Last week I was invited by the Georgia Alliance to End Homelessness to speak at their annual conference. So too was Georgia's 5th district congressman. The congressman spoke eloquently about the need to "put on the American agenda the issues of hunger, poverty, homelessness." He said that these issues were once a vital part of the political discussion, but that now, "all these years later there are still too many people in America that have been left out and left behind. There are still too many people without a place to stay, to lay their heads. There are still too many of our people -- here in this country with so much wealth, so many resources -- without food to eat. And hundreds and thousands and millions of these people are women and children."
Rarely has a member of Congress proclaimed our system broken and failed, let alone decry that worst of all, it has failed children. After his speech I asked him why it was that things weren't repaired. He told me that when he first started serving in Washington -- back in January of 1987 -- there was "a greater sense of hope, a greater sense of optimism and a greater commitment to people who have been left out." He said that if someone proposed the necessary programs of Head Start or Food Stamps to today's congress, they wouldn't pass.
Congressman Lewis said that for the first time since he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the nation's leadership has adopted "the mindset, the sense to let each person, each group, fend for themselves." Then he indicted many of his colleagues in Washington. He said that his fellow congressmen "don't share a lot of the values of the American people." And added that Mitt Romney with his now famous 47 percent comment "was sharing the feelings of many of the members of Congress." And that the current "political structure of Congress has allowed them to turn their backs on the people," the very people that they were elected to represent.
I asked him what it would take to turn things around. Congressman Lewis told me that people had to do what he had done as a young man marching for civil rights. He said, "It's time for the American people to get in trouble."
Lewis explained that when he was young and fighting alongside Dr. King, "My parents used to tell me not to get in trouble." But he rejected that notion. He continued, "Some of us got to get back out there and fight the good fight. I heard Dr. King, I met Rosa Parks and they encouraged me to get in trouble."
Dr. King didn't just encourage him to get in trouble; he financed it. When young John Lewis -- the son of sharecroppers -- wrote to Dr. King to ask for help getting to college, Dr. King sent him a bus ticket and brought him into the fold. And as a civil rights activist Lewis got into trouble in a big way. He got beaten bloody by the KKK and herded and huddled by the police. But he did not give up. "Dr. King changed my life," explained Lewis. "He said he saw something in me."
Lewis hopes to inspire people the same way. The front page of his congressional website champions today's civil rights cause -- equal rights regardless of sexual orientation -- and sites MLK, Jr.'s now famous words which Lewis wishes everyone would consider before deeming themselves worthy to decide the rights of others, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
There was one other thing the congressman admonished people to do, "We need writers to write the stories," of the "people who have been left out and left behind." He added, "We need writers to tell what's going on." If you can't speak out, and protest isn't your bag, grab a pen or a keyboard and start writing.
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