Updated: Jul 20, 2020
It would be a fitting tribute to Rep. John L. Lewis (D-GA), the civil rights giant who shed blood fighting for the right to vote, if Donald Trump is defeated in November and votes by people of color are the major reason.
Lewis' battle for civil rights and the right to vote led him to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL at the age of 25, where police knocked him down, beat him and fractured his skull.
Nationally televised images of the brutality forced the country’s attention on racial oppression in the South, and within days, Dr. Martin Luther King led more marches in the state. President Lyndon Johnson soon pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, which became law later that year, removing barriers that had barred black Americans from voting.
Today, Donald Trump is in trouble. The latest nationwide polls show him down some 15 points to Democrat Joe Biden, and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which takes a major toll on black people, is given as a primary reason.
Moreover, his brutal mishandling of the nationwide demonstrations since the police murder of George Floyd, including his use of his own "brownshirts," unidentified federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, in communities like Portland, OR, only exacerbate that situation.
Trump's determined to make his case as a "law and order" president. In the doing, he is trampling on the civil rights of lawful demonstrators exercising their right of free speech, using them as props for his reelection campaign. It's a strategy that, except for his hard core supporters, is bound to backfire.
But if African Americans are to deny this racist president reelection, they must heed Lewis' words when he said in June 2019, “I have said this before, and I will say it again, “the vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”
However, the Republican Party, Trump, and their enablers on the U.S. Supreme Court are doing everything in their power to hold down this vote, to make it harder for people to exercise this right for which Lewis, King and other civil rights icons have fought to guarantee and preserve.
That's on top of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated key portions of the 1965 Voting Right Act. Six months after Lewis made that statement above, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore the vote to Americans — mostly Black, Latinx, and Native Americans — who had been disenfranchised by Shelby County v. Holder. But the legislation has gone nowhere, having been ignored by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the House Majority Whip, called on Senate Republicans and President Trump to pass and sign that legislation, saying it meets requirements imposed by the Supreme Court in that decision.
“If the president were to sign that, then I think that’s what we will do to honor John,” said Clyburn. “It should be the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020. That’s the way to do it. Words may be powerful, but deeds are lasting.”
Indeed, words are powerful. And deeds are lasting. Come November, Trump will see the power of his racist, hateful words and their impact on voters who have been belittled and mistreated by him, and worse. And, his misdeeds will long be remembered.