John Lewis testified against Jeff Sessions because he knows exactly what's at stake.

On March 7, 1965, John Lewis was smashed in the head by an Alabama state trooper while protesting for the right to vote.

The impact fractured his skull. Two weeks later, Lewis marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which helped convince Congress to pass the original Voting Rights Act into law.


Today, Lewis is a U.S. Congressman, and with colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus sitting behind him, he recalled those events in his testimony against fellow Alabamian Jeff Sessions' nomination for attorney general.

Sessions' repeated pledges to enforce "law and order" in his new role struck a discordant note with Lewis, whose politics were molded by a society where that phrase meant different things to different groups of people.

Representative John Lewis. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

"Those who are committed to equal justice on our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ call for 'law and order' will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then," Lewis said.

Sen. Cory Booker's testimony may have grabbed most of the pre-hearing headlines — but it was Lewis' testimony that spoke most powerfully to what's at stake with Sessions' nomination.

With his address, Booker became the first sitting senator to testify against a colleague in a hearing, and he spoke eloquently about the need to continue important work on criminal justice reform and to defend the rights of marginalized people.

Lewis placed Booker's calls in historical context, citing the unfinished work of the civil rights movement as the primary reason to demand an attorney general defend its hard-won gains. Sessions has criticized Black Lives Matter for making "radical" statements and essentially contributing to demoralization among law enforcement.

“We can pretend that the law is blind. We can pretend that it’s evenhanded. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced," Lewis said in his testimony.

Lewis also used his testimony to rebut an early exchange between Sessions and committee member Lindsay Graham, where Sessions revealed that it was "very painful" to be labeled a bigot and a racist.

In his first day of hearings, Sessions called parts of the Voting Rights Act "intrusive" and renewed his support for Voter ID laws, which critics say depress minority turnout.

Senator Jeff Sessions. Photo by Molly Riley/Getty Images.

"It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. But we need someone who’s going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people that need help," Lewis said, "for people who have been discriminated against."

With Republican control of the Senate, Sessions will likely be confirmed. Still, as he steps into the role, he'd be wise to heed Lewis' final words of the afternoon.

"We need someone as attorney general who’s going to look out for all of us and not just for some of us," Lewis concluded.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Sessions' Senate colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — clearly think he's a nice guy. Several of his colleagues of color, including an attorney worked under him in Alabama, testified that he treated them with the utmost respect. That's great, but only goes so far.

When faced with the monumental task of safeguarding the civil rights for all Americans, Lewis is spot-on in his analysis.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Courtesy is nice.

Words are nice.

But it's actions that truly count.

Watch Representative John Lewis' congressional testimony against Senator Sessions in its entirety here:

On February 19, 2020, a group of outdoor adventurists took a 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. During the trip, they had no cell service and no contact with the outside world. When they ended they ended their journey on March 14, the man who pulled them ashore asked if they had been in touch with anyone else. When the rafters said no, the man sighed, then launched into an explanation of how the globe had been gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and everything had come to a screeching halt.

The rafters listened with bewilderment as they were told about toilet paper shortages and the NBA season being canceled and everyone being asked to stay at home. One of the river guides, who had done these kinds of off-grid excursions multiple times, said that they'd often joke about coming back to a completely different world—it had just never actually happened before.

The rafters' story was shared in the New York Times last spring, but they're not the only ones to have had such an experience.

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True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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