The Man Paid His Dues, Now It’s My Turn

Charles Pierce weighs in on arguably the most important speech last night in the grand scheme of things:  that of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia on the GOP war on minority voting.

John Lewis gave a speech on Thursday night, in the first hour of the convention, that almost nobody saw, which is too bad, because it summed up the great unmentioned subtext of this year’s election — namely, that, between the new torrents of money that are overwhelming the system, and the rise again of voter-suppression legalisms in the various states, which are in many cases products of those same new torrents of money, the election is coming perilously close to becoming a puppet show. The Republicans didn’t mention that, because they have taken in so much of the new money, and because Republican governors and legislators in the various states are behind the new voter-suppression laws, and everybody knows that. The Democrats are caught in a bind, because they have to play in the new universe of campaign finance, too, and because they’re trying to keep up with a symphony of well-financed propaganda that seeks to make voter-suppression into a good-government initiative. John Lewis is not fooled. John Lewis has seen this before. And John Lewis told the convention what he’s seeing rising in the country out of his own past.

Black, white, brown…the new color of privilege is green, certainly.  When a man who has paid his dues in blood and sweat and pain like he has, when he tells you he sees the nightmares of his past in the plastic smiles and saccharine logic of the Republican party, when tell you he sees the old, bloody ghosts leading the carnival of horrors, summoned by the pious mewling of “voter integrity”…yeah, you sit next to the man and learn.

Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar-all to keep them from casting their ballots.  Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just. And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.
You want to know why I voted for Obama  and plan to vote for him again in a state like Kentucky where he’ll most likely lose by 20 points?  Because.  I can vote.  Because it is sacred, and people have died and bled and were driven to their knees by the grief and sorrow of witnessing the struggle, and you do it anyway.  Because those who came before me paid my way to be able to vote and in some cases paid a terrible, brutal price, and I will not dishonor them by throwing that sacred right away.  You want to know why I vote?
Because I can.
And I will do whatever it takes to maintain that.  It is a gift secured for you by men and women like John Lewis and all the people who came before, and when I see people say “I don’t know if I should vote” and take that privilege for granted and whinge about how it doesn’t matter because there’s no difference between the parties, you look at the issue of voter suppression and tell me there’s no difference.  One party believes voting is a right for all Americans and they have put their lives on the line in some cases to secure that right.  The other side believes it’s a perk for only those who are found worthy because they are right-thinking, a party that wants to go back to the Good Ol’ Days for them, when they still controlled the country uncontested.  That is changing precisely because of the changing vote and the power it represents, and it terrifies them to their rotten, diseased hearts.  If voting is so utterly useless and pointless, why do they fear it so much?
That alone should determine not only which party you should vote for, but that you should be gorram proud and honored to vote so that you too can pay that right forward to your children and nephews and nieces and grandkids.  I don’t come at you guys with the grim visage all that much, but this is one of those times.  I implore you to vote.  That is the cost, one much lighter than John Lewis has paid and has seen paid.  You owe it to the past, you owe it to the future, and you owe it to yourself.
Because you can.  Because you fight like unrelenting hell for those who still cannot.  And yes, that should be a good enough reason.  End of line.  The tag is dead serious.
Vote like your country depends on it.

[UPDATE] The speech.

68 replies
  1. 1
    plosin says:

    This. I thought Lewis’s speech was one of the best of the night. Profound, understatedly eloquent, and wholly consistent with the life he’s led. He is a national treasure.

  2. 2
    Cassidy says:


  3. 3
    Lyrebird says:


    –from someone who luckily did catch Lewis’ speech as well.

  4. 4
    Steve says:

    Righteous post.

  5. 5
    smith says:

    Okay now I have to find a link to the speech. Sorry I missed it.

  6. 6
    SFAW says:

    It’s ironic that The Party of People Who Think Lots of “Others” Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Vote Because They Don’t Understand Being American, Nor Who They’re Supposed to Vote For is also The Party of People Who Are Unable to Grasp Reality, Truth, and Basic Facts.

    It’s yet another case of Rethuglican projection, in the extreme.

  7. 7
    Valdivia says:

    Totally OT sitting at a doctors office and who sits next to me? Mark Fucking Penn. permission to step on him? :)

  8. 8
    smith says:


    Of course – either that or pretend you see some really disgusting bug and scream in his ear.

  9. 9
    The Moar You Know says:

    Excellent post, Zandar. Really have nothing to add, but both the whiners and the trolls should read it a few times. Maybe it will soak into their shriveled brains via osmosis.

  10. 10
    Valdivia says:

    Oh love that. Implementing as I type. ;)

  11. 11


    At least while he is there with you he is not on a tv somewhere being asked his opinion on how to run a winning campaign.

  12. 12
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Without question.

    It’s painfully obvious that the GOP is a dying party, and they will take any measures they deem necessary to prevent their demise, to include stomping on the rights of “the other” if that’s what it takes.

    They are ruthless, without any pity, remorse, or moral scruples at all.

  13. 13
    jwb says:

    @Valdivia: Punch him in the neck.

  14. 14
    Waldo says:

    A desperate strategy from a demographically doomed party. They won’t go quietly, and they’re determined to not go quickly — but they are definitely going.

  15. 15
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Fucking A.

  16. 16
    Lit3Bolt says:

    Spread the word, make the T-shirt, buy the bumper sticker.

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    Fat chance that irredeemable vermin like UNLIMITED CORPORATE CASH will ever understand it. The only thing that gets through that thick skull is a clue by four upside the head.

    And even then, multiple applications may be required.

  18. 18
    JPL says:

    @Valdivia: Move quickly..

  19. 19

    John Lewis is a great man.

    I’m struggling to find appropriate words to express my admiration for Congressman Lewis–but I can’t. His story speaks for itself and my words would not do it justice.

  20. 20
    hep kitty says:

    Yes, great speech! Very moving. What a hero.

  21. 21
    beltane says:

    John Lewis’s speech was one of my favorites. It was a history lesson given by one who lived the history, and it served as a reminder that those who forget this history are destined to repeat it.

  22. 22
    japa21 says:

    This was, obviously, the major point of Lewis’ speech, and it is an important one. It was, however, alluded to by just about every major speaker as well. The real problem here is that even a lot of Democrats look at voter ID laws as being okay. At least twice a week, there is a letter to the editor in my local promoting voter ID and even several commenters who are obviously liberal in their basic philosophy say it is no big deal.

  23. 23
    hep kitty says:

    Anybody watch Morning Ho? I have been unable to watch the last couple of months without retching, but wondered what the buzz was this morning.

  24. 24
    Ash Can says:

    Outstanding post.

  25. 25
    jwb says:

    @Waldo: They’ll either change or disappear and be replaced by something else. I figure we have to get through this election and 2016. Once we’re to 2020, Texas is in play and the hammer comes down—unless Citizens United proves that elections can be easily bought. It will be interesting to see what happens when a Spanish language version of the full Fox propaganda machine starts running—that’s when we’ll know that the conservative movement has thrown the Tea Party under the bus.

  26. 26
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    I am in occasional contact with several staffers in John Lewis’s district office in Atlanta. I’m going to send Zandar’s full post to them, and I guarantee the Congressman will see it and deeply appreciate the message. Thank you.

  27. 27
    c u n d gulag says:

    Well said.

    And thank you for saying it.

  28. 28
    donnah says:

    Thanks, Zandar, for an amazing post.

    We forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants, those who went before us and literally died for our rights. So many times we take for granted the wonderful rights we have, and even worse, we don’t use them.

    It’s an outrage that the Republicans have tried to take these hard-fought battles and turn them back. This should be front page news in every district where the rules are being changed to suppress votes. And it should be front page news anywhere, because it flies in the face of democracy.

