By Maria Trovato.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Andrew Aydin, political figures and co-authors of the graphic novel trilogy, March, gave a lecture Oct. 12 entitled “Good Trouble,” to a group of about 400 people in the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel. Their speeches stressed the importance of youth organization, protest, and participation in democracy.
As the former chairman of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and one of the “Big Six” organizers of the March on Washington, John Lewis has been protesting the injustices around him since he was a teenager. The congressman spoke about his childhood and first becoming involved in the fight for racial justice.
“I truly believe that I was guided by what I call the spirit of history,” he said. “I was inspired to get involved.”
Lewis reflected on the profound injustices that forced him and many others to act. He recalled friends being murdered for exercising their right to free speech and the lack of rights for African Americans in general.
“Just think,” he said. “In 1963, in 1964, in 1965, people of color could not register to vote; they were not allowed to participate in the democratic process…. How [could] Kennedy send troops to Vietnam yet he [could not] send troops to Selma to protect people who only want to register to vote?”
Lewis discussed his time registering people to vote for the Mississippi Freedom Summer, organizing the March on Washington, and being brutally attacked when marching in Selma during “Bloody Sunday.” He recounted being arrested over 50 times, being called a “trouble-maker.” His most prominent message, however, stressed the need for everyone, especially the youth, to stand up against the current injustices taking place, persevere with nonviolence, and make “good trouble.”
“In America, we have to the right to protest what is right; it is a right guaranteed in the first amendment of our constitution.” he said. “Never ever give up, never ever give in. Keep your eyes on the prize, be hopeful, be optimistic and participate in the political process. You must — people die for the right to vote.”
After Lewis had finished, Aydin followed with his own speech. Aydin is a comic writer and the Digital Director and Policy Adviser to Lewis. He discussed working with John Lewis and coming up with the idea for the graphic novel trilogy, March. While untraditional, he saw the novel as a way to reach out to and inform youth about the Civil Rights Movement and inspire more students to get involved. Like Lewis, he encouraged students in the audience to speak up for justice and organize.
“Today, we still have the NAACP, we still have the SCLC, but what do we not have?” he asked. “We don’t have SNCC… What we are missing are the students. And it’s changing…. I have seen more protests in the last year than I have in the last 10 years before. But the students have to organize. They have to come together to create solid organization with a structure that allows them to negotiate the powers that be. And there’s never been a more important time to have those students to put pressure on the government.”
He ended the lecture with a final encouragement to the audience, saying, “Join us, march.”
Featured image by Maria Trovato.