Just few days before the inauguration, the future president of the United States has publicly called out a major leader in the Civil Rights Movement and trivialized his achievements in his Tweet.
“Why are you so worked up? It’s just a Tweet.”
But that’s exactly it! That is what is all the more infuriating about this situation.
Let me explain.
John Lewis played a major role during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. He once chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which organized countless peaceful protests of the likes of sit-in’s and freedom rides. He marched on the front lines in Selma, Al. with MLK, jr, and has scars on his scalp to prove it. He endured violent backlash all while remaining committed to his movement’s philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience. His role in the movement eventually led to the right for all American citizens to vote. He continues to work for civic rights and public safety as a Georgia congressman, and has recently helped lead a 26-hour sit-in for gun safety legislation in Congress after the mass shooting in Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fl. this past year. As I see it, there is no justification for slighting his role in the Civil Rights Movement and his continued role in Congress. And it is especially not acceptable in something as “easy” and “quick” and “convenient” and likely to have been posted as an afterthought in the form of a Tweet.
So yes, I am quite offended that it only took a little twiddling of thumbs, most likely on their way between meetings, in the dressing room, or on the toilet (who knows!), to undermine another person’s achievements. A little something for the internet trolls to eat up, and most dangerously, believe.
I was especially irked when a family member on Facebook shared this post from Dinesh D’Souza’s Facebook page.
Two things here. One is that D’Souza refuses to acknowledge Lewis’ contribution to the Civil Rights Movement because Lewis is affiliated with the opposing political party, as if Lewis’ track record is up for interpretation, like it is part a collection of trendy items that eventually go obsolete with time, and not a simple fact in recorded history. Second, he ironically defends that Fredrick Douglass deserves more credit because he is a fellow Republican. Ironic, because while Douglass is indeed an admirable figure, his affiliation with the Republican party had drastically different policy stances than ones associated with the Republican party as we know it today.
It is no surprise that Douglass is a Republican, and this identification should not set him apart from other African Americans who did a great civic service to our country. Most African Americans of his day would have been Republican, too, only most of them weren’t allowed to vote or hold office because of the elaborate means of voter suppression following Emancipation and the ratification of the 15th Amendment that continued for another 100 years, until John Lewis and his contemporaries finally pushed the Voter Rights Act through Congress. During Douglass’ time, contemporaneous with the Civil War and the Reconstruction, the party line was drawn according to pro- and anti-secessionist and pro- and anti-slavery sentiments and policies. Democrats back then largely sympathized with the secession campaign and embraced for flagrantly racist politics for the sake of protecting states’ rights and “economic” self-interests. It wasn’t until the monumental financial crisis of the 1930’s that the Republicans put their foot down to oppose FDR’s New Deal solution in fear of excessive involvement and power on the part of the federal government. Since then, the Republican platform has been consistently rooted in minimizing the role of the federal government, which explains (but does not justify, in my opinion) their positions against the Affordable Care Act and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
TL;DR – D’Souza’s attempt to slight Lewis’ work in comparison to Douglass’ is unfounded because Lewis and his friends were essentially the surgeons who cut the umbilical cord of, and thus finalized the birth of, American civil liberty as we know it today. American civil liberty that Douglass helped conceive and others after him had helped gestate from the earlier days of the Reconstruction. In this way, Douglass’ ideals were finally born to thrive autonomously from the institutions that they were once beholden to for a very long time. Their party identification may be different in name but their political ideologies are fundamentally connected as a child is to his mother.
But where was I?
Oh yes, the family member. The Facebook post. The irk.
I admit, I made the mistake of writing a rather long comment on her post that more or less summarized the above sentiment. She responded not to my comment, but by telling me the post was merely a “meme”, implying there was no need for me to take it so seriously.
“Why are you so worked up? It’s just a meme.”
Okay, first of all, it is not a meme. This BETTER not be a meme, because memes are what are in the IV bags I hope I will one day subsist on as I wait out my declining years to see the day America becoming little less petty. Thankfully for future in-hospice me, this is a not a meme. It is a sincere post someone actually made that reflects his real political opinion so that he could influence others to be on board with his ignorance and pettiness. To deny D’Souza’s sincerity is to ignore the problem and let it fatten up until it becomes even messier to remove. And thus it will remain, expanding evermore to take up room once occupied by tolerance, justice, and respect.
After all, how can we grow as a country without checking our damaging words, actions, and policies? How can we move on? We move on by acknowledging the wrongs of our past, and we do better. Undermining someone who did dedicate himself to making it better is not a step toward Making America Great Again.
This entire interaction was especially disappointing to me because it showed me just how little we Americans know. The American history that is part of the public school curriculum is already heavily condensed down to white American history. But America has never been fully white in any point of its history. At certain points in its course, people we now recognize as fully white were not considered white and were not treated the same. Nevertheless, there is very little room in schools for African-American, Native-American, Latin-American, Asian-American, and the countless hyphenated American histories that have also shaped America into its current form. I have no solution to this problem yet, nor do I feel it my vocation to come up with one. I just wish people would take care to nuance their political views. To think to look backward as well as forward before side-stepping across the busy cut-throat traffic of ambiguous and questionable news to get to the other side. The other side where the polls and voting booths that determine our collective future are open to them, thanks to people like John Lewis, await with open arms*.
*Yes, voter suppression is still real and well and alive. But I’m drained and must end this post on a positive note, not for your sake but for mine.