    We have to be vigilant. The Republicans will stop at nothing to make their party win. Dishonesty and deceit are their SOP and unless we stop them, they’ll run this country right off into a ditch. Again.

  29. 29
    The Moar You Know says:

    And even then, multiple applications may be required.

    @Villago Delenda Est: We can take turns. Deal?

  30. 30
    lamh35 says:

    the best commentary on John Lewis’ speech came from Rev Al in response to Steve Schmidt’s usual.

    Rev Al said, that we are not saying that people should not have ID to vote, what we are saying is why should people have to have NEW forms of ID to vote, when the ID used to elect Reagan, GHW, Clinton, and GWB were perfectly fine.

    He also had a great line to Schmidt who tried to say that this is not the same as Jim Crow times. Rev Al said back in Congressman Lewis’ day, we were fighting Jim Crow, but today we are fighting “James Crow Jr, Esq” he’s not beating people on bridges, but he is enacting laws that have the same consequence of disenfranchising those same people that Jim Crow laws did.

  31. 31
    gbear says:

    Voting is a no-brainer. It should be as automatic an action as blinking. You vote on election day. Period.

    If you don’t vote either out of indifference or in order to make a political statement, you don’t have a brain.

  32. 32
    hep kitty says:

    Just fyi, has full-length speech clips from the convention, at least the more significant ones, not sure about the rest

  33. 33
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    Agreed. Share the wealth, I always say!

  34. 34
    Neldob says:

    Good on, Mr. Lewis. One more nail in the Republican coffin. A bit more wind in the sails of justice.

  35. 35
    SFAW says:

    I think you’d be performing a tremenjous public service if you told us where the doctor’s office is, so we could all toddle over there to “register our opinion” with the esteemed Mr. Penn. Gotta move quick, though.

    (Only half-serious – don’t want to invade your privacy,etc., etc. But, still, it’s tempting.)

  36. 36
    bamboo says:

    I don’t comment here or anywhere often (still trying to settle on a nym,for one thing)but wanted to say thanks for this–especially living as I do in occupied Florida with our ongoing voter suppression sagas.

  37. 37
    Waldo says:

    @jwb: Sounds about right. The sad thing (from the GOPers’ perspective) is that they’ve known this was coming for more than a decade, and they’ve done worse than nothing to address it: They’ve actually reversed the modest gains they had made with Hispanic voters.

    Too bad for them, but also too bad for us. People so blinded by prejudice that they can’t look out for their own long-term interests can’t be trusted to look out for anyone’s.

  38. 38

    It’s a wonderful piece, and everyone needs to watch that speech. But what an elegant combination of this portion:

    [W]hen John McCain tells you what’s wrong with torture, there seems to be very little point in arguing with him about it. The same dynamic prevails when Congressman John Lewis of Georgia talks to you about voting rights. Nobody knows more than he does about their value because nobody knows more than he does about what they’ve cost. He was beaten nearly to death in the struggle for them. John Lewis tells you something about voting rights and you say, yes, sir, and you shut the fuck up.

    and this comment, from Barry Friedman:

    And while their stories are similar, their scar tissue is not, for when it came to the use of torture by the Bush Administration, McCain ultimately blinked… when it came to voter suppression, though, from the Scott, Kasich, Corbett, or Perry Administrations, Lewis went back to the bridge.

    That is impressive, and worth spreading far and wide. Thank you Zandar, for the highlight.

  39. 39
    Original Lee says:

    Related, did you see the photo on the Teanderthal Party FB page of the 70-year-old white (I assume Catholic) guy who can’t get his photo ID for voting because his birth certificate does not include his middle name, which he chose when he was confirmed? I know a number of people in that generation who were not given middle names on their birth certificates, so I am totally not surprised to see this causing a problem. Talk about unintended consequences.

  40. 40

    . . . when I see people say “I don’t know if I should vote” and take that privilege for granted and whinge about how it doesn’t matter because there’s no difference between the parties . . .

