Like everyone else, I was appalled that our President-Elect chose to insult Congressman John Lewis over the weekend for suggesting that the legitimacy of his presidency was in question (when it in fact is, unless you’re 100% willing to dismiss the IC’s reports on Russian interference)–after doing the same thing to President Obama for the better part of a decade. I’m also seeing reports that Trump did not know who Lewis was, which would not surprise me, given that he does not read, is unwilling to educate himself, and around the time Lewis was beaten in Selma, Trump was playing in a squash tournament after getting a draft deferment.
So it’s doubly worth thinking about Congressman Lewis today and both how far we’ve come as a country with regard to civil rights, and how unbelievably easy it is to go backwards. One of the most insidious myths of American culture is that progress happens apace no matter what, and that the trend line is always positive–despite the fact that there are plenty of historical examples that indicate otherwise. The last twelve months alone should have already put to bed the laughable notion of American exceptionalism (think of all the things that “can’t happen here” that have–a presidential candidate carrying water for the interests of an enemy power, talk of religion-based registries, threats to shut down the free press, etc), but it has not–because for most people the minute day-to-day hasn’t changed and atrophy happens slowly and incrementally. Most of the time, you don’t notice it as it’s happening. Especially if you’re largely shielded from it economically, or by virtue of not being part of a minority class.
But positive change also happens slowly and incrementally most of the time. So here’s an incremental suggestion: consider a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, that is dedicated to defending civil rights and fighting hate groups. I was born in Montgomery and remember the opposition they faced there (and presumably still do) from people who do not consider themselves bigots (who does?) but are deeply bothered by the enfranchisement of people who are not white, male, and straight. And that’s before you even get to the formal hate group members and proud self-IDing white supremacists. They do good, difficult work, and in a deeply conservative environment that is often very hostile to them.