U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who served in Congress since 1987, has died after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer, Friday. He was 80.
Lewis was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on December 2019 and underwent treatment while remaining in office. Lewis would become one of President Trump’s fiercest opponents—right up until his death—in a political and civil rights career that began some 50 years ago.
Lewis’ life reads like a fictional movie character created to span the entire civil rights movement through one person. He was born on February 21, 1940, to Willie Mae (née Carter) and Eddie Lewis, both of whom were sharecroppers. Lewis was one of nine children, raised in Troy, Ala. He would attend Pike County Training High School, in Alabama, and later, American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University, both in Nashville, Tenn. Lewis would become a fixture on the Nashville civil rights scene where he frequently led sit-ins—one of which led to the desegregation of Nashville lunch counters—and began attending nonviolence workshops that would lead him to a nonviolent civil rights philosophy that he still believed in right up until his death.
Lewis knew early on that he wanted to be a freedom fighter after feeling the impact that Jim Crow laws had on him as a child.
“I saw racial discrimination as a young child,” Lewis said in a 2005 interview with NPR. “I saw those signs that said ‘White Men, Colored Men, White Women, Colored Women’. … I remember as a young child with some of my brothers and sisters and first cousins going down to the public library trying to get library cards, trying to check some books out, and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for ‘coloreds’.”
Lewis credits a childhood trip to the North, to Buffalo, N.Y., as the first time he saw white men and black men working together. He would also be fascinated by water fountains without signs designating them for whites only. Lewis would listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks on the radio and would meet them both while only a teenager.r
In 1960, Lewis would become one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, who would ride buses to challenge segregated seating in the South. In 1963—at only 23—he would become one of the youngest members of the “Big Six” leaders as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. During his three years with SNCC, Lewis would help SNCC launch the Mississippi Freedom Summer, a push to organize and register black voters in Mississippi. Lewis was also integral in opening the Freedom Schools, alternatives to public schools mostly in the South, that were completely free and aimed to help teach African American children learn to think and act politically.
On March 7, 1965—a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday”—Lewis, several religious leaders, activists, and some 600 marchers attempted to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to protest the police shooting death of unarmed protester Jimmie Lee Jackson a few weeks earlier. The plan was for marchers to walk to then-Gov. George Wallace’s office to ask questions about Jackson’s death. Gov. Wallace said that there would be no march and ordered the Alabama Highway Patrol chief to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march.”
Lewis, stood beside Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as he led march across the bridge. At the end of the bridge, marchers were confronted by Alabama State Troopers, who ordered them to leave. Instead they began to pray. Police then launched tear gas, while mounted troops began beating nonviolent protesters with nightsticks. Lewis’ skull was fractured in the melee and the scars from that day were still visible as he got older. The visions of police beating protesters, which were broadcasted across America, would prompt President Lyndon B. Johnson into signing the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug. 6, 1965.
Lewis would turn his attention to change on a governmental level in 1977 when he would run an unsuccessful campaign to win Atlanta’s 5th congressional district seat. In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council and in 1986, Lewis ran again for the 5th Congressional District seat in a tough campaign to beat favorite Julian Bond for the Democratic nomination. He would go on to beat Republican Portia Scott in the general election. Lewis has been a congressional juggernaut since, winning the seat every election since.
.Lewis was the only living speaker from the March on Washington on stage during Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and later Obama would sign a photo of himself to Lewis with the words. “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”
Lewis would go on to win several honorary doctorates and awards for his civil rights work, most notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 from President Obama and the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for the third installment of March, a graphic novel depicting his life during the civil rights movement alongside co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell. The first two volumes of March were published in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
The New York Times would call the series “A galvanizing account of his coming-of-age in the movement, it’s a capsule lesson in courage of conscience, a story that inspires without moralizing or simplifying in hindsight.”