    I often think that, as evil as organized, legal voter suppression is (and it is), an even more potent way to suppress participation in governing ourselves is manufacturing cynicism.

    That for some naive, simple-minded “journalists,” both sides do it is a way to smugly prove how objective and fair they are. But for the more Rovian types it is a calculated strategy to make sure that the rabble sit quietly at home on voting day while their betters decide how to use power to benefit themselves.

    Sadly, it works especially well on the young. It takes some time to see the effects of what happens when you self-righteously refuse to choose between bad and worse. Not choosing is not an option. If you don’t vote you have chosen worse. And worse is truly worse.

    Although I’ve often voted for bad to try to put a stop to worse, I’ve also lived long enough now to see that some things actually get better as a result of enough people voting for someone who will try to make a change for the good.

    Five or ten years from now, some of these cynical stay at homers will have their child’s life, or their own life, saved because they were able to get decent medical care as a result of Obamacare. It would be nice if they would realize that those of us who did vote made that possible. And to give some credit to those who, like John Lewis, made those votes possible.

  41. 41
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    we are not saying that people should not have ID to vote, what we are saying is why should people have to have NEW forms of ID to vote, when the ID used to elect Reagan, GHW, Clinton, and GWB Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were perfectly fine.

    This is one of the thing I despise about the “Voter ID” bullshit. None of the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore were elected by voters with photo ID. Democracy works just fine without photo IDs, thankyouverymuch. Why do Conservatives hate America?

  42. 42
    Bob2 says:

    Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

  43. 43
    andrewsomething says:

    At one point in my life, even if I still went to the polls, I used to love that old Emma Goldman quote: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

    Well it seems like that’s what they’ve gone and done.

  44. 44
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Waldo: I think the thing that ultimately did a number on them, and on us, was the terrorist attacks of 2001.

    George W. Bush clearly knew a demographic crisis was coming. While Sun Belt red states were gaining population, it was population that would ultimately turn on them. That was why he tried to reach out to Latinos and Arab-Americans (yes, Arab-Americans) in 2000. It made sense, though it was hard for him because white Republican xenophobia was already well-established in the Southwest.

    9/11 forestalled the crisis, and gave Republicans (and Democrats!) a tremendous incentive to push a jingoist line with racist elements. It came more naturally to the Republicans, and they kept winning with it until 2006.

    The blowback from that, among other things, gave us a black President with an unusual name that sounds like a terrorist name to racist idiots. And since the economy sucks, they were able to ride hatred of him to a big win in 2010. But that’s just driven the Republicans further into this hole and made it harder for them to get out.

  45. 45
    vestigial says:

    @gbear: To play devil’s advocate:

    The RIGHT to vote is sacred, and anyone trying to mess with it — or the vote itself — should be sent to jail for a long time and, if legally doing so, drummed out of public office by the vanishing public with a clear-eyed sense of decency.

    But voting for president in most states is a waste of time. I’d still do it “just in case” and to boost the popular count, but I don’t think it makes much difference unless you’re in a swing state. Local elections are what really matter; first house and senate seats can be just as important — maybe more important in some cases — than the oval office. A senate seat is up for grabs in my state, and you can damn well be sure I’ll be voting. And then there’s the state rep positions, which can also have a huge impact on tax structure, education, and government services. If you’re going to make a case for voting, I think that’s really where you need to start for 90% of the citizenry.

    Wait, what? I’m a terrible devil’s advocate.

  46. 46
    Some Loser says:


    Voting for the President is never a waste of time. The idea is intrinsically dumb. I wish people would stop making it. It is because of them that only barely half the country vote for Presidential Elections; it is why we have to struggle against the will of 27% of dumbasses even though their idiocy should be in the minority. Don’t spread this nonsense. Every vote counts! Every single one counts even if you don’t get the outcome you like!

