Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Letter to Congressman John Lewis

Dear Congressman Lewis,

I live in your district and am profoundly disappointed in you and your support of Senator Clinton over Senator Obama for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. On one of the local community talk shows, on 1380AM, your voice is continually broadcast recalling days when black people were asked how many bubbles in a bar of soap in order to be able to vote. You conclude that message by saying that you, a black man, are now a member of the United States House of Representatives and that is evidence that, “all things are possible.”

Your ascendency was based on the black community’s support of you. In many ways that support is a just reflection of your long years of service on our behalf. As you surely know; however, it is more than that. You are part of an era where your visible and public leadership is a representation of individual black people’s capabilities and an embodiment of our hopes. You serve as you do, because black people believed in you. We did so at a time when that belief itself was a demonstration of courage. The possibilities that you speak of were born directly from our believing in one another.

Under those circumstances, it is your duty to support Barack Obama. He is the personification of your life’s work; a living validation of the first two thirds of your resume. He is a post-Movement black man who has taken advantage of the educational, social and political opportunities that you have believed in, bled for and were willing to die for. More importantly, he has taken advantage of those opportunities and honored you and the spirit of the Movement by maintaining a courageous and explicit concern for justice and fairness for all. As you know, privilege and accomplishment often presage self-righteousness and an insensitivity to those who do not have them. There are several examples of people who have fallen victim to that trap. You, Congressman Lewis, ought to recognize that Barack Obama is not among those.

Your public support of Senator Clinton was not especially linked to specific thematic differences between her campaign and Senator Obama’s. Rather, it was based on your belief in her ability to lead. If their political differences are slim, then you ought to lend your support to Senator Obama. It is a logical continuance of our support of you. Again, the possibilities that you always speak of are made real because we believe in each other, because we have believed in you. Your leadership opportunities were born in the black community embracing you and willing you forward, bolstering the “courage” that is so often attached to you. Leadership is only partly innate. We also bestow it upon each other by believing in one another. For you to deny Senator Obama that belief and the force of your will in his support is a contradiction of identity. Even more unsettling, it is a violation of the basic trust between you and the community of people like me who have supported you.

I hope that in the spirit of other iconic Movement heroes like Malcolm X, you would reflect and reconsider. Feeling that you have to prove to white people that you are not bound by race by supporting Senator Clinton over Senator Obama is not courage, it's cowardice. Senator Obama’s political skills and intellectual acumen are obvious. His agenda is in keeping with the best tradition of the Democratic Party and its support of the common citizen. People like you, better than most, can deeply appreciate what he means; what this moment means. We are indeed well past being asked how many bubbles are in a bar of soap and all things are possible, provided we believe in each other.