, every village, and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes.” What John Lewis is most remembered for is his unceasing work to ensure that black Americans could participate in democracy by exercising their right to vote, culminating in Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he was beaten, almost to death, and the successful march from Selma to Montgomery, which led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
His leadership in these events would have been more than enough for us to call John Lewis a hero of the Civil Rights Movement. But he spent 55 more years doing the work of justice and equality, and would have done even more, if cancer had not taken his life. In 1986, he was elected to serve in the United States Congress, representing Georgia’s 5th district, and served there for 33 years. Called the conscience and the heart of Congress, he sponsored over 8000 bills of legislation. He worked for gay rights and same sex marriage, for universal healthcare and gun control and women’s rights, and law makers on both sides respected his moral clarity in his calls for justice for all. Just one month ago, he held a town hall with Barack Obama to discuss the murder of George Floyd by police and systemic racism in police departments all across our country, and he praised the efforts of a new generation of young people standing up for freedom and equality. As we know, the voting rights that John Lewis fought so hard for are disappearing. 17 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2016 and 2018. Electoral districts are artificially manipulated through partisan gerrymandering. Polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods are being eliminated, and early voting is being curtailed. You might have seen the recent political cartoon that shows Congressman Lewis as a bridge over a great chasm to the voting booth. It is a call to action for us to continue the fight in his honor. The film, Good Trouble, which tells so much more about our hero, John Lewis, ends, as it began, with his words: “We will create the beloved community. We will redeem the soul of America. There may be some setbacks, some delays, but as a nation and as a people, we will get there. I still believe that we shall overcome.” Let us do all we can to help make his words reality.