Letter: Protesters and the legacy of John Lewis

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To the editor:

"The hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men," Thoreau wrote back in 1862.

A century and a half later, little has changed. I watched as Mr. Christopher David, an unarmed retired U.S. Navy Seabee, approached a phalanx of paramilitary thugs on the street in Portland, Ore., to ask a simple, direct question: Do they believe they are upholding their constitutional responsibility?

I do not know whether they heard his question. What I do know is that they swung at Mr. David with their batons and severely broke his hand, while he was standing peacefully in front of them. They proceeded to pepper spray him as he finally turned away, unbowed by the violent encounter.

John Lewis never got a chance to ask that question, although he undoubtedly knew the answer, before they beat him unconscious when he was trying to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, during a civil rights march.

John Lewis was one of those "obscure" men Thoreau was talking about in the 1960s, "protesting for the power that establishes justice in the land, never that which establishes injustice," the latter of which is clearly what we are all living with now.

John Lewis wanted to "keep the faith" and "break bread" with brothers and sisters, not break skulls. He never tired in this quest and the protesters today, obscure, courageous, inspired, are young and old, fathers and mothers, students and workers, in all shapes and all sizes and in all colors, following in the footsteps of John Lewis, a man with a huge heart and a indomitable spirit. May we all take strength from him. May he rest in peace.

Bob Berkel,




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