    You should not being say such things. Everyone who can should vote. Even if they are voting for Republicans or a third party, it doesn’t matter as long as they are voting. This is the most basic form of Political Expression in a democracy like ours. People need to choose their representatives in their government. If they don’t, they make themselves irrelevant. No one, no matter how dumb or despicable, is irrelevant in America.

  47. 47
    rikyrah says:

    John Lewis was on fire, telling the utter truth. He is a true American hero

  48. 48
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Matt McIrvin:

    George W. Bush clearly knew a demographic crisis was coming. While Sun Belt red states were gaining population, it was population that would ultimately turn on them.

    Excellent analysis in this comment.
    I suspect that Bush and his people didn’t think of it as a looming demographic crisis for the GOP, but rather as an opportunity to them to lock in the GOP as the majority party, if only they could pick up and hold a respectable share of the Latino vote, in the range of 40-50%. That was their goal and the path they saw going forward to electoral domination in the early 21st century. But you are absolutely correct that 9-11 and the nativism and jingoism it unleashed changed the equation.

    The other major change in the political landscape which we tend to take for granted is that now Democracts are in the popular mind by default the party of competance in national security and foreign policy, and not the GOP. Bush flipped that meme over and that is a huge electoral advantage which the GOP squandered, one which they labor uphill against now.

  49. 49
    Currants says:

    @hep kitty: I think cspan does too.

  50. 50
    rikyrah says:

    btw, zander,


    thank you, this is how I feel about voting, and I live in a Blue state.

    when I think that my father would have been 42 years old – if he had stayed in the state of his birth – before he would have been able to vote under the protection of the law..and that’s after he put on the uniform and put his life on the line for this country…

    I have no excuse.

  51. 51
    Gromit says:

    I’ve had the privilege of running into Congressman Lewis a couple of times while out and about in Atlanta. He’s as gracious in person as he is eloquent at a podium. Any of us would do well to be even a tenth the man he is.

  52. 52
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Why do Conservatives hate America?

    They hate everything connected with the Enlightenment.

    That includes, very much so, America.

  53. 53
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Why do Conservatives hate America?

    They hate everything connected with the Enlightenment.

    That includes, very much so, America.

  54. 54
    ericblair says:


    I suspect that Bush and his people didn’t think of it as a looming demographic crisis for the GOP, but rather as an opportunity to them to lock in the GOP as the majority party, if only they could pick up and hold a respectable share of the Latino vote, in the range of 40-50%.

    I seem to remember Rove talking about demographics, but I likely would have been drinking at the time too, so may have mixed things up. However, it all gets you to the same place. I remember Bush hablo’ing himself some espanol in the 2000 race and being all lauded for it.

    Now that the goopers have ablatively shed the sane and tolerant from the party, I don’t think they can avoid the xenophobia even if they understand the damage. It’s like the heroin addict that knows he should get off the shit, but just one more hit ’cause it feels so damn good…

  55. 55
    Haydnseek says:

    @vestigial: Not so bad a devils advocate, at all. You make a perfectly rational case, and on that level it’s irrefutable. But voting is much more than that. It’s symbolic. It’s intensely emotional. It’s an expression of something much bigger than ourselves. We know this in our bones, and that’s why we react so strongly when our right to vote is threatened. I live in a very blue state, and I’ll vote for Obama. I’ll feel good about it, even though it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll win here. Your point is very well taken, however. The down-ticket races are crucial, something that can be forgotten in the overwhelming hype surrounding the race for president.

  56. 56
  57. 57
    someofparts says:

    This is the part that got me –

    “I have never talked to so many people who were so thoroughly convinced that their vote didn’t matter, that it would not be counted, or that it would be stolen”

    That’s the problem for me. The machines that count our votes are rigged. No matter what the actual votes may be, the machines produce the results our would-be overlords want.

    And I even live in the district John Lewis represents.

  58. 58
    Ben Cisco says:

    I was looking for a decent version of this for a post I did this morning – CSPAN didn’t have it, a few other sites had bits and pieces.

    Thank you for this – great job.

