Representative John Lewis: It’s up to us to carry his legacy forward.
During my campaign for Senate, I had the great privilege of traveling with John Lewis in Nevada as we visited churches across North Las Vegas. Representative John Lewis was then—and always has been—relentless in his pursuit of a more perfect union. He was a civil rights titan whose undeniable moral authority inspired the United States Congress for more than 30 years.
Lewis’s grace had the power to change the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. In every facet of his career, we saw faith in the power of nonviolence, hope in the face of hate, and determination that by causing ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,’ we could make a better future for everyone. But above all, we saw his unyielding determination to ensure that every American could exercise the fundamental right to vote.
On “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, Lewis put his body on the line for voting rights as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The images of that day, of a young John Lewis and so many other Americans bloodied and beaten by Alabama State Troopers, shocked an entire nation. Lewis’ courage was a statement of hope; it still is. His resistance to injustice continues to inspire our country to reckon with its conscience as it works to end systemic racism that perpetuates institutionalized violence and keeps communities of color in Nevada and across the country in cycles of poverty.
Since 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, America has witnessed a surge in voter suppression largely aimed at black, Latino and Native American voters. States like Texas, Georgia and Alabama have enacted voter ID laws that have denied communities of color access to the ballot box. We saw the most egregious attempt of disenfranchisement in North Carolina, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the state’s voter ID laws “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” In other places, polling locations have been reduced, producing long wait times to vote. Altogether, twenty-five states have introduced measures to make it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
John Lewis was right when he called voting, “the most powerful non-violent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” I see no better way for us to carry his legacy forward than by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the Senate today.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the full protections of the original Voting Rights Act. It requires states and localities to justify changes made to the voting process and lets courts reverse laws that deny citizens their right to vote.
As I stood in the Capitol Rotunda to pay my respects to Congressman Lewis, I couldn’t help but feel the immense void left in his absence, but also a sense of hope when I heard his voice come through the speakers during his service. His legacy has left an indelible mark on me and it places a profound responsibility on all of us.
In his final message to Americans, Representative Lewis wrote that ‘Democracy is not a state, it’s an act’. He left us with a blueprint for how to achieve real, lasting change. It is up to us to pick up the torch and continue his important work. We can start by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in the Senate today.