From the Times:
March begins and draws to a close with scenes from the march Lewis led in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, forever known as “Bloody Sunday” after state troopers and the local police attacked the nonviolent protesters. The opening panels depict the marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then move from their tense, prayerful faces to the phalanx of billy clubs and white helmets on the opposite bank. Lewis, then only 25, was beaten that day; five months later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
In what has now become a bandwagon, Lewis was one of the few Congress members to announce, even before President Donald Trump took office, that he had no intentions or working with an openly racist elected official.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press a week before Trump was sworn into office. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they have destroyed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”
Lewis was fiercely loyal to the fight for equal rights and made no bones about his loyalty. As such, he didn’t attend Trump’s inauguration, the first one he’s missed since being elected to Congress.
“You cannot be at home with something that you feel is wrong,” Lewis said.
During impeachment proceedings against Trump in 2019, Lewis gave an impassioned speech on the House floor.
“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, do something,” Lewis said Wednesday. “Our children and their children will ask us: ‘What did you do? What did you say?’”
Lewis, a fighter since birth, noted that he was in a fight for his life after learning of his cancer diagnosis in December 2019 during a routine medical visit.
“I’ve been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life,” he told AJC in December. “I have never faced a fight quite like this one.”
In a December statement, Lewis was hopeful about advances in cancer research and his chances to win his health battle.
“I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community,” he said. “We still have many bridges to cross.
On April 30, over 100 Black women activists gathered in Washington, DC, to support Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar in the face of Islamophobic incitement from the Trump White House. Rallying under the banner “Black Women In Defense of Ilhan,” organizers included Angela Davis, Barbara Ransby, Black Lives Matter co-founders, and participants from around the country. Together they called for Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to censure President Trump for tweeting out a video of the 9/11 attacks, complete with flaming images of the Twin Towers, falsely accusing Omar of minimizing the attacks. The tweet was the latest incident in a cycle of incitement against Omar and spurred a spike in death threats targeting her.
Throughout the last few months, Omar has come repeatedly under fire for her comments criticizing America’s pro-Israel policies and the role of AIPAC in pushing US support of the occupation. She has also become a scapegoat for right wing commentators who have sought to turn her into a symbol of left-wing antisemitism, at a time when white nationalist violence against both Jewish and Muslim places of worship is on the rise.
The protest came as a moment of Black women’s unity in the face of Islamophobic misogynoir, with speakers such as Representative Ayanna Pressley contextualizing the attacks on Omar as part of a longstanding pattern of silencing of Black women’s voices. Speaking at the event, Omar described the attacks on herself as part of a broader context of white supremacy, including anti-Jewish violence like the attack on the Poway Synagogue, saying “We collectively must make sure that we are dismantling all systems of oppression.”
Ahead of the rally Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who helped organize the event but was unable to attend, spoke to The Nation about the critical significance of Black women showing up to support Ilhan Omar.
Rebecca Pierce:What are the goals you set out to accomplish with this event, and why were these demands so important?
Patrisse Cullors: I think one of the first things is that people need to understand that part of the mission of the Black Lives Matter Global Network is to protect Black women and girls, and that at the height of BLM we were labeled as terrorists and very few people came to our aid. Rep. Ilhan is an elected official, she was voted in. She has been treated terribly the entire time she has been in office by the right, and I think it is important that Black women stand up for her—and visibly stand up for her.
RP: Why do you think Ilhan is such a target not only for the far-right, but also some Democrats?
PC: It’s simple. She’s Black, she’s Muslim, she’s hijab-wearing. That is literally the image of fear that Trump has invoked in order to win over his base. She is a scapegoat for him and the right wing. I also think the Democratic Party doesn’t know what to do with her. They don’t know how to protect her, and they aren’t being the fierce advocates that we need them to be.
RP: One reason Ilhan has come under attack is her support for Palestinian rights, how does this fit into a larger context of attacks on Black leaders in solidarity with Palestine?
PC: I think there is a long history of Black people being in solidarity with Palestinian people. This isn’t in a vacuum. Rep. Ilhan’s support or my support or Marc Lamont Hill’s support or Angela Davis’s support [is part of] a long legacy of Black people and Palestinian people fighting for each other and being in solidarity with one another. And so, I think that the minute that Ilhan was open and transparent and not afraid to talk on behalf of Palestine, she really became a target of the right.
