News from Representative Larson

Dear Friends,

I wanted to share with you an op-ed that I wrote for the East Hartford Gazette last week that honors my dear friend and civil rights icon, John Lewis. Please see the piece below. 

Regards,
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John B. Larson
Member of Congress

Honoring John Lewis

John Lewis laid in state [last] week in Alabama, where he was born, in the rotunda United States Capitol, where he served, and in Atlanta, Georgia, whose people he represented. 

I feel blessed to have been in his presence and honored to serve alongside of the conscious of the Congress and an iconic civil rights leader who I have been privileged to call friend. 

Our collective hearts still ache for this genuine, authentic, and humble human being who practiced what he preached. 

He spoke truth to power and practiced non-violent resistance by getting in the way and causing good trouble. 

John Lewis never stopped engaging constructively and peacefully. 

From his time leading the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the rest of the ‘Big Six’, to his time in Congress, he fought day in and day out for a more just and equal country. 

He was the living embodiment of the teachings of Dr. King and led nonviolent, peaceful protests for human rights and racial equality. 

We will never be able to thank him for all that he has done to move our country forward.

For many years, he made the trip back to Selma with the Faith and Politics Institute and led a march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge where in 1965 he was almost beaten to death. 

On one of those trips I was lucky enough to have my daughter Laura and son Ray join me. Because of school obligations, they had to leave early and were going to miss the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

But, John wouldn’t let that happen. 

He took the three of us in his car with him and we drove through Selma, as he told them what it was like and what he went through. 

They were entranced by him and the story he was telling about the violence and all they endured as they stood up for equal rights. 

At the end of it, my daughter Laura, who was about 14 years old at the time, struck by what he had just told her, rather innocently asked him, “Mr. Lewis, did you ever have fun?"

There was a pause and then John got the biggest smile on his face. He told us they did. 

“And in fact, at night, we’d pitch our tents and sit around campfires and we’d sing, tell stories, and dance,” he said. “I can still see Andy Young doing the jitterbug in his coveralls. And he could dance… he could dance."

Despite everything John endured, that campfire image when they were young and full of life brought a broad smile of recollection in a very violent time. 

One of the most inspiring memories I have of John Lewis is from 2009, when we were fighting to pass the Affordable Care Act. 

The day before we passed the bill, protesters spewed racial slurs and spit on John Lewis, Andre Carson, and Emmanuel Cleaver. 

Tensions were high after that. 

The next day at the Democratic Caucus meeting, I asked John to speak. 

He brought the Caucus to its feet, evoking the Civil Rights Movement.

He said: “Pay no attention to what went on yesterday.  We have to learn, as we did in the Movement, to look past this and keep our eyes on the prize. So, I ask you to stay calm and stay together.”  

As he was walking away from the mic, he paused, and then he stepped back up and said, “Forty-five years ago, I walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge arm in arm with fellow citizens who believed strongly in Civil Rights.  We faced far more difficult crowds than we are facing out here today.  Let’s lock arms and go across the street and pass this bill.” 

And in what has become an iconic photo of that moment, we did. We marched across the street, through the protesters and passed the bill. 

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In 2016, I worked with John to take another stand. 

This time, we were calling for a vote on the House floor on a bill to address the epidemic of gun violence in America. 

After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the House didn’t take any meaningful action to address gun violence. 

It wasn’t until Democrats took the majority in 2019 that the House finally voted on universal background checks and other meaningful reforms. 

In 2016, after the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, John and the rest of the Democratic Caucus had had enough. 

We organized a sit-in on the House floor. 

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Members immediately recognized the example that he was setting. He was causing some good trouble that led to the historic sit-in.

Most recently, we worked together to strengthen Social Security. 

Social Security is our nation’s number one anti-poverty program and is a lifeline for millions of Americans. 

It needs to be strengthened so it’s there for future generations too. 

Last summer we stood together outside the Capitol highlighting how important these benefits are for seniors, especially for Black and Latinx seniors. He said:

'I grew up in rural Alabama, 50 miles from Montgomery, outside a little town called Troy, and I remember how seniors lived before they had Social Security. Most of the seniors in my district in Georgia depend on Social Security for the majority of their income. Without it, almost half of Black and Latinx seniors in this country would be living in poverty. That’s not right, that’s not fair, and it’s not just. Social Security is more than a right, it is a promise. A promise people paid into to secure their future. We can do better, we can do much better.'

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This year, even when battling cancer, he continued this fight. 

I’ve been proud to call John Lewis a friend over my time in Congress. 

In 2016 I was honored to work with the Bipartisan Policy Center and Representative Tom Cole to establish the Congressional Patriot Award. 

John Lewis and Sam Johnson, who passed away earlier this year as well, were the first recipients. 

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They were both authentic heroes. 

One held in captivity by the VietCong and tortured and nearly beaten to death; the other held captive by the Alabama Police, clubbed and nearly beaten to death. 

They both had a genuine focus on doing for others, not themselves. 

They were humble, gracious, and kind, yet warriors for their cause. 
Connecticut and my hometown of East Hartford, were lucky to host John Lewis several times. 

He even drove through Mayberry Village, because he wanted to see where I grew up, and of course had a dog at Augie’s! 

In 2014 he gave the commencement address at Goodwin University. 

In his speech to the new graduates he encouraged the students:

"Be bold!  Be courageous!  Speak out!  Speak out.  Never hate.  Be hopeful.  Be optimistic.  Be happy.  The way of love, the way of peace is a better way."

John Lewis has forever changed our country. His legacy will live on in the policies and lives he changed. We must continue to follow his lead and cause good trouble.

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