Good Trouble: A Lesson From John Lewis's Lifetime March

In light of recent events, I want to share my recent interview with Congressman John Lewis about his experiences in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. The first thing Congressman Lewis shared was this: “Martin Luther King Jr. had the capacity, the ability, to appeal to people, to inspire people, he taught us the way of peace, the way of love. He told us not to hate. He would say over and over again, ‘Hate is too heavy a burden to bear, just love everyone.’”

The Women’s March this past Saturday, witnessed across the world, was a perfect example of nonviolent protest that can unify and lead to success. There was not a single arrest made during the March itself in Washington. By contrast, the crimes committed in Washington a day earlier to protest the inauguration of President Trump were neither an example of Dr. King’s teaching nor effective in drawing attention to the issues of inequality in the way the march was. Throwing bricks through windows? Destroying a Limo? What cause does that advance? Doesn’t it just tarnish the credibility of the perpetrators and diminish whatever cause they may seek to advance? Dr. King himself said once that, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” That constructive tension was what the march achieved. The violence on Friday accomplished only destruction, not growth.

Dr. King states in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ that “nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek… it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.” It is equally true that violence will not conquer injustice, and we cannot tolerate injustice even if it is enforced by means other than the whip or the gun. I suppose injustice is violent, by whatever means. 

Congressman Lewis is proof that those fighting injustice should never give up. Keep trying. To this day he has not given up. After being arrested 40 times and having his skull fractured on a march from Selma to Montgomery, he is still fighting injustice in our country. He testified against Jeff Sessions becoming Attorney General because, “those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ calls for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.”

He is still fighting. He is living proof that nonviolent campaigns can lead to success. Change does not happen overnight. We can say that we are going backward over and over again but it does not mean we should not continue fighting to move forward. In the end, history seems to move us forward and higher. And that’s because people like John Lewis don’t let us slip backward, at least not for long.