Democracy is not a state. It is an act,” wrote Congressman John Lewis in his final address to the nation, published posthumously by The New York Times on the day of his funeral.
“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”
On July 17th, 2020, our country mourned the passing of the late Congressman, who was a pillar in the Civil Rights Movement and was well-known for speaking with such conviction and tenacity.
As he was such an inspiration and role model to me, I felt it was necessary for me to forgo my doctor’s recommendations and travel to Washington, DC to see him off even while recovering from a recent medical procedure.
He was a stalwart supporter of equal rights, and was the embodiment of non-violent advocacy and racial justice. This level of strength and resolve was forged through his willingness to continue to fight against the many acts of racism and systems of oppression that the “Boy from Troy” encountered throughout his life.
One of the things I admired most about John Lewis was his commitment to the struggle for civil rights despite being arrested over 40 times, despite being brutally beaten, despite being spat on, he never lost faith that our country was not living up to the best version of itself.
Congressman Lewis was never afraid to live in his mantra of speaking up and speaking out. He was never afraid to get in the way and create what he often referred to as “good trouble, necessary trouble.” That is something I aspire to do in my work as a legislator.
It was an honor to be able to walk the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building where he once walked, and to be able to see him one last time.
The significance of the moment reminded me that some people still do not fully understand the importance of his sacrifice.
In a time where there was no social media, and no phones to record this violence, Congressman Lewis still willingly put his life on the line to fight back because our lives depended on it. Actions like that are part of what inspires my fight from the streets of Brooklyn to the halls of the Legislature in Albany.
Sadly, while we have made some progress over the lifetime of Congressman Lewis to get on the right side of history, we still have a long way to go.
August 6th, 2020, marked 55 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into federal law. For decades, it prevented states and municipalities from making it nearly impossible for minorities to vote, particularly Black voters in the South.
Congressman Lewis advocated tirelessly for the passage of this legislation, and we must fight to have the legacy of Congressman Lewis be one that actively lives on. Which is why it is important for us to pass The John Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, a bill that I am cosponsoring and pushing to get passed in the New York State Legislature.
This legislation will enhance voter protection, make voting more inclusive by adding language accommodations, and mandates that any changes to a localities election law must be approved by the State’s Attorney General.
In the wake of a primary election that saw thousands of ballots invalidated or not counted, we must continue to preserve the legacy of resistance against voter suppression that Congressman Lewis put his life on the line to protect.
Time and time again, I have found myself on the front lines, baton in hand, carrying it on this next leg of the journey towards justice. I have been proudly marching in the streets with the next generation of leaders, and I hope that I can be the kind of an inspiration to them that Congressman Lewis was to me. I am grateful for the endless sacrifices that Congressman Lewis and those like him have made so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we are afforded today. While our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Congressman Lewis, we cannot afford to lose hope or allow our resilience to waver, as this is just beginning. We must continue to fight the good fight for racial equality.
I hope that Congressman Lewis found peace and comfort in knowing that the generations inspired by his efforts to create “good trouble” are doing just that.
With a heavy, yet inspired heart,
Hon. Diana C. Richardson
Member, Assembly of the State of New York
43rd District, Kings County