#StandWithJohnLewis: Legislative Boycott of Inauguration Grows

January 15, 2017; New Yorker

This past weekend saw many moving accounts of the struggle for an end to legalized segregation in the U.S. as the country prepared to observe Martin Luther King Day and, more generally, the civil rights struggle of the Sixties. John Lewis, of course, was in the leadership of that movement as an activist and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As David Remnick of the New Yorker described:

Lewis was at the head of the long double-file line. He wore a tan raincoat and carried a knapsack containing a book and a couple of pieces of fruit, just in case he got hungry later in jail. The protesters were facing off against countless blue-helmeted Alabama state troops armed with whips and truncheons. Lewis saw one trooper with a rubber hose wrapped in barbed wire. The streets were lined with “about a hundred whites, laughing and hollering, waving Confederate flags.” Lewis could hear one trooper’s horse snort and wheeze.

Given one minute to disperse by the troopers, Lewis had the protesters kneel in prayer. They would not leave. “And then they were upon us.” The troopers charged, and the first among them brought down a nightstick on the left side of Lewis’s skull. His legs gave way. “I really thought I was going to die,” he said. He curled up on the ground, as he had been trained, in a “prayer for protection” position.” The trooper hit him again. And then came the canisters of tear gas. His skull fractured, his coat a mess of mud and blood, Lewis refused to go to the hospital. Barely conscious, he reached Brown Chapel, the headquarters of the movement, ascended to the pulpit, and told those gathered, many of them still gasping from the tear gas, “I don’t know how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam. I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo. I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa, and he can’t send troops to Selma, Alabama. Next time we march, we may have to keep going when we get to Montgomery. We may have to go on to Washington.”

But on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, the president-elect decided to take it personally when civil rights veteran and Georgia congressman John Lewis said he would not attend Friday’s inauguration, saying, “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.

Trump’s outrage at such questioning of his legitimacy carries particular irony in light of the fact that, as David Remnick of the New Yorker points out, “Trump chose to launch his political career as a bloviating booster of the racist conspiracy theory known as ‘birtherism,’ declaring, in effect, that the Presidency of Barack Obama was illegitimate.”

But, perhaps in an attempt to get out of visiting the African American Museum yesterday, Trump, according to NBC News, “appeared to hit a new low in his already fraught relationship with the black community” when he tweeted, “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) all talk, talk, talk. No Action or results. Sad.”

Let’s not even bother to cite John Lewis’s well-documented record of courageous activism or decode that “crime-infested” comment here.

This full display of wholly incompetent tone-deafness (if we were inclined to be charitable) and flatfooted provocative racism (if we were attributing some deliberation to the communication) has helped add to the number of other legislators who will boycott the ceremony. That number reportedly now stands at 30 and growing, and a visit to #StandWithJohnLewis will keep you fully up-to-date on that.

This has led some to speculate that the women’s march scheduled for the day after the inauguration may get a bigger turnout than the inauguration itself. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes, bluntly, “Donald Trump doesn’t even deserve to stand in John Lewis’s shadow. The spectacular obscenity of Trump’s comment is incomparable and deeply repulsive.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • Keith

    Imagine the Democratic outrage if Hillary had been elected and they pulled this same stunt. Given the reported manipulation of the primary by the DNC, one could argue that Hillary’s election would have been “illegitimate”. Since there has been absolutely no evidence of Russian tampering with voter machines, John Lewis’s comment questioning the legitimacy of the results is the obscenity here. Does anyone reading your column remember how irate Hillary got during the race when Trump said he might not accept the election results, saying that it might undermine the democratic process? How is Lewis’s statement any different?

  • Sharon Charters

    “legitimate” or not, the election of Donald Trump is a slap in the face to anyone who fought for civil rights. I agree completely with Charles Blow.

  • Ruth, I must state that I think this is a very poorly written article. Is it legitimate news for nonprofits, or is it simply another political issue that your staff wants to take a stand on? I think the latter is much more probable. If you had made the case for why this issue is important to nonprofits, both those nonprofits with a liberal perspective and those with a conservative perspective, you would have been fulfilling the mandate of providing “well-analyzed, time-sensitive, and contextualized information to help nonprofit practitioners negotiate their rapidly changing landscape.” This quote is directly from the NPQ website, in case some readers do not recognize it.

