Get into good trouble: John Lewis
The country lost a giant. However, it is time for the baton to be passed to a new generation. This is exactly what Congressman John Lewis wanted. He was the son of sharecroppers and poor as can be. He saw the injustice around him. And he acted the best he could. On Bloody Sunday he led the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge (I have seen a proposal that it should be renamed the John Lewis Bridge), he was a young man with no want of fame. He was one of the many who did what they did and changed a nation.
I met John Lewis, at Comicon in 2013, with my husband. We were freelancers at the time for East County Magazine, and we had an interesting series of conversations with the Congressman and with Andrew Aidyn, his Congressional Aide, and coauthor of March. So I would like to use this opportunity to take you into the reporter's notebook because if there is one thing that stayed with me from that weekend, is how humble Lewis was.
The first thing to be said is that we had no idea Lewis was going to be at Comicon. This is not the kind of convention you expect politicians of any sort to be at. But it made sense by the end of the weekend. It was beyond logical,
When we got our schedule on preview night, we went to a Mexican restaurant near the Padres Stadium to have dinner, and go over the book. It is always good practice to plan your week, and what you will cover. As reporters for ECM Comicon was a series of easy fun stories and a way to blow some steam from the far more serious political and fire beats. And it was also an opportunity to do a few things on our own. We knew readers enjoyed them as well.
So when we went through the book, we saw March and U.S Congressman John Lewis (D) GA-5 in the small type or the schedule. We stopped eating our tacos and re-read that. As I said, you usually do not have members of Congress at Comicon. At party conventions, sure. At political events, you betcha. Comicon, not so much. We knew we had to be at that panel the next day. We also knew we had to be there early to make sure we got in. And this one was a rare panel indeed. They made sure that those of us who were press were credentialed for Comicon, nope, the city issued ID would not serve. We had both.
When the Congressman entered the room, with Aydin and Top Shelf Comics representative, he immediately was surrounded by the scrum. Most of the reporters were in the entertainment beat, and young. So the questions they asked were funny. “What inspired you to write this?” “What were the inking techniques used?” “Who was the illustrator?” “Is this based on real-life?”
Lewis turned in my direction and had a look of not more of this idiocy. I knew I had one chance. And I had a question rattling in my head. I also knew who John Lewis was. “Sir, the death of Trayvon Martin has triggered the movement, how would you compare this to Emmett Till and the civil rights movement?” His face relaxed and his intense eyes bore into me. He went into a long answer, as to how the death of both young men was an assault to the conscience of the American people. He also explained how the nation was very different before Emmett Till and how it changed, The murder of Emmett Till is credited with igniting the civil rights movement that ultimately led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the end of Jim Crow laws in the deep south or Juan Crow laws in the Southwest.
Trayvon was killed for wearing a hoodie and going to the corner store for some skittles and iced tea. This death was the product of stand your ground laws, that are endemic in the South. His death was one reason for the Black Lives Matter movement that is currently part of the conversation. In fact, it was the trigger, together with Michael Brown’s death in Fergusson Missouri a year later.
Lewis went into how they are connected, and how peaceful resistance is the way to protest and demand change; this is what is morally right. He was clear that the struggle is never over. And what was more impressive is that while younger people consider him a giant, (and he was), he did not see himself in that light even in 2013. He had the moral authority to claim a role in the civil rights movement, and the changes that have come to the nation, yet it was not over. It was not a done deal. He always spoke, in a soft clear voice, about getting into good trouble. And he did many times, arrested over forty times over the course of his lifetime.
March was not just a story of his life in the movement. It was also inspired by A Montgomery Story, which told the events of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1957. Aydin had to remind the Congressman of this comic book, and its role in sparking the movement. This is a movement that has not ended.
Books can change history. However, March is not a book to make a change, It is a trilogy to detail how the change came. It can serve as inspiration for a new generation of leaders. It is also an important memoir, and in graphic novel form, it is extremely approachable. New leaders are emerging as I type, and others will be the giants for a future generation. The movement is unfinished. He explained that even with a black president in the White House, the movement still had a lot to accomplish.
There are income and health gaps, as well as the housing gap. There are people who still live in redlined segregated districts, whether they are illegal or not is immaterial, and the latter has gotten worse over the years. Education is far from equal in the nation. During COVID we are seeing the effects of this segregation with the higher death rates among minorities, both Black and Hispanic And while he is the product of the American dream, going from a sharecropping field to the halls of Congress, there is still much to be done.
He filled the room he was in, Whether it was the smaller panel room, bursting at the seams with both reporters and attendees, or the exhibition hall. His was the power of moral authority. And yes, he was very humble, about his life, his accomplishments, and his job in Congress. He was a public servant. And in that role, he was the happiest.
Get into good trouble. Those words still resonate in my head. Get into good trouble…