Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lions of resistance

WITH THE COUNTDOWN to the great unknown now underway — 48 hours or so — it’s important to be on the record with statements made by certain champions of an America we may be about to lose, or at least an America that is literally two days from being under siege like never before.

Days away from the inauguration of a president we’d already just as soon forget, two people in Congress recently took on the roles of drum majors for justice — like the man whose name graces the weekend that just ended, the man whose life’s work may have never been more necessary than now.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Georgia Rep. John Lewis spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 11,  against the confirmation of closet segregationist Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General.

It’s a special kind of rhetorical fighter who’ll stand in the ring with his principles when the odds (and the other fighter) are massively stacked against him. That’s what it’s like for Democrats in Congress right now. The battle against Sessions’ confirmation was going to be uphill from the jump; Democrats knew that going in. But Booker and Lewis brought their A games to Capitol Hill, with words that shouldn’t be forgotten. They spoke last week. So what? Their message, their passion will be worth remembering years from now.

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BOOKER SPOKE first in an appearance that broke with Senate tradition; it’s very uncommon for a sitting senator to speak out against another one in a confirmation for a Cabinet post.

“In a choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country,” he said.

“Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job: to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights, and justice for all of our citizens,” Booker said. “In fact, at numerous times in his career, he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance these ideals.”

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“The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice, we must bend it,” he said. “America needs an attorney general who is resolute and determined to bend the arc. Sen. Sessions record does not speak to that desire, intention or will.”

“The next attorney general must bring hope and healing to this country,” Booker said. “This demands a more courageous empathy than his record demonstrates. ... Law and order without justice is unobtainable. They are inextricably tied together. If there is no justice, there is no peace."

Some have proposed that with his testimony last Wednesday, Booker was laying the groundwork for a possible 2020 run at the White House.

“By taking this extraordinary measure, he is showing that he could have the chops to lead the party, be our standard bearer in 2020 and, at a minimum, it helps define the resistance to Trump’s agenda at this critical time,” said Brad Bauman, the former executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, to However true that might be, it doesn’t undercut the power of Booker’s testimony.

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LEWIS HARBORS no such desire for higher office. A veteran of the crucible era of civil rights, the Georgia congressman expressed fears that Sessions’ confirmation would mean rolling back “decades of progress and the return to the dark past.”

“We can pretend that the law is blind. We can pretend that it is even-handed. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Sen. Sessions’ call 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.

“I was born in rural Alabama — not very far from where Senator Sessions was raised. There was no way to escape or deny the chokehold of discrimination and racial hate that surrounded us. I saw the signs that said ‘White Waiting, Colored Waiting.’ I saw the signs that said ‘White Men,’ ‘Colored Men,’ ‘White Women,’ ‘Colored Women.’ I tasted the bitter fruits of segregation and racial discrimination.

“We have come a distance. We have made progress, but we are not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward.

“It doesn’t matter whether Sen. Sessions may smile or how friendly he may be, whether he may speak to you. We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian or Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian or Jews We all live in the same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look for all of us, not just some of us.”

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It’s a sign of how historically tone-deaf the president-presumptive is already that, after Lewis’ testimony, The Donald took to Twitter three days later, to offer his opinion (in a rare two-part tweet):

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to......mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results," Trump tweeted Saturday. “All talk, talk, talk -- no action or results. Sad!”

Sadder still is a president-apparent whose grasp of the national history, history he lived through, is so weak, so indifferent, so antagonistic to the truth. Action, he wants? Results? Trump only needs to look at the nation whose stewardship he will briefly inherit — a country uplifted by Lewis’ actions and empowered by his results — to see how wrong he is.

image credits: Booker and Lewis: CNN. Lewis bottom: Jackson (Miss) Police Department.

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