Getting in a Good Trouble for a Perfect Union. A Tribute to Congressman John Lewis 

By Zekeh S. Gbotokuma, Ph.D.

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Congressman John Lewis on Black Lives Matter Plaza, Washington, June 7, 2020.  (Khalid Naji-Allah/Executive Office of the Mayor via AP)

  • “In this moment, it is difficult and heartbreaking to comprehend a world without John Lewis” (Mayor Muriel Bowser@Mayor Bowser

Rep. John Lewis receives the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during an East Room event at the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

According to the biblical account of creation, God gave himself six days to create the world as we know it. He used the seventh day to rest and then he entrusted humans whom he created in his image and likeness to continue his complex and complicated creation. He did not give them any known deadline because he had not endowed them with the same uniquely divine attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence. After so many millennia or centuries of creating activities, the world is still far from being a better place to live for all. Natural and moral evils are ubiquitous. America is part and parcel of this imperfect and perfectible world. It is a work in progress. The good news is that we do not have to start from scratch. We stand on millions of peoples’ shoulders. We can learn from their shortcomings as well as successes. God gave John Lewis more than six days to make his contribution to the work in progress that we call the United States of America. Some of us have been fortunate enough to learn from his exemplary life that is an open book. I am referring, for example, to the Salma’s Bloody Sunday experience that almost killed him, to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. I am referring to his 33 years as a Congressman on Capitol Hill, and his last and most memorable public appearance on Black Lives Matter (BLM) Plaza in Washington, DC on June 7, 2020. The face mask that he wore that day standing with DC African American Mayor Muriel Bowser sent an additional powerful message to the world in general and to the U.S. in particular. This is the case because of the U.S. lion’s share of the Coronavirus confirmed cases (3.8 million+ cases and 141,000+ deaths as of July 20, 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University). As an African American and highly respected leader, the appearance with a face mask on BLM Plaza was of utmost importance for two reasons. First, African Americans represent 13% of the U.S. population, but their share of the Coronavirus cases is 23%, according to CDC. They need some credible leaders to tell them that COVID-19 is not “a hoax” and wearing a face mask saves lives. Secondly, the appearance served as a powerful endorsement that legitimizes a movement that has gained a global attention and legitimacy due to global mass protests after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer(s). 

Lewis was the prototype of dignity, honor, humility, integrity, determination, and “good trouble.” In our less than perfect world, he was unjustly arrested and punished for doing what is right. Fortunately, he was also rewarded for doing the right thing. His rewards include, among others, his 33 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Medal of Freedom that he received from Present Obama in 2011. He will be forever remembered as the “Conscience of Congress,” Civil Rights Icon, freedom rider, hero, and “good troublemaker.” His bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 was instrumental in shaking America’s conscience regarding the injustice of racial segregation. It paved the way for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Unfortunately, this citizenship right has been under assault through conservatives and ‘Trumpublicans’ voter suppression mechanisms, including but not limited to the unjustified opposition to the vote by mail despite public health experts’ warnings that in-person voting will be a recipe for the Coronavirus spread and more deaths. One of the best possible ways to honor John Lewis’ legacy and keep it alive during this election year is to emulate him by having the audacity to (be)come ‘good troublemakers.’ Emulating John Lewis is important because as President Obama stated upon presenting the Medal to him, “Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind – an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.” To this end, it is necessary to keep defending every eligible American citizen’s right to vote and run for elective office without unnecessary barriers and discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, class, etc. It is morally and legally necessary to defend the integrity of the American democratic system, national security and sovereignty by denouncing and rejecting collusion. It is unpatriotic to invite and/or welcome foreign countries’ interference in the U.S. elections. What happened in 2016 can happen again in 2020. The Mueller Report is an open book of warnings about what happened and how to eventually prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, ‘45’ used the failure to punish him for his election-related questionable behaviors as a license to keep repeating the same misbehaviors. I am referring to what John Bolton called “drug deal,” that is, the famous “perfect call” with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asking for “a favor, though” a.k.a. “Quid Pro Quo.” The American people owe their awareness of this election law violation to the patriotism of courageous whistleblowers. They were vigilant. They saw something and they said something. That is exactly what John Lewis urged his fellow Americans to do.to protect the integrity of our democracy and enjoy our right to vote. 

The 116th Congress believed in what the whistleblowers saw. They did something. They impeached President Trump for abusing his power and for obstructing Congress (H.RES. 755). Unfortunately, just like the Mueller Report, Impeachment without removal from office is almost worthless. The good news is that the Mueller Report, the Impeachment, the condemnation of President Trump for “racist comments directed at members of Congress” (H.RES.489), and the Coronavirus denial and chaotic handling have allowed the American people to see something. Hopefully, they will say and do something in November 2020. But 45 has not given up. He knows how to create and benefit from chaos, “truthful hyperboles,” and conspiracy theories. That is why it is imperatively urgent to be even more vigilant than ever before as we approach the elections Day. More important, “WE THE PEOPLE” have the moral obligation and legal duty to say, do something about, and overcome the propensity to defend the indefensible. We must say no to the violence of silence, and the normalization of the new normal, including but not limited to the assault on science and reason. That is what good troublemaking is all about at this critical time. May Congressman Lewis rest in peace, power, and in paradise.

Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma

Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma, Founder, Polyglots in Action for Diversity, Inc. (PAD)

& Associate Prof. of Philosophy

Morgan State University

Author, Global Safari: Checking In and Checking Out in Pursuit of World Wisdoms, the American Dream, and Cosmocitizenship (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), etc.

Email: zekehgbotokuma@gmail.com. Tel: (443)485-0095 (H) or (443-622-3033 (cell)