September 12, 2018

He has been saying it for decades; he said it to me and our fellow House Democrats as he led us onto the House floor in June 2016 for a sit-in demanding action on gun violence in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

I had read extensively about his history as an iconic leader in the Civil Rights Movement. But I'm not sure I ever felt "good trouble" so acutely as I did last week, when I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma while visiting Alabama to stump for House candidates Peter Joffrion and Mallory Hagan.

The Pettus Bridge was the site of "Bloody Sunday" - the March 7, 1965 debacle in which police clubbed, whipped and tear-gassed peaceful demonstrators as they tried to march to Montgomery, the state capital, to assert their voting rights. John Lewis suffered a fractured skull, one of 58 citizens injured that day.

Their blood consecrates that bridge forever, a shrine to those who marched against ugly, violent, racist injustice. As I walked across the bridge with Darrio Melton - Selma's third African-African mayor - I could almost feel the history rising from the pavement like heat from an oven.

After the bridge, I visited the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail's Lowdnes County Interpretive Center, a National Park Service site in nearby Haynesville dedicated to those who peacefully marched to gain the right to vote.

I was met there by Catherine Flowers, rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, who helped link the past to the present in the most sober terms. More than half a century after John Lewis and his compatriots walked onto that bridge, Lowndes remains one of the poorest counties in Alabama's Black Belt, and for years has been grappling with a sewage problem that no American should have to endure.

Again, it's one thing to read it in a book or newspaper - it's another to be there and see and hear it yourself. Americans have bravely risen to overcome great challenges, but we still have a long way to go to ensure that everyone shares in the freedom to dream of and achieve a better life for themselves and their kids.

The next day, I visited the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, commemorating the contributions of African-American airmen in World War II. The men and women who trained and served at Moton Field proved that patriotism and duty have no color, showing a special kind of valor in overcoming ugly discrimination in order to serve our country. Their bravery and dedication opened doors for millions.

But history is still being written, and these fights aren't over.

When people of color and their allies say today that Black Lives Matter, the nation must hear and see it through the lens of all that has come before and understand that they speak truth.

When athletes take a knee during the National Anthem, we must ignore President Trump's absurd claim that they're "un-American" and instead understand that it's very American to peacefully protest systemic injustice.

And when the President of the United States speaks in thinly-veiled dog-whistle terms to vilify and demean people of color, we must resist, condemn, and censure his racist rhetoric. Americans are at our best when we build bridges between us, not walls around us.

This, and more, can be our "good trouble." And it's a hell of a lot easier than what John Lewis and so many others did so courageously in Selma.

Originally published in AL.com: https://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/09/california_congressman_what_i.html