John Lewis—a hero whose skull was cracked fighting for justice—urges us: Don’t despair

Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr Rep John Lewis Save Our Care...
Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr

What with a dreadful Supreme Court ruling on the heels of another dreadful ruling, and the much-feared announcement of the resignation of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, it’s been an especially rough few days for progressives.

It’s not the first time since Donald Trump became the squatter in the White House that feels as if it’s raining political razor blades. My email box since morning has been gorged with communications from acquaintances, friends, and allies bemoaning our perilous situation, wondering how we will get out of the authoritarian fix we are in, uncertain how we will emerge into the light from our darkened political circumstances that have the potential to shackle our liberties and shred our rights long after the Trump regime itself is ashes and dust.

The myriad sighs in those textual communications are nearly audible.

For that reason, a certain congressman’s words require repeating:

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Lewis use such language. More than half a century ago, in 1964, a few of us got directly from him the final polish on our training to persuade black Mississippians to register to vote: Freedom Summer. We had arrived in Jackson just four days after three civil rights workers had disappeared—people we assumed had been slain though this wouldn’t be confirmed for six more weeks.

Lewis, just 24 years old at the time, told us the same thing he did in that tweet of his today. Do not despair. Be hopeful. 

This isn’t a call to be happy, don’t worry. There is plenty to be unhappy about, to worry about, to fear. Another right-wing justice would surely go far to uphold various aspects of the extremist Republican agenda that Trump has been pushing, though that agenda long predates his victory 20 months ago. The struggle against this will be, has been, immensely difficult. If there’s anything that will make this struggle harder, it’s giving in to pessimism.

Lewis knew 54 years ago and knows now that despair creates apathy, and apathy destroys activism. Giving in to despair is lazy surrender.

We cannot, of course, be pollyannas. The path forward is rugged. Many tactics can be used, many already are, to oppose aspects of the regime’s agenda. But the range of possibilities for blocking a Supreme Court nominee is narrow indeed. Gregory Koger puts forth a possibility that might be used for this purpose in lieu of having 51 Democrats in the Senate, but it’s riddled with problems if used even once, much less consistently over a long period.

Nobody should underestimate the potential damage to civil rights and human rights another right-winger on the Court will most assuredly cause. The wreckage produced in its current configuration is bad enough. Even if we lose this battle, however, we should not give in to despair.

Some of us activists who are long in the tooth thought maybe we could retire soon. But, as Congressman Lewis says: Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Instead of retiring, we need to continue the fight while teaching our grandkids, everybody’s grandkids, the necessity for resisting, no matter what the odds.

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