John Lewis blends '60s tactics, social media in new chapter of activism
The first time John Lewis staged a sit-in, he was a young leader in the civil rights movement.
Lewis learned from Martin Luther King Jr. and was head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In Alabama, he marched from Selma to Montgomery.
Lewis is now a congressman from Georgia. Today, many people post catchy phrases online instead of going to protests. At age 76, Lewis is fusing the old with the new to educate young people about making change. He uses platforms they understand like social media and comic books.
Lewis' Twitter and Facebook timelines are filled with photographs of civil rights leaders that he worked alongside more than 50 years ago. His posts receive thousands of likes, shares and comments.
Along with each photo, Lewis often posts the phrase "good trouble."
The congressman said he was getting into good trouble on Wednesday when he and nearly 100 other Democratic lawmakers held a sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives. They wore rainbow ribbons for the 49 victims of the Orlando, Florida, mass shooting. The shooting sparked calls for new gun control laws by Democratic lawmakers. Led by Lewis, the lawmakers sat shoulder to shoulder for 16 hours on the House floor. The group expanded with each passing hour and they broadcasted themselves live on the internet.
Lewis began the sit-in with a rousing speech.
"There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet," Lewis said. "The time to act is now."
He said the sit-in made him feel like he was reliving his life.
House Goes Home But Protesters Stay
The event appeared to end early Thursday morning. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, called the sit-in a stunt to get attention. Unlike Democrats, Republicans do not think there should be new laws to try to stop gun violence. The House, which is made up of mostly Republican lawmakers, voted to go home until after the July Fourth holiday. However, some Democratic lawmakers were still on the House floor at sunrise on Thursday. They vowed to continue their effort to force votes on gun-control measures.
Lewis thanked his fellow occupiers for getting into good trouble.
The hashtag "good trouble" spread rapidly on Twitter during the sit-in, as people used it to show their support. The tweets praised the way Lewis and others blended new technology with nonviolent protest. Sit-ins are a peaceful political tactic that are a sacred part of American history.
Lewis was saying "good trouble" long before hashtags were a thing.
Trying To Make The World A Better Place
Growing up in Alabama, Lewis would ask his parents about signs designating bathrooms and drinking fountains as for "whites only." His parents said that that was the way it was and told him not to get into trouble.
However, Lewis was also listening to civil rights activists.
Lewis said Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks inspired him to get into good trouble. He said that he hoped young people would get into good trouble, to make the country and the world a better place.
The 1958 comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story" inspired Lewis when he was young.
In 2013, Lewis published his own comic book. It was exactly 50 years after the March on Washington, D.C., where Lewis was the youngest speaker and Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
The book is titled "March: Book One," and it opens with the March on Washington. The book chronicles the death of Emmett Till, lunch counter sit-ins, and church bombings through Lewis' eyes.
Passing History Down Through Comic Books
He said that he hopes the comic will help young children understand what the civil rights movement was like and what they tried to do. He wants to make it feel real.
Last year, Lewis attended Comic-Con to support "March: Book Two." Many people dressed as comic characters, wearing capes and masks, but Lewis wore a trench coat and backpack. He was dressed as himself in 1965, the year he led 600 marchers peacefully to Selma, Alabama.
At Comic-Con, Lewis led a pack of excited third-graders in a march across the floor. He said that it was a very special moment and that it embodied everything Lewis hoped to accomplish with his comic book.
On Thursday, Lewis linked his march in 1965 with the sit-in on the House floor.
It took the protesters three times to make it from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago, Lewis said. Today, those trying to make a difference have come a distance, but the fight must continue, he said.