RP: Why is it so important to defend Palestine solidarity in Black organizing?
aPC: The first time I went to Palestine was in the winter of 2015 right after the Ferguson Uprising, and I was invited by the Dream Defenders delegation. I had studied a lot about Palestinian rights, I was not new to the issue of the Occupation, but nothing prepares you for that level of violence. For that level of, honestly, dissonance. Dissonance from Zionists in America. So, when I sat and had conversations with Palestinian people, especially Palestinian elders, one of the first things they said is “Black people and Palestinian people have a natural alliance.” I think part of that history, whether it was Malcolm X or other Black leaders that were thinking about self-determination, these are some of the themes that are at the intersections of Palestine and Black American people.
RP: Do you think that these kinds of coalitions are a threat to the status quo?
PC: Everybody knew you don’t talk about Palestine, especially in social justice spaces. That if you agreed with that you kind of kept it to yourself. I would say in the last five-to-seven years we have seen a significant shift when it comes to the cultural conversation about Palestine and Israel and that more and more young people, more and more white Jews, more and more folks of color are having a much more honest conversation about the occupation. That we don’t want our tax dollars going to Israel’s Apartheid country. So, we are in a position now, a cultural shift position, and I think Ilhan is in some ways the messenger of that.
RP: What do the attacks on Ilhan say about the fight against white supremacy in this moment where there is a threat not only on Black and brown people but also Jewish communities and other minorities?
PC: Ilhan has become the latest representation around how the right wing is establishing what is white nationalism. And I think for our movement, protecting Ilhan means we are fighting against white supremacy. We actually have to be better at that, at protecting her as a symbol really, at protecting the rights of Jewish people, at protecting the rights of communities of color, of women, of trans folks, of queer folks. This is that moment where we have the opportunity to really fight hard for everybody.
Rebecca PierceRebecca Pierce is a writer, activist, and documentary filmmaker. Her journalism has been featured in +972, Jewish Currents, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Nation, Mondoweiss, and Electronic Intifada.
By Jim Tankersley & Emily Baumgaertner New York Times
WASHINGTON — The United States census is so much more than just a head count. It is a snapshot of America that determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how state and federal dollars are distributed, where businesses choose to ship products and where they build new stores. To do all that properly, the count needs to be accurate.
The Commerce Department’s decision to restore a citizenship question to the census beginning in 2020 is prompting concerns about curtailing participation and possibly undercounting people living in the United States, particularly immigrants and minority groups who are expressing discomfort with answering questions from census workers.
Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, acknowledged concerns about decreased response rates in a memorandum released on Monday night. But he said asking about citizenship would enhance the results by helping calculate the percentage of the population eligible to vote.
An undercount of the population would have far-reaching implications. It could skew the data that are used to determine how many congressional representatives each state gets and their representation in state legislatures and local government bodies. It would shape how billions of dollars a year are allocated, including for schools and hospitals. It would undermine the integrity of a wide variety of economic data and other statistics that businesses, researchers and policymakers depend on to make decisions, including the numbers that underpin the forecasts for Social Security beneficiaries.
Here are several of the commercial, political and research efforts that depend on accurate
Divvying up seats in Congress, state legislatures and more
The Constitution requires the government to enumerate the number of people living in the United States every 10 years, and to use that data to apportion the seats in Congress among the states. The calculation is based on total resident population — which means citizens and noncitizens alike — and it generally shifts power between the states once a decade, in line with population and migration trends.
States including Texas, Florida, Colorado and Oregon are projected to gain seats after the 2020 numbers are in. Illinois, Ohio, New York and West Virginia are among the states expected to lose seats. An undercount could shift those projections.
Lawmakers also use census data to draw congressional district boundaries within states, an often-controversial process that can help decide partisan control of the House. Census data also underpin state legislative districts and local boundaries like City Councils and school boards.
Handing out federal and state dollars
The federal government bases a large amount of its spending decisions on census data. Researchers concluded last year that in the 2015 fiscal year, 132 government programs used information from the census to determine how to allocate more than $675 billion, much of it for programs that serve lower-income families, including Head Start, Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Pell grants for college and reduced-price school lunch programs. Highway spending is also apportioned according to census data.
Influencing business decisions
To sell products and services, companies large and small need good information on the location of potential customers and how much money they might have to spend. The census provides the highest-quality and most consistent information on such items, and businesses have come to depend on it to make critical choices.
Census data help companies decide where to locate distribution centers to best serve their customers, where to expand or locate new stores and where they have the best chance of seeing a high return on investment. That is why business groups have been particularly concerned about the integrity of that data.
“The 2020 census is used to help construct many other data products produced by the federal government,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who writes frequently on the importance of census data for policymakers and the private sector.
“Some of those products are heavily used by businesses when determining where to open new stores and expand operations, or even what items to put on their shelves. This affects retail businesses, for sure, but businesses in many other sectors as well,” he added.
Planning for various health and wellness programs
Low response rates from any one demographic group would undermine the validity of various population-wide statistics and program planning.
Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of diseases and health concerns such as cancer and obesity across the United States population, including drilling down to race and ethnicity to identify health patterns across demographics. Public health officials then use the data to target their interventions in at-risk communities. Inaccurate census data could lead public health officials to invest in solving a problem that does not exist — or worse, to overlook one that does.
“It’s getting harder to conduct the census, due to a variety of factors, including increasing cultural & linguistic diversity, and distrust of the government,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist who directs the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “The addition of the citizenship question will make the enumerators’ jobs even harder by heightening privacy concerns and reducing participation among immigrants, who may fear the information will be used to harm them or their families.”
Gaming out Social Security
An undercount in the census could also impact forecasts about Social Security payouts, which are already increasing as a share of the federal government’s revenue.
When Congress plans for the costs of the country’s Social Security needs, lawmakers rely upon demographic projection about the population’s future: the number of children expected to be born, the number of people expected to die, and the number of people expected to immigrate. If baseline data regarding the current population are inaccurate, future projections could be skewed, causing financial challenges down the line.
By James Lankford & Tim Scott/Politics-THE ATLANTIC JAN 12, 2018
Two members of the U.S. Senate urge Americans to honor the legacy
of the Martin Luther King Jr. by engaging with others of different backgrounds.
This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day carries additional significance, as it marks the 50th anniversary of his tragic death. In April of 1968, King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, at the hands of a ruthless murderer who was filled with hate and racism.One of the reasons we, as Americans and citizens around the world, remember King’s legacy is his call to freedom and racial unity through love and engagement for all people—a message he still shares with the world a half-century later. Love is the consistent theme throughout many of his writings and remarks: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” or “I have decided to stick with love … Hate is too great a burden to bear,” or “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
Perhaps the words King wrote to fellow ministers while he was in the Birmingham Jail in 1963 are the most impactful: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
King’s words still ring, but his work is not complete. Americans have come a long way since the 1960s, but the dream is not yet fully realized.After the 2016 police shootings in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana, we challenged our constituents and people everywhere we went with a simple question, “Have you or your family ever invited a person or a family of another race to your home for dinner?” We called it “Solution Sundays.”Sunday is a slower, yet significant day, for most Americans. So, we challenged each family to give one Sunday lunch or dinner for building relationships across race and ethnicity, to literally be part of the solution in America. Any other day of the week would work as well; the goal is for people to engage on a personal level in their own homes, to break down walls, to listen, and to build trust across communities. It is harder to stereotype people that you know.
When is the last time you or your family had dinner in your home with a person or family of another race?
We are convinced that we will never get all the issues about race on the table, until we get our feet under the same table and talk like friends. At its core, racial divisions are a heart issue, not a skin-color issue. Our children need to see their parents developing friendships around the dinner table with people who look different, so that the next generation can be different.
The same goes for civil discourse in America. The love and respect that King spoke about do not require absolute uniformity or watered-down viewpoints. They require respect for cultures and views that are different, and an understanding that people who are different are not the problem in America; they are our brothers and sisters in humanity.
