Tag Archives: #BlackLivesMatter

Rep. John Lewis: 1940-2020–Now He’s Walking in the Wind

John Lewis in a 2016 sit-in on the floor of the US House of Representatives
John Lewis in a 2016 sit-in on the floor of the US House of Representatives

Debbie says:

I wasn’t going to write about John Lewis today; so many other people are doing it better than I ever could. But when I went to the site with the article I was going to blog (it’s coming), I found this article by Zak Cheney-Rice condensed from interviews Lewis gave last month. And some of you might not have seen it.

John Lewis, for anyone who doesn’t know, was a leader of the 1960s civil rights movement. He, and many others, were beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus bridge in 1965. Over the course of his life, he was arrested 40 times — 5 of them after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from a district of Atlanta.

At the 1963 March on Washington, from the same podium where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, John Lewis gave a more fiery, radical speech — even after it was toned down by the march organizers (including Dr. King).  Details in this Twitter thread from @studentactivism. Perhaps the most telling edit was that they made him change “people who must live in constant fear in a police state” to “people who must live in constant fear of a police state.” Listen to the difference.

If you didn’t have the context, you might read some of his comments from these June interviews as mild and moderate, but the fire behind them never went out.

I’m curious, watching what’s happened this past week or so, what has stood out to you?
This determination of the young people, even not so young. Not just in America, but all around the world. I’ve come in contact with people who feel inspired. They’re moved. They’ve just never been along in a protest — they’ve never been in a march before — they decided to march with their children and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and to walk with them. They’re helping to educate and inspire another generation of activists. It’s seeing an effect. There can be no turning back; there can be no giving up.

Have you had a moment where you felt that maybe this wasn’t working?
No, I never ever came to that point. You get thrown in jail, maybe for a few days, and then you go to Mississippi, and you go to the state penitentiary, and you find some of your friends and your colleagues. And you get out, and you go on to the next effort. We used to say struggling is not a struggle that lasts for a few days, a few weeks, a few years. It is a struggle of a lifetime.

We have, in a lot of the cities where this unrest is happening today, progressive mayors, progressive city councils, and yet law-enforcement violence occurs regardless of who’s in office. I just wonder, Where should concerned Americans be directing their energy when voting the right people, or who they think are the right people, into office doesn’t seem to be solving the problem?
We must never ever give up, or give in, or throw in the towel. We must continue to press on! And be prepared to do what we can to help educate people, to motivate people, to inspire people to stay engaged, to stay involved, and to not lose their sense of hope. We must continue to say we’re one people. We’re one family. We all live in the same house. Not just an American house but the world house. As Dr. King said over and over again, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. If not, we will perish as fools.”

cover of Walking with the Wind

A few years ago, I read Walking with the Wind, Lewis’s autobiography. The title story has always stayed with me: as a child, Lewis was in his aunt’s ramshackle house in the rural South. A serious windstorm was threatening to tear the house off its foundation, and the children were scared. His aunt got the children to move around the house with the wind, holding down whatever corner was precarious, until the storm stopped.

Since I read that, I’ve always seen Lewis moving to the most vulnerable corner, using his physical, intellectual, and moral weight to hold it down.


Follow me on Twitter. Thanks to @waywardcats for the pointer to the edits to Lewis’s 1963 speech.


Tikkun Olam: Young Chasidic Jews in Brooklyn, Repairing the World

Laurie and Debbie say:

If you were reading the news in 1991, you may remember the vicious clash between the ultra-orthodox Chasidic Jewish community and the Black and Brown community of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. This four-day riot began when two African immigrant children were accidentally hit by the motorcade of the rabbi who led the Crown Heights orthodox community at the time.  The callousness of the Chasidic leaders following the death of one of the children enraged their neighbors of color. Violence ensued, several people were injured, and one young Jewish man died.

Although efforts were made to heal the breach, tensions have remained high between the Chasidic Jews and the people of color, especially in that neighborhood, but also wherever the two groups live side by side.

In the uprising following the murder of George Floyd, neither of us would have predicted that the younger orthodox Jews of Crown Heights would host a large, loud, and supportive Black Lives Matter protest (!).


On a recent Sunday, about 200 young Hasidic women in long skirts and wigs and men with wide-brimmed black hats and free-flowing beards parked their baby strollers along the tree-lined boulevards of Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

They picked up their bullhorns and raised their homemade posters, some in Hebrew and Yiddish.

“The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference,” one sign read, quoting Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate Elie ­Wiesel. The young families chanted “Black lives matter!” and “Jews for justice!” as they marched through the diverse neighborhood …

The protest was both more widely based than is immediately obvious, and more controversial than the organizers hoped:

As they organized the demonstration, they welcomed openly gay former members who had been shunned by the community, and asked rabbis to speak about how standing up to injustice and racism is at the heart of Hasidic Jewish values. But their plans proved divisive, unleashing tense and emotional discussions within the community…

Some of the religious leaders said the event was too political. Others feared that the Black Lives Matter movement was anti-Semitic and argued that “Jewish lives matter” should be a slogan, too, given the recent spate of attacks on synagogues and Jewish people in New York City.

We know, of course, that the anti-Semitic attacks come from the white supremacists, not from people of color, and certainly not from Black Lives Matter.  And the message of the Jewish protesters got through:

Geoffrey Davis, a black community activist and founder of an anti-violence group that launched after the riots, joined in the protesters’ chants for black lives as they marched past his house last week. He called the demonstration “bold.” “This was a message to young African Americans, who had never seen this sort of thing before, that some Hasidic Jews do care about their lives,” he said. “Now, that’s powerful.”

Tikkun Olam is the Hebrew phrase for “heal the world,” which Jews are required to work on as part of the religion. For the two of us, mostly-secular Jews and vehement believers in the fight for Black lives, seeing our ultra-religious distant cousins taking such a public stand is extremely moving.