U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), a civil rights activist and long-time Georgia congressman, gave a passionate address on Saturday at the National Action to Realize the Dream March and Rally, calling for Congress to act on the Voting Rights Act and immigration reform.
On August 28, 1963 Lewis, at 23 years of age chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.
On Saturday, almost exactly 50 years later, Lewis, as the only surviving speaker from the famous march, gave another speech in celebration of the March on Washington.
“Fifty years ago I stood right here in this spot, 23-years old, had all of my hair and a few pounds lighter,” said Lewis. “So I’ve come back here again, to say that those days, for the most part, are gone. But we have another fight. We must stand up and fight the good fight as we march today, for there are forces, there are people who want to take us back. We cannot go back, we’ve come too far, we want to go forward.”
The congressman reminded the crowd that in 1963 blacks could not register to vote. “I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote,” said Lewis referring to Bloody Sunday in 1965 when police violently beat hundreds of peaceful protesters, Lewis included.
Lewis urged the crowd to stand together and fight to preserve everyone’s right to vote, “it doesn’t’ matter whether we’re black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native-American, it doesn’t matter whether we’re straight or gay, we’re one people, we’re one family, we’re one house, we all live in the same house!”
“I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us,” said Lewis. “You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You got to stand up. Speak up. Speak out, and get in the way. Make some noise! The vote is precious, it is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society. And we got to use it!”
Lewis pointed out that even with limited resources, a group of people made a difference in the 60’s. He encouraged the younger generations to keep pushing for positive change and “make America what America should be for all of us.”
The congressman asked the crowd to rally Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and to pass a comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
“We must say to the Congress, ‘Fix the Voting Rights Act’, we must say to the Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform, it doesn’t make sense that millions of people are living in the shadow,” he said. “Bring them out into the light and set them on a path to citizenship.”
“So hang in there, keep your faith,” said Lewis in conclusion. “I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s, beaten, bloodied and unconscious. I’m not tired, I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight. Thank you very much.”