    The article doesn’t even come close to being that. First of all, it does not appear to be well-analysed. You took one side of the issue, only quoting sources that agree with you. Second, it was not contextualized. I have commented on this issue before. To help nonprofit practitioners negotiate their rapidly changing landscape, they need to know the “so what.” You need to tell them why this issue impacts their work and what they should do about it.

    I take issue with the way you presented several of your quotes. You implied, or at the very least, led readers to infer, that what President-elect Trump did was on the same level as what the Alabama state troopers did in 1965. To say, or to imply that they are equivalent is simply ridiculous. They are not the same thing and it is irresponsible to imply they are the same. You also imply that if Congressman Lewis was right in 1965, he is now automatically right on this issue. Being right, and courageous, in one situation does not mean that you are automatically right in another. They are two separate issues.
    Then In a November 29, 2016 story, Recounts, Our Democracy, and the Deeper Challenge to Civil Society, you reported that before the election there was the possibility of Trump refusing to accept the results of the election if Clinton won. You are saying that it is acceptable for Congressman Lewis to question the results of the election, but it is a “horrifying”, as you quoted Clinton. You also call Trump a “a main driver of that doubt” when he was considering doing the same thing that Congressman Lewis is now doing. The choice of words in that article is heavily weighted with doubt as the article states, referring to Trump, “He and those close to him continued to raise the specter [emphasis added] of massive voter fraud right through Election Day.” The word specter means something that is feared but not really there. Was this choice of words meant to cast doubt on the possible existence of voter fraud, or was it a poorly chosen word? Let the readers decide, but I certainly inferred it to be a deliberately chosen word meant to cause doubt.

    You made yourself very clear with your quote from David Remnick of the New Yorker. What I understand you to be saying is that Trump is an inflated racist buffoon because he has had concerns over whether Obama is a natural-born citizen of the US. I also have had these concerns. You also have discussed issues about Trump and the Emoluments Clause, and rightly so. You appear to be saying that these concerns about the Emoluments Clause need to be addressed. Yet, I get the impression that you think to be concerned about the issue of Obama’s birth status is racist and evidence of ignorance. It is OK to be concerned about one clause of the Constitution, but not the other?

    I think a quote from your article is appropriate here, “This full display of wholly incompetent tone-deafness (if we were inclined to be charitable) and flatfooted provocative racism (if we were attributing some deliberation to the communication),” Your article is biased, is poorly written, and does a huge disfavor to your constituency when you don’t contextualize your reporting of the news. In December I commented on Mr. Schaffer’s article “Who Was in Those Meetings?”—Trump Transition Team Wants Names, stating that nonprofits need contextualized news. They need to know how the issue affects them in their work and what they should do about it. I know this takes more time than simple reporting on what is perceived as news, but that is what we need. I hope that the lack of contextualization within articles on the web will not cause people to start to distrust the actual Quarterly.
    I would like to address one last issue. I know that NPQ’s purpose calls for a sometimes disruptive civil sector, but please, use that concept wisely. You are being overly disruptive, and it does not help the situation. I, as many others involved in nonprofits, look to NPQ for good advice.That would be a shame. In leadership, perception is everything, and that is the perception that I am getting.

  • Bob Schroeder

    I’m not sure what Lewis’ boycott has to do with non-profits.

    • ruth

      Well, Bob
      SNCC which was the civil rights organization Lewis led was one of the six nonprofits that organized to move this country out of the habits of legalized segregation. Most civil rights work has involved nonprofits of some kind because they are the organizational types that most often act as vehicles for the pursuit of human rights. They are vehicles of democracy and ways for communities to carry out common work they believe is warranted for the benefit of society.
      Thanks for asking!

  • Mel

    From a friend in upstate NY – thank you for a sad, frightening, and wonderful article. A Canadian friend sent me the link. Most of the USA will regard tomorrow as a Day of Mourning, and we appreciate the Canadian support we’ve seen for our total outrage at Trump. It’s been a strange week – wonderful Martin Luther King Day events on Monday and tomorrow………………………….