John Lewis To Atlanta: We Cannot Afford To Be Silent

01/21/2017 06:58 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2017

An estimated 60,000 people gathered in Atlanta today to participate in the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women. Part of an international wave of demonstrations scheduled on the day after the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, the march featured speakers from the civic, business and faith communities, as well as Grammy-winning hip hop performers Arrested Development.

Large crowds began to arrive at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta mid-morning in spite of heavy storms and a tornado watch in effect. At a 1:00 p.m. rally at The Center, U.S. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis greeted the group of thousands with defiant optimism: “I know something about marching,” he said, referring to his distinction as being the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington and his association with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. “Sometimes you have to turn things upside down in order to set them right side up. When you see something that is not fair or not just, you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate to say something and do something,” he continued. “We cannot afford to be silent.”

After speaking, Lewis then joined fellow congressman Hank Johnson, former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin and Atlanta City Council member Kwanza Hall to lead marchers toward the Georgia state capitol. (For a minute-by-minute rundown of the Atlanta March, as well as latest crowd estimates, click here. For views of marches around the world, click here.)

Crowds jam the streets around the Center for Civil and Human Rights during the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women on
Kristi York Wooten
Crowds jam the streets around the Center for Civil and Human Rights during the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women on January 21, 2017.

In an interview with me before the march, Lewis expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support he received from his constituents and from around the country after Trump criticized Georgia’s 5th Congressional District on Twitter on January 14. In several inflammatory tweets, Trump called Lewis, who boycotted inaugural festivities in Washington, D.C. this week, “all talk.” Trump also labeled Lewis’s district (which includes most of the city of Atlanta, a vibrant, thriving and diverse metropolis) as “horrible” and “falling apart.” Thousands took to social media after Trump’s Twitter rant to support the beloved Congressman, who has served the district since 1986.

“I’m moved by the unbelievable action on the part of the people of Atlanta,” Lewis said. “Not just the city, but people throughout the metro area and the state of Georgia. They have said to me, ‘This is our city.’ I am their congress person and I love them.”

Lewis, who has a positive recent voting record on legislation regarding women-focused issues such as the Violence Against Women Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, says he was “touched” by the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s January 15, 2017 cover story headline: “Atlanta to Trump: WRONG.”

“It reminded me of the days of Ralph McGill and Eugene Patterson,” Lewis said, referring to the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning publisher and editor who shaped coverage of the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta. “Thank you.”

Congressman John Lewis speaks outside The Center for Civil and Human Rights during the Atlanta March for Social Justice and W
Judith Service Montier
Congressman John Lewis speaks outside The Center for Civil and Human Rights during the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women on January 21, 2017.
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