Much like day one, a familiar pattern emerged during the second day of Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing to be United States Attorney General.
Opponents of the Alabama Republican’s nomination shared the stage with supporters who offered personal testimony about what it meant to work with Sessions. Again and again, senators and former colleagues spoke of his professional decorum, even at moments of disagreement.
But good manners are not a requisite for the job, and they will not be sufficient to protect people’s basic rights, as civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis testified on Wednesday.
“It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you,” the Democrat from Georgia said. “We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help.”
Sessions’ record indicates, over a span of decades and with remarkable consistency, that he will do no such thing.
Lewis’ testimony is an education in the fundamental rights he risked his life for, and what’s at stake in the years ahead, since Sessions is almost assured to be confirmed. It’s well worth your time:
Millions of Americans are encouraged by our country’s efforts to create a more inclusive democracy over the last 50 years. What some of us call the beloved community, a community at peace with itself. They are not a minority—a clear majority of Americans say they want this to be a fair, just, and open nation. They are afraid that this country is heading in the wrong direction. They are concerned that some leaders reject decades of progress and want to return to the dark past when the power of law was used to deny the freedoms protected by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and its amendments. These are the voices I represent today.
We can pretend the law is blind. We can pretend it is evenhanded. But if we are honest with ourselves we know we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ calls for law and order will mean today what it meant it Alabama when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the disposessed, people of color.
I was born in rural Alabama, not very far from where Senator Session was raised. there was no way to escape or deny the chokehold of discrimination and racial hate that surrounded us. I saw the signs that said white waiting, colored waiting. I saw the signs that said white men, colored men. White women, colored women. I tasted the bitter fruits of racism and racial segregation.
Segregation was the law of the land that ordered our society in the deep south. Any black person who did not cross the street when a white person was walking down the same sidewalk, who did not move to the back of the bus, who drank from a white water fountain, who looked a white person directly in the eyes, could be arrest and taken to jail.
The forces of law and order in Alabama were so strong that to take a stand against this injustice we had to be willing to sacrifice our lives for our cause. Often the only way we could demonstrate that a law on the books violated a higher law was by challenging that law by putting our bodies on the line and showing the world the unholy price we had to pay for dignity and respect.
It took massive, well organized, nonviolent dissent for the Voting Rights Act to become law. It required criticism of this great nation and this law to move toward a greater sense of equality in America. We had to sit in. We had to stand in. We had to march. And that’s why more than 50 years ago, a group of unarmed citizens, black and white, gathered on March 7th, 1965, in orderly and peaceful nonviolent fashion, to walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to dramatize to the nation and the world that we wanted to register to vote, wanted to become participants in the democratic process.
We were beaten, tear gassed. Left bloody, some of us unconscious. Some of us had concussions. Some of us almost died on that bridge. But the Congress responded. President Lyndon Johnson responded, and the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and it was signed into law on August 6th, 1965.
We have come a distance. We made progress, but we’re not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back, we want to go forward.
As the late A. Philip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington in 1963, often said, maybe our forefathers and foremothers all came to this great land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.
It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help. For people who have been discriminated against. and it doesn’t matter if they’re black, white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. Whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews. We all live int he same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look out for all of us, not just some of us.
Watch video of the testimony below.