In Honor of Representative John Lewis
Updated: Aug 2
Recalling the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, the US Network for Democracy in Brazil writes to honor the life of civil rights leader and US Representative John Lewis (1940-2020). This Network, composed of over a thousand US- based academics and Brazilians living in the United States who are concerned about injustice in Brazil, joined forces in 2018 to make sure that, in Lewis’s words, there “is no patience and no waiting to assure freedom of the most oppressed everywhere,” particularly in Brazil at this moment.
We are thankful for all of the relentless and powerful actions of Lewis over his lifetime. As for the struggle in Brazil, Lewis showed us his solidarity with his brothers and sisters there. In 2016, he signed a letter demanding that rule of law procedures would be followed in the impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff. Lewis joined forty-two legislators who sent their concerns to the State Department. Over the following years, Lewis signed a number of other letters with various demands for justice in the world’s fourth-largest democracy.
In a letter that he authored during Brazil’s troubled election season, Rep. John Lewis urged Mike Pompeo to protect human rights in Brazil. In an attempt to ensure that Brazil would not dive back into a dark period, Rep. John Lewis reminded Pompeo of the US-backed military dictatorship that “terrorized, repressed and suppressed freedom of speech, thought, and basic human rights in Brazil until the 1980s”. Making a reference to assassinated Río de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco,who many argue could have become Brazil’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Lewis wrote:“ The rhetoric of the recent election, political violence, false news reports, and misinformation pave the way towards a dangerous decline in a country for which many hold great hope and faith”. Rep. John Lewis also made reference to Bahia’s beloved capoeira artist Mestre Moa do Katendê, Romualdo Rosário da Costa, brutally killed on the eve of the 2018 elections, in what was also a hate and political crime.
While Rep. John Lewis was fighting for civil rights in the United States in the 1960s, Brazilians werestruggling to recover democracy and free speech. In 1968, the year that Dr. King was assassinated, Institutional Act Number Five was implemented by Brazil’s dictators. This Act marked the most violent years of the dictatorship (1964-1985). With the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and
so many other African Americans in the recent months, Brazilians also took to the streets both in solidarity and to make a point: A Brazilian George Floyd dies every 23 minutes in Brazil.
Lewis’s “good troubles” earned him a number of arrests based on undemocratic and unjust laws. In his 2018 statement he wrote that “[d]emocracy and the path towards positive peace necessitate vigilant, thoughtful attention and support.” The increased number of police killings and the criminalization of black youth in Brazil is a consequence of “the rise of xenophobia and extremism and the decline of democracy and human rights in [our] neighbor and friend,” as Lewis himself wrote.
We are deeply sorry to hear of this great loss. Rep. John Lewis’s passing represents not only a loss for the United States and for the people struggling for true freedom within its borders. His passing also represents a loss to all of those who struggle for freedom everywhere.
May he Rest in Power and continue to inspire and provide hope to those struggling to make the world a just and free place. Members of the US Network for Democracy in Brazil and the Washington Office on Brazil National Coordination
See a pdf of the Network's complete statement below: