I just finished watching President Obama's eulogy of American Hero John Lewis. Yes, I was moved to tears by the message, the messenger and the moment.
I hope you were too.
What struck me about this eulogy and all the others I heard was the dignity, control, intelligence and power of these messengers telling us Lewis' story. A 20 year old kid from nowhere USA starting a lifetime of bravery, love and perseverance on the streets of a hostile South, his place of birth, not of choice.
No bitterness, no overt displays of anger, an absolute commitment to non-violent protest and messaging. He embraced his tormentors and brutalizers with love and patience. That was way more than I've ever been capable of. My parents tried to teach me how to live with dignity, but somehow his family and community were way better teachers. Or maybe, more likely, he was a way better person than me.
The message from our former President Obama and all those giving testimony to Lewis' life was this: you have oppressed us, but time and time again we give you the space to redeem yourselves, privileged white America. We do not hate you for what you've done to us, our parents or our ancestors. Some of you white people wrote both a Declaration of Independence and Constitution that we, Black Americans, admire and take as a blueprint for a better life for you.....not so much us, excluded from that document, including Native Americans, all women and us Black Americans. You were hypocrites at the time, excluding all of the rest of us but likely more than a handful of your founders would come to realize the words of A More Perfect Union meant we all would keep working on this democracy idea until we got it at least close to right.
Sure enough, once again, Americans of good will have taken to the streets, this time a much more diverse crowd, to remind us there is a huge task at hand. It's in diminishing if not eliminating oppression of Black Americans. This, in the face of the worst health epidemic in a hundred years and in the face of a cruel, selfish and authoritarian fascist government duly elected under our rules and doing everything they can to demoralize, demean and diminish all Americans of color in favor of a nationalist white majority who have ruled since the beginning of this nation.
This deplorable minority of white Americans among us came to realize they are not alone in the land....there are others Black and others of color and differing religious and ethnic background who want to share in the glorious idea of equality and freedom for everyone here sharing that ideal. And that reality is threatening to their self image, self-esteem and privilege.
That is what the founders did: gave us an ideal toward which to work to create a More Perfect Union. That is what Black America and the BLM movement is repeating; giving us an ideal, decidedly attainable if all of us treat one another as equals and put our shoulders to this task. It doesn't mean that some of us in our lives will, through innate talent, intelligence or just plain grit won't attain more for themselves than some of our equals. But that doesn't empower this group to oppress those who attain less in a material sense. That was not the idea of America in ideal and shouldn't be if we value fairness and all people as equals.
Just look at the lineup of those speaking on July 30 at John Lewis' funeral. They were up there because of achievement, yes, connections, status and wealth. But all spoke of shared equality of opportunity and shared equality in participation in our democracy as advocated by John Lewis. And a commitment to all of us working through the vehicles available to us to make life better and more free for all of us, without one group oppressing the other.
That is the difference they pointed out between Trump style Americans and Lewis style Americans. The Lewis people have an equal passion for equal opportunity for all of us, not just their own bubble, family or circle of support. And they have gone to the streets repeatedly to voice that demand of a more just America. And they have endured broken promises of equality, broken commitments to equal participation in our civil, economic and social order called America. Yet, they, the overwhelming majority of them are peaceful, non-destructive and welcome allies of other ethnic and social backgrounds to join them in the task of making life better for us all.
Trump style Americans want skin pigment to be a deciding factor in winners and losers in striving for enrichment; they want power and domination over people of color and differing backgrounds from their own. And they want to control the economic wealth and status for their own families and chosen circle without a commitment to advancing the status of others not like them. This is a long rejected social order of the dark ages in European history our founders, inspired by the Enlightenment, aimed to create in the new world.
I continue to want to call myself a Lewis style American. The alternative for me is unthinkable. I refuse to be an oppressor or keep company with those who in their silence and inaction, enable the oppressors to oppress.
I am a Lewis American committed to advancing a More Perfect Union.