Make Good Trouble
September 8, 2020
Our country lost what feels like the last giant of the 1960s Civil Rights era when John Lewis died. My why is to make things better, and our Union’s current state has made me question my why.
Reflecting on John Lewis’s life has reminded me that we can make things better if we stay committed to the principles of equality, compassion, and love above the principles of division, fear, and hate. I am going to use portions of a TED Talk conversation between Brian Stevenson and John Lewis. Their conversation is remarkable. I will also use excerpts from John Lewis’s last words.
It feels like our culture is in the grips of division, fear, and hate. I don’t care whether you are rich or poor, liberal or conservative, Republican, Democrat or Libertarian; I think we all believe there is something wrong in our culture. I have not been able to put my finger on what it is until I saw a recent article and interview with Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, where he argued that slavery was a “necessary evil” to form our Union. Further, the Senator wants us to teach this “necessary evil” theory as part of history. We have allowed ourselves to go down a road where “necessary evils” are permissible in building and maintaining a civil society.
We were persuaded that it was a “necessary evil” to allow our factory jobs to be shipped overseas in my lifetime.
We were persuaded it was a “necessary evil” to fight a war on drugs that imprisoned millions, cost trillions, and has not slowed drug usage..
We were persuaded that it was a “necessary evil” to keep wages down to preserve jobs.
Then, when people became angry and frustrated as they could not reach their American Dream…
We were persuaded that other people who don’t look like us are the problem.
We were persuaded that it was a “necessary evil” to militarize our police to preserve the peace.
Evil sews the seeds of division and hate through the use of fear and shame. Evil convinces us that others within our society are the enemy and must be defeated at all costs. Calling them “necessary evils” is the rationalization we make to fight each other. People and police are enemies. People and the Government are enemies. Rich and Poor are enemies. Because of “necessary evils,” everything is a war. In reality, our war is against these “necessary evils.” John Lewis teaches that we cannot use hate to combat hate. Hatred is corrosive to the soul.
Ironically, we are at another tipping point at the end of his life. John Lewis knew this as he penned his last words.
While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that you inspired me in the last days and hours of my life. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. You set aside race, class, age, language, and nationality to demand respect for human dignity around the country and the world.
At this time, it is the unequal treatment of minority groups in the hands of the criminal justice system that has brought us together. Be it George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or the migrant children in cages at the border. These are only symptoms of the real question we seek to answer. The real question is the same as it has always been. Will we live up to the promise of equality put forth in our constitution for all people? If the answer is yes, then we must eliminate “necessary evils” from how we govern each other. Evil is never necessary to build and maintain a civil society.
We are not each other’s enemy. Evil is our common enemy. When we unite against evil, there is nothing our society cannot achieve. Think about the history.
Preventing women from voting was evil. We fought until it ended.
Segregation was Evil. We are still fighting to end this.
Forcing children to work was evil. We ended that practice.
Preventing Labor from organizing was evil. We created the greatest middle class in the history of the world by organizing.
The great depression was evil. Our government put people back to work to end the depression.
People working their whole lives and having nothing to retire on was evil. We helped make that better with social security.
People working their whole lives and being unable to afford health care was evil. We fixed this with medicare.
Preventing people from loving who they want to love was evil. We recently ended this.
Each of these advancements was made by making “good trouble,” as John Lewis would say. Each of these advancements was rooted in non-violent protests.
Now that Mr. Lewis is gone, it is our turn to continue the push toward equality.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love, and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When evil tries to pit us against each other in the pursuit of equality, we must make good trouble until that evil is defeated.
How do we know when evil is trying to pit us against each other? One clue is when others use the “necessary evil” argument to justify conduct. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, Liberal, or Conservative, when we see people in our local, state, or federal government that believe in “necessary evils,” we must fight to replace them with people committed to the promise of equality.
We must stay true to John Lewis’s principles and what he wished for us in his last moments.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression, and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers, and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.