By Supervisor Janice Hahn
One of the greatest honors of my lifetime was serving in Congress alongside John Lewis. His humble spirit mixed with unwavering passion and resolute determination was a transcendent combination.
When you were in his presence ― you knew it.
Since his passing, I have been thinking about two distinct memories I have of him.
In 2015, I accompanied him along with other Members of Congress on his regular Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham. He used those trips to instruct, enlighten, and inspire members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who probably didn’t know the “real” history of our Country.
This year was particularly special – it was the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” where John was beaten and left for dead as he courageously led others across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to highlight African Americans inability to vote. President Obama was on the trip and gave one of his most memorable speeches ever.
I took my 11-year-old granddaughter, McKenna with me. I felt it was time for her to understand our nation’s racist history.
John loved children. He took extra time to talk to them and answer their questions. The photos he never tired of posing for are some of McKenna’s greatest souvenirs from that trip.
McKenna met one of the women who was only 11 when she decided to march across the bridge (much to her parent’s dismay). Would we allow McKenna at 11 to get into that kind of “good trouble?” Probably not.
On the final day of the trip, we all held hands and walked with John across the bridge. He joked that now everyone was jostling to get next to him as he led the way. 50 years earlier- he was alone at the front of the line – the first one to get the full brunt of the police’s attacks.
The other “good trouble” I got into with John was when he decided to hold a “sit-in” on the House floor demanding a vote on common sense gun legislation weeks after a gunman massacred 49 people and left 53 injured in a Florida nightclub. It was spontaneous, so we all walked over to the Capitol from our offices and committee meetings wearing our business attire. I lamented all night long that I had worn a dress – constantly yanking it down to cover my legs as I sat sprawled on the House floor all night long.
Speaker Paul Ryan was so incensed by our actions that he ordered the House cameras off so C-SPAN couldn’t broadcast our protest. Thanks to the ingenuity of some younger members who used Facebook and Periscope to livestream our sit-in, America could watch us and hear our speeches all night long.
We never did get the vote we wanted, but I have thought many times that the best thing I ever did in Congress was to take a stand by sitting down all night. This was the “good trouble” John Lewis talked about. The kind that is inconvenient, uncomfortable, shakes the conscience, and disrupts the status quo.
I have never been good at ‘all nighters’. In college I could never stay up to finish a paper or study for an exam. To this day, I am in bed by 9:30pm! But sitting on the floor with my colleagues, singing, praying, and speaking off the cuff at the podium, I knew I could do it, especially when I saw my colleague from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, who had to remove both her prosthetics so she could sit on the floor.
When it was over, we all marched down the Capitol steps to an awaiting cheering throng of people who had gathered all night from DC and beyond to give us encouragement. John led us down the steps and as we gathered in the capitol plaza, we began to sing “We Shall Overcome” with an ad-libbed verse saying “we shall pass a bill.”
In my lifetime, I haven’t gotten into enough “good trouble.” I have done some – like leading 75 unfairly suspended hotel workers back into their workplace on Century Boulevard and getting into a scuffle with the head of security.
But usually, I am too cautious, or too worried about what people will think. I hope to honor the legacy of John Lewis, by getting into more good trouble in the future, with whatever time I have left.