Baltimore holds vigil for Representative John Lewis at Jubilee Arts Center, 1947 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Courtesy photo)
By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO
50 activists gathered in Sandtown-Winchester, July 24.
The assembly was one of hundreds of “Good Trouble Vigils,” a nationwide marking of the
passing of Georgia Representative John Lewis. “Good trouble” is how Mr. Lewis termed his
struggles in civil disobedience that often found him at odds with police, mayors, governors and even U.S. Presidents.
Mr. Lewis, a lifelong champion of voting rights and racial justice, died July 17, 2020.
The Baltimore event was originally scheduled for July 17, but was delayed on account of severe rain and flood warnings. This delay made Baltimore’s event the last vigil in the action. The vigil took place at The Jubilee Arts Center, 1947 Pennsylvania Ave.
Since Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 Supreme Court decision that rolled back critical
preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voting rights for minorities and
marginalized communities have been undermined across the country.
While remembering John Lewis, the vigil also remembers that Mr. Lewis’s work is incomplete and must continue without him.
At issue today are two bills. First, HR1, the For the People Act, which in its current draft allows for many opportunities, including same day voter registration, preregistration, automatic registration and DC statehood. And second, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act which aims to expand the protections and enforcement capabilities of the Voting Rights Act nationwide.
In the glow of electric candlelight, the gathered keep watch during speeches and prayers. It’s somber, but not silent.
“I would say is not necessarily what we need,” Eean Logan told the AFRO. Mr. Logan is Baltimore Corps Democracy Fellow and Civic Culture Director at No Boundaries Coalition. “I think the follow up is what’s going to be the most important. Making sure that our representatives hear us, and that the folks here continue to lean on our representatives. I think, even drawing attention and awareness at this point is making some noise, even though it’s not the loudest.”
No Boundaries Coalition and Mr. Logan organized the vigil on the ground, with support from
Democracy and Be The Change. Shannon Sneed, former Baltimore City Councilwoman and
now Baltimore City Regional Director for the Senator’s office, spoke. Some attendees traveled from as far as Pennsylvania to join the cause.
Representative John Sarbanes gave the capstone speech at the vigil’s conclusion.
“We can get this done,” Mr. Sarbanes said. “If you’ve made 500 calls, make another hundred. If you send 250 emails, send another hundred. The temperature is high, lawmakers are hearing it. They know the people will not be denied.”
“I’ve been working on this for 15 years, so wherever two or more people are gathered, to
support these two critical pieces of legislation, I’m gonna do everything I can to get there,” Mr. Sarbanes told the AFRO after the event.
The AFRO asked why this bill has taken 15 years to pass, over the course of four presidential administrations and just as many Senate terms.
“It’s hard to get these kinds of things done in America,” Mr. Sarbanes said. “There are powerful forces that are fighting against this. Inside the Capitol, you have all the Republicans lined up against it, you’ve got these procedural rules that are stopping people from getting this over the finish line with a simple majority vote. So, it’s not easy to change these things, but it’s possible.”
While there are not hundreds of thousands marching on D.C., Mr. Sarbanes sees promise in the data reaching him and his colleagues.
“If you could measure, all of the activity that is happening, across the country, the phone calls, the emails, the social media shares, that level of energy, behind a set of democracy reforms, a set of legislative reforms, I haven’t seen anything like this in my 15 years,” Mr. Sarbanes told the AFRO. “We’re on the precipice of getting these critical reforms in place, that’s where we are, that’s the moment that we’re in. So, stay tuned.”
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