Cling to first principles in troubled times. One man. One vote. Women, too. Mess with voting and you are messing with America. Our nation’s Voting Rights Act was born of blood spilled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.
Young John Lewis took a brutal beating on Bloody Sunday. Martin Luther King Jr. and his many followers then joined the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail. These brave people changed the world through nonviolent protest. History, morality, and religion taught them how.
They brought clean hands to their rallies. These Black founding fathers never dropped F-bombs in public speeches. These religious men worshipped the ineffable G-d of Moses, as described in 1933 by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a 26-year-old doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Berlin.
Barely escaping Europe in 1940, Heschel came to America, where he was a rabbi and prolific author. With his January 1963 keynote address at the National Conference on Religion and Race, Rabbi Heschel electrified the Chicago crowd and its featured speaker, King. Heschel’s historic speech about Old Testament prophets fighting for human rights resonated with Rev. King and his movement.
Heschel and King shared philosophical and religious convictions, including opposition to racism and the Vietnam war. Heschel was invited to the front line on a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in March 1965, and can be seen as the bearded man, just one away from MLK.
Nine-year-old Susannah Heschel kissed her daddy goodbye in March of 1965, frightened, but understanding the importance of her father’s Alabama trip. When he returned, Rabbi Heschel gave his only child the lei that adorned the heads of those legendary Selma marchers. She treasured it.
Fast forward 51 years and esteemed Dartmouth College Professor Susannah Heschel presented the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Eli Wiesel Award to John Lewis in a remarkable 2016 ceremony.
She remembered Congressman Lewis to me last week as “the most unpretentious person you could imagine. He was a down-to-earth, lovely human being, always with a smile on his face. I had the feeling that John Lewis, as a child, was well loved by his parents. He had so much warmth.”
MLK and his fellow freedom fighters emphasized examples of Old Testament prophets battling sovereigns for human rights. Rabbi Heschel’s 1962 book, The Prophets, was beloved by freedom marchers seeking inspiration. In his outstanding John Lewis eulogy, former President Obama referenced Old Testament prophets speaking truth to kings.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Bigots crop up on both ends of the political spectrum and should be confronted. When Louis Farrakhan emerged as a leader of the Million Man March, John Lewis opted out. Lewis would not overlook Farrakhan’s “divisive and bigoted” statements.
Kudos to Sir Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul Jabbar for recently condemning divisive and bigoted Jewish conspiracy theories spewing forth from a few fellow black athletes and celebrities. Praise to John Lewis’ compatriot, House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, who recently stated, “Anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated or excused but must be confronted and eradicated.”
Colorado’s own Andrew Struttmann, a Republican political pro, recently stood up strong against hate. Struttmann, who studies right wing radicalism, courageously told fellow conservatives the manifest reasons to disown Michelle Malkin.
From her home in Colorado Springs, Malkin is the self-described mother of the bigoted alt-Right. As Struttmann told me last week, his call for fellow conservatives to disavow Malkin “is not guilt by association, it is guilt by linkage.”
Many Republicans have shunned Malkin, but not POTUS. They have similar styles and bigotries. Trump sometimes amplifies Malkin’s divisive messages by retweeting. Trump also retweets a wacky physician who believes in demon sperm impregnations during exceptionally impactful dreams.
But it was Trump’s tweet on the day of Lewis’ funeral that terrifies. Fearing Colorado-style mailed in ballots, our president claimed “2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” and floated the prospect of postponement. We all now face a threat to our right to vote.
Colorado’s first Jewish governor, Jared Polis, demonstrated how to stand against bigoted politicians. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., wants a second term in Congress. Omar deservedly won the 2019 anti-Semite of the Year award given by www.StopAntiSemitism.org. Omar’s Democratic primary opponent just received $1,000 from Polis. That primary occurs on Aug. 11.
MLK thought Rabbi Heschel might be a prophet, with a long beard to match. NBC correspondent Carl Stern once asked Heschel if he considered himself a prophet. The rabbi answered that he could not accept such an honor but hoped he would be worthy of being considered one of the “sons of the prophets.”
Rabbi Heschel viewed the opportunity to fight bigotry as a divine “gift to America, the test of our integrity, a marvelous spiritual opportunity.” Voting is a great way to fight. Let’s vote against bigotry on Nov. 3.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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