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Monday, July 20, 2020

In Memoriam: John Lewis

William Arnone, CEO, National Academy of Social Insurance

We have lost a true hero. Representative John Lewis passed away on Friday, July 17, 2020.

One of the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, Congressman Lewis represented the state of Georgia in the House of Representatives since 1987. He was often referred to as “the conscience of Congress.”

An ardent supporter of Social Security, his Congressional website includes the following statement:

Social Security is one of the most successful and effective government programs ever implemented. Since 1940 it has kept millions of seniors and disabled Americans out of poverty and provided a safety net for millions families of disabled workers, and a lifeline for families who lost a breadwinner too soon. Many people don't realize that more than 4 million young people under the age of 18 receive income from Social Security survivors, retirement and disability benefits and over a million children are lifted out of poverty by Social Security each year.

People are being lulled into believing that Social Security will not be there for the younger generations. This is simply not true. Not only will Social Security survive, it will thrive. The same people saying that Social Security will not survive, are those who are proposing cutting benefits and privatizing the system. Social Security is a guaranteed benefit earned over a lifetime of hard work that should never be subject to the whims of Wall Street, which cost millions of Americans their retirement savings during the Bush financial meltdown. Social Security is more important than ever.

I have fought many times against those who would make damaging or arbitrary cuts to Social Security or gamble that security in the stock market. I will continue to do my part to uphold this sacred trust for generations yet to come.

My last communication with Congressman Lewis was to express my gratitude for his role in a 2018 Netflix documentary, Bobby Kennedy for President, in which we were both interviewed. He had been with Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles the night RFK was shot in 1968.

At some point in the filming, each of us interviewed broke down while recalling that awful night. I asked the documentary’s director, Dawn Porter, to edit my emotional reaction out of the film. In one of the most poignant moments in the documentary, John Lewis is weeping deeply – and vividly reflecting all of our emotions and memories.

Dawn Porter’s latest project was released a few weeks ago, a new biopic, John Lewis: Good Trouble.

One of Congressman Lewis’s many memorable quotes is especially relevant to today’s times:

“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, do something. Our children and their children will ask us: ‘What did you do? What did you say?’” 

May his memory and his lifelong struggle for racial justice continue to inspire us.

Posted on July 20, 2020  |  Add your comment
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Beautifully stated, Bill. The Dawn Porter interview with Christiane Amanpur re: John Lewis and Robert Kennedy should be mandatory viewing for Americans of all political stripes. RG
Thanks for your heartfelt words, Bill, and for the links to Dawn Porter's documentaries. May we honor John Lewis's memory by making his kind of good trouble at every opportunity.
I staffed a member of the Human Resources/Income Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, on which Congressman Lewis also served, and thus sat behind him on numerous occasions when his moral passion and conscience filled the room. These were most apparent when he talked about those most vulnerable in society (such as children receiving SSI). The Congressman had genuine gravitas, and when communicating with staff he was exceptionally modest and respectful, which made him seem even stronger.
Bill - Excellent and very appropriate tribute. While on the UAW Staff, I interacted with John Lewis a few times. He was helpful and, more important, inspiring. The current situation is depressing; we should follow his admonition to keep fighting.

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