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‘Walk with the wind …’

What a moment in America.

On Thursday, three former U.S. presidents — George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — walked into Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church to deliver tributes to civil rights icon John Lewis, who died on July 17 at age 80.

Earlier this week, the current president of the United States refused to honor Lewis even in Washington, where Lewis’ body lay in state in the Capitol rotunda on the Lincoln catafalque, a platform built in 1865 to hold the casket of Abraham Lincoln.

“No, I won’t be going, no,” President Donald Trump flatly answered reporters Monday afternoon. No further explanation, no acknowledgement of the passing of this voting rights hero.

This was not surprising.

In January 2018, Lewis called Trump a racist during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” If anyone was both qualified and entitled to make such a judgment, it was this man, who nearly lost his life more than 50 years ago fighting for Black Americans’ right to vote.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, did show up in the rotunda to pay their respects. This is something we used to be able to take for granted in our presidents, regardless of their political affiliation. How I miss those moments of common decency.

Two hours before Lewis’ funeral began, Trump tweeted yet another lie about mail-in voting. Then he suggested this fall’s election should be delayed.

To be clear: Donald Trump cannot stop this election from taking place on Nov. 3, but the fact that he wants to is revealing. He knows he cannot win in an election that is fair. He will do everything he can to corrupt this election, which is why he must be defeated in a landslide.

We must vote.

We must vote.

We must vote.

You may think that, today of all days, we should not sully John Lewis’ memory with tales of Trump. But in John’s memory, we cannot take a break from this president’s malfeasance. Trump’s extremist rhetoric is alarming, his intention unconstitutional. This is precisely what John Lewis fought against all of his adult life. We must be vigilant, even in our nation’s grief.

John Lewis’ funeral was a celebration of his life, as it had to be. I wrote last week that I got to know John because I married his congressional colleague, Sherrod Brown. It is not unique to claim him as a friend, teacher and hero, and his funeral was a chance to see him through the eyes of some who knew him best. My gratitude soared with each revelation, and when Barack Obama started to speak, I was brought back to what it feels like to know your president loves his country and is doing his best to bear the weight of its burdens.

In his last days, John Lewis wrote an essay to tend to America after he was gone.

Of course he did.

He sent it to The New York Times to run on the day of his funeral. It is fitting to include an excerpt in his voice:

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. …

“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 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.”

We must vote.

We must vote.

We must vote.

——

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist

and professional in residence at Kent State

University’s school of journalism.

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