Good morning, Broadsheet readers! RBG is working through cancer (again), today is the Strike for Black Lives, and women who knew John Lewis reflect on his legacy. Have a meaningful Monday.
– The conscience of Congress. On Friday, the world lost Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights activist and Congressman whom his colleagues in government called the “conscience of Congress” for his moral leadership and clarity.
Lewis, who was a hero to so many, received an outpouring of grief and love from those who looked up to him and knew him. Many Black women were in agreement about what Lewis meant to them: he paved the way for their activism, fights for justice, and success. (President Barack Obama has said the same.)
A notable reflection came from Oprah Winfrey, who said she and Gayle King had spoken to Lewis last week in his final days fighting pancreatic cancer after false reports of his death at the time. “I had a final chance to tell him what I’ve said every time I’ve been in his presence: ‘Thank you for your courage leading the fight for Freedom. My life as it is would not have been possible without you,’” Winfrey said.
Ava DuVernay, who directed the 2014 film Selma in which actor Stephan James portrayed Lewis during the 1965 marches for voting rights, said she would “never forget what you taught me and what you challenged me to be.” DuVernay also shared some insight into Lewis not just as a larger-than-life figure, but as a humble man who was just as willing to share his senses of humor and fun as he was to fight for what’s right. DuVernay shared a video capturing Lewis’s humble appreciation of the March on Washington program Obama displayed in the Oval Office; it’s a wonderful behind-the-scenes moment, similar to the time he cosplayed as his 25-year-old self marching across Edmund Pettus Bridge with a train of children at Comic-Con.
Lewis was such a towering figure that he was a touchstone for many even before his death prompted these tributes. Last week, I interviewed Rep. Pramila Jayapal about her new book, Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change. In that book, Jayapal writes that she is “an unusual elected official, in that I have been arrested three times for leading and participating in civil disobedience.”
When I asked her about that line, she responded: “I’ve had the honor to serve with John Lewis so I don’t feel like getting arrested—’good trouble’ as he calls it—is out of bounds for us as elected officials. I know some people don’t feel comfortable with it, but I feel it’s very appropriate. … If politics is the art of the possible, then it’s our job as activists and organizers, regardless of where we sit, to push the boundaries of what is seen as possible. Because the possible is not static.”
(You can read the rest of that interview here, where Jayapal also discusses the role of the South Asian community in fighting anti-Black racism, the lessons she learned from the matrilineal society her family came from in Kerala, India, and from parenting a non-binary child.)
I’ll leave you with the words of Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the passing of her father’s friend: “When I visited Uncle John last week, I looked in his eyes and said, ‘Well done.’ I told him that I loved him and that we are going to continue to fight. So I must mourn and move at the same time.”