  59. 59
    Catsy says:

    @Valdivia: Probably long past the window of opportunity now, but if he nauseates you enough the optimal solution might present itself.

  60. 60
    Catsy says:


    But voting for president in most states is a waste of time. I’d still do it “just in case” and to boost the popular count, but I don’t think it makes much difference unless you’re in a swing state.

    If enough Democrats rejected wrongheaded ideas like this and actually showed up to vote for president, those red states would become swing states.

    Your perspective is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  61. 61
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Original Lee: Re those much vaunted birth certificates, my 94 y.o. mother needed a photo ID for some notary work (she was already a registered voter in Sarasota County, but we had to change that, too), and of course I sent for it from the late great state of PA. Turns out that her first name was “Salvatricia.” I didn’t know that. She didn’t know that. My grandmother, on her naturalization papers, got it wrong. Ol’ Mom thought her name was “Freda,” the name she always went by, even in school. I finally got her a FL ID, but not with the birth certificate, obviously.

    Oh, yeah. She’s a registered Demoncrat and we both use absentee ballots to avoid any problems.

  62. 62
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    And, Zandar, thanx very much for the clip. I missed it during the convention. One of the more powerful speeches I ever heard. Wish I knew how to embed it onna FB page for my stupid relatives who are Dems, but don’t vote.

  63. 63


    I went and looked up the MSNBC excerpt with the Jim Crow / James Crow Jr, Esq. reference. It’s here:

    I had the opportunity to see John R. Lewis in person earlier this year (in So Cal! In Orange County, even). An amazing man, amazing speech. He spoke at the opening of an exhibit at Cal State Fullerton about civil rights in California, so a portion of his remarks were a response to what he’d just seen in the exhibit. (CA’s history was interesting in the way slavery played out. Man brings his slave to CA. Once here, slave is free, and there was a court case about that.) That being said, we have our own history of discrimination, too)

    Not long after that, I watched the Skip Gates Finding your roots series on PBS. The episode that JohnR. Lewis was in was especially poignant. Okay, that does it. Must. Google. Another. Link. Here’s hoping that including two of them does not put me into FYWP territory. Here is the PBS episode. The other featured person in this episode is Cory Booker.

  64. 64

    Well, I just discovered that you cannot edit your comment if you made it using an iPad. So the linkie stuff with FYWP wasn’t an issue, but instead FYiOS&WP.

    Wasn’t a big deal, just editorial cleanup, closing parenthesis patrol, and bettering a statement about California and its history in relation to slavery. Ah well.

    Interesting: Had the edit window up on the iPad (I’m now connecting using a computer), and once my comment became uneditable (in that the countdown clock went away), finally I found I could type stuff in the text window and it would actually TAKE.

    Hmmm. Maybe it IS and should be FYWP after all.

  65. 65

    @Ronzoni Rigatoni:

    I actually DID embed it onto my FB page. Here’s what I did. On the top right of the vid, there’s the word Share. You click it and the vid slides away and a clickable area to copy/paste the link appears, as well as a FB share button. I used the FB share button to compose a post that got plunked on my wall.

    Go to it!

    Edited to add: That’s on the Flash user interface on the computer. The iPad doesn’t have it. YMMV.
    (I have also played the video, and while it’s playing, clicked through to force the browser to go to/open a new window on the YouTube page for the movie. Under the video player are a bunch of YouTube controls with a Share This section that allows you to (once you click something and it expands) to get to a big of text you can copy and then paste into a new FB status posting)

  66. 66
    Kathleen says:

    Thanks for this post, Zandar. Whenever I vote I think about heroes like Congressman Lewis, and all of the women who fought so hard and endured ridicule and imprisonment so I could vote.

  67. 67
    SarahT says:

    A thousand apologies to be so late to this post, & no matter if you never read my crummy two cents worth, but thank you thank you thank you for this : Almost as perfect as Congressman Lewis’ speech. Just thank you.

  68. 68

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