The civil rights icon fought his entire life for voting rights, justice and equality, and Obama extolled us to continue that fight, while Trump wants to do something that is not only unconstitutional, it is something no president in our history has floated. Abraham Lincoln didn't do during the Civil War in 1864, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't do in the midst of World War II in 1944.
One line really struck me from Obama's speech: "And so he knew that it depends on whether we summon a measure, just a measure, of John's moral courage to question what's right and what's wrong."
He is right; we must not turn a blind eye or neglect the injustice of the present and the brokenness of our democracy. Whether it be attacks on people of color, impediments purposely put in place to restrict voting, authoritarian moves by those in power or divisiveness in our politics that doesn't allow us to solve fundamental problems facing our not-as-yet "perfect union," we are called to action.
This is not just a problem in the South, or in cities in the West, it crosses all geographic boundaries and communities across America.
I was born in Detroit and grew up in the area amidst riots, civil strife and racial inequality, and I witnessed racism and discrimination on a regular basis. When I visit Michigan today I still see signs of that injustice. People fly Confederate flags on their vehicles or show up with Nazi symbols on their clothes while carrying guns at the State Capitol and threatening a female governor.
Many thought we were past all this when America elected its first African American president, but we have unfortunately seen an underbelly of racism rise its ugly head and white supremacy been encouraged by leaders in the most powerful positions of these United States.
Yes, some things have changed and improved, as in my native state, which voted for segregationist George Wallace in the Democratic primary in 1972, and just 16 years later voted for Jesse Jackson for president. However, the path of justice and a "more perfect union" is still incomplete and we have seen setbacks on a daily basis in the year 2020. We must be better and we must do more.
In 2017, I suggested that America was more divided than it had ever been since the Civil War. I was criticized roundly by many supporters of Trump. Tragically, I was accurate in my assessment.
Who is going to repair this broken democracy and heal our divides? I would like to say it can all be done by electing unifying leaders who call us to our better angels. Yes, that is a good step, but the responsibility fundamentally falls on each of us in our daily lives to summon some of Lewis's moral courage and stand up for justice and equality and push back against the force of hate with the power of love.
It is in the words and actions we engage in with others and whether they hurt or help our fellow citizens. It is taking voting seriously and not only voting ourselves, but encouraging and helping others to vote. It is in demanding the removal of impediments to voting for all Americans. It is helping those we see in need in our neighborhoods. It is not remaining quiet when we hear hateful words directed at another. It is putting our arms around our neighbors no matter their race, faith, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation or income and making sure they have an equal space at the American table and demanding decency.
Yes, today was a pivotal moment in this election and the 21st century. And the responsibility falls squarely on our shoulders. We must dig deep down in our hearts and souls and summon just some of the courage of Lewis and be the change our country and the world hungers for. We can do this.