John Lewis: A champion of social justice
John Lewis is no more. He would have died a broken man — for the nature of the current United States (US) administration led by Donald Trump is, in so many ways, the opposite of all that Lewis stood for. But he would also have died a hopeful man — for the protests that have engulfed the US after George Floyd’s brutal killing by the police have brought back to centre-stage the issues of racial equality, non-discrimination, dignity, legal reforms, and political rights that Lewis fought for. Indeed, it was because men like him fought that today’s protests have even become possible.
Lewis was a US civil rights hero, who in the 1950s and 60s led and participated in the movement against segregation and for equality. In the US South, he was among the original freedom riders who challenged segregated inter-state travel. In Selma, he marched for equal voting rights — and was brutally beaten by state authorities. In Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his historic address at the Lincoln Memorial, Lewis spoke out against racism. And in the US Congress, where he was a member for close to 25 years, he became a voice of conscience.
It is men like Lewis who ensured that the US overcame one of its most shameful legacies of institutionalised racial discrimination. And in this, along with King, he was inspired by the Gandhian path of non-violent resistance. This courage of conviction — to challenge the most oppressive of structures through peaceful and democratic methods — is a lesson to all social justice movements across the world. This persistence — he said it was important not to be afraid of making noise and getting into good trouble, necessary trouble — is a lesson that speaking up against wrong and retaining an ethical core is integral to progress. For all those who want to fight for a better world, Lewis will be an inspiration.