During U.S. Representative John Lewis‘s funeral service on Thursday at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, former President Barack Obama gave a rousing speech to honor his friend and mentor. Obama said, “I’ve come here today because I like so many Americans owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom,” and described him as “a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.”
While keeping the focus on Lewis’s historic legacy as a civil rights leader, Obama received a standing ovation after calling out the country’s current lawmakers’ attempts at voter suppression leading up to the 2020 election.
Obama said, “Even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election. It’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”
Obama continued on to say of Lewis, who died on July 17, 2020, at age 80 from pancreatic cancer, “[He] devoted his time on this earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we’re seeing circulate right now. He knew that every one of us has a God-given power, and the fate of democracy depends on how we use it.”
“Like John, we’ve got to fight even harder for the most powerful tool that we have, which is the right to vote,” Obama said. “The Voting Rights Act is one of the crowning achievements of our democracy. That’s why John crossed that bridge. It’s why he spilled his blood.”
Obama Said Election Day Should Be a National Holiday
While Obama said renaming The Voting Act after John Lewis was nice, he also said it wasn’t enough. Receiving another thunderous applause, Obama said:
We should keep marching. To make it even better. By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance,” Obama said. “By adding polling places. And expanding early voting and making election day a national holiday so if you are somebody who’s working in a factory or you’re a single mom, who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot. By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington DC, and in Puerto Rico.
Obama Called Out the Attacks on Peaceful Protesters
In addition to the attacks on voting rights, Obama discussed the attacks on peaceful protestors happening across the nation. Without specifically mentioning Portland he said, “Today we witness with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of black Americans. George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”
“He knew from his own life that progress is fragile,” Obama said of Lewis. “That we have to be vigilant against the darker currents of this country’s history. Of our own history. Where there are whirlpools of violence and hatred and despair that can always rise again.”