Sadly, our cultural discourse often looks like hate trying to drive out hate, rather than allowing light and love to drive out hate.
Our national leaders should model this truth rather than just reflect the culture. Just take a glance at social media and cable news, and you’ll see disrespectful shouting and shaming that descends on our country and our children like a cold rain. In fact, you can test that theory by posting this op-ed to your social media account, and you will probably see what we’re talking about within minutes. This sort of rhetoric threatens our ability to weave together multiple communities together to form a single nation; it loses sight of the fact that all people are made in the image of God and have worth and human dignity.
After two centuries, we are making progress on race, but we seem to be rapidly losing our “melting pot” of ideas, respect, and acceptance. A trend has emerged that encourages people to listen only to people who are the same or share their values, philosophy, and ideas, then dismiss or belittle anyone who is different or disagrees, even if they only disagree on a few issues. A good burn is the new goal, rather than a good word. We still need the reminder that “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
Let this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day be a time where we, as Americans, honor his memory and legacy by engaging neighbors who are different. If the national pendulum is ever going to swing, it will require role models in every community who don’t just call out for respectful engagement, but live it.
Manipulating congressional districts through gerrymandering has become a pervasive problem in the United States since its utilization by Elbridge Gerry in 1812. The point of gerrymandering is to cram “all of [your opponents’] supporters into a small number of districts. This method allows the legislature to spread its own supporters over a larger number of districts” (Ingraham, 2014b).
The graph above shows data on 8 states’ gerrymander index scores. It is clear that these data, in general, indicate that states are becoming more gerrymandered over time.
North Carolina and Maryland are regarded as the most gerrymandered states in the United States. North Carolina’s 12th district is one of the worst in the nation, stretching over 77 miles from Winston-Salem to Charlotte in a snake-like pattern. (below)
There are certainly regional and demographic factors at play in the more recent gerrymandering efforts, such as those that we saw in 2010. Republicans gained a majority of House seats and state legislatures that year, and as a result were in charge of districting after the 2010 census. Redistricting’s original intent (after the census every 10 years) was to provide fair representation for people in different states as their populations increased or decreased, but it has largely become a political tool dominated by whomever controls the state’s legislature.
From the graph below, you can see that the South, and the East Coast in general, is becoming more gerrymandered than the rest of the United States. The darker reds represent states that are more gerrymandered on the index score, and the lighter colored states represent those that are less gerrymandered.
Gerrymandering the Electoral College?
Republican victories and the subsequent Congressional districts established by Republicans in 2010 gave the party momentum to propose legislation regarding alterations to the electoral college. Their goal is to set up a congressional district system in their respective states, which would ultimately determine the outcome of the Presidential election through dividing electors amongst state districts.
Nebraska and Maine already have a congressional district system in place, and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia are all considering legislation (Henderson & Haines, 2013). Systems such as this in Ohio and Virginia, key swing states during the 2012 Presidential election, would have indicated a victory for Mitt Romney (Berman, 2012). But such law, if implemented, would also change presidential campaign strategies, and would generate and eliminate different battle-grounds.
Voter Suppression Laws 2014
Similar to gerrymandering, voter suppression laws are a way for political parties to gain an advantage through manipulation. The 2014 midterms witnessed minority populations in the South, and other parts of the country being targeted by such legislation. A major issue at hand were voter ID laws. Many states introduced newly established ones this cycle. 11 states had new voter ID laws, which excludes states where these laws will be implemented in future elections-such as NC.
21 states featured new voting laws more generally which included elimination of same day registration, elimination of out-of-precinct voting, limitation of early voting days, and longer wait times for criminals to regain their voting rights.
Research indicates that affected states “tend to have large black and Hispanic voter populations” (The Economist 2014). As an example, 1/3 of North Carolina’s African American voters utilized same day registration in 2012, a privilege which was eliminated in the state this cycle. The portion of the Voting Rights Act which was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision may be to blame for some of the problems in the South. Southern states are largely dominated by Republicans, and are no longer required to receive federal approval before changing legislation.