December 21, 2019 5:13:35 pm
American Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis on Thursday introduced a Bill in the US House of Representatives that aims to promote the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior. King was one of the most prominent figures and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement against racial segregation and discrimination in the US.
In order to fulfill the initiatives mentioned in the Bill, Lewis has sought a budgetary allocation of over $150 million for the next five years. The aim of this Bill is to affirm the friendships of the governments of the US and India and to establish a bilateral partnership, “for collaboration to advance development and shared values, and for other purposes”. The House Bill (HR 5517) has been moved to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi and affirms the friendship between the US and India. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has supported the Bill which also proposes the establishment of a Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange initiative with an allocation of over $2 million for five years until 2025.
Lewis had introduced a similar Bill (HR 3056) in 2011. It was called the, “Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative Act of 2011” and it focussed on using peaceful and non-violent methods in global conflict resolution. “The Secretary of State is authorised to carry out, in cooperation with the appropriate representatives of the Government of India, an initiative to be known as the “Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative”. “The initiative shall be comprised of educational, scholarly, and professional exchange programs,” the text of the Bill said.
Lewis is also regarded as a mentor figure by former US president Barack Obama who in a video shot to commemorate the legacy of King said that Lewis was one of his “inspirations to get into public life”. Significantly, an article published in the American Studies Journal in 2012 said the 2008 “watershed election”, from which Obama emerged as the first African American president of the US, “resulted from the life work of such civil rights activists as US Congressman John Lewis.”
Who is John Lewis?
In 1963, Lewis was 23-years-old when he was being dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, during the years when the movement had reached its peak. Born on February 21, 1940 Lewis was the son of a sharecropper and grew up in his family’s farm where he attended segregated public schools in Alabama state, located in southeastern US. While growing up he was inspired by King’s words that he heard on radio broadcasts. During these moments of inspiration, he decided to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement and since then has been a proponent of progressive social movements and a crucial defender of human rights in the US.
During his 1963 speech at the March on Washington Lewis said, “To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler, “Be patient.” How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now. We do not want to go to jail. But we will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace.”
Gandhi’s influence on Lewis
As he got involved with the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis was influenced by Gandhi’s use of non-violent methods that he was employing to oppose the rule of the British Empire in India. In fact, King himself drew from Gandhi’s methods of using non-violent approaches of resistance. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott between 1955-56, when African Americans protested against segregated seating by refusing to ride city buses in Montgomery city, King had said, “while the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”
According to Stanford University’s The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, the approach Gandhi adopted against racism in South Africa, where Gandhi spent over 21 years and against the British rule in India, influenced King directly. He went on to argue that Gandhi’s philosophy was, “the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom”.
Lewis and King in India
In 2009, Lewis was part of a cultural delegation that was sent to India by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The trip was undertaken to commemorate and retrace King and his wife’s visit to India between February-March 1959 “to study the life and works of Mahatma Gandhi” a press release issued on February 11, 2009 by the US Department of State said. The delegation began its trip in New Delhi and travelled around India to some of the principal sites associated with Gandhi’s work.
Before embarking on the trip, in a remark made during a meeting with Martin Luther King III, Congressman Spencer Bachus, pianist Herbie Hancock and then US Secretary of State Clinton, Lewis said about King and Gandhi: “The two men were not politicians or lawmakers. They were not presidents or popes. But they were inspired human beings who believed deeply in the power of nonviolent resistance to injustice as a tool for social change. Because of their courage, commitment, and vision, this nation has witnessed a nonviolent revolution under the rule of law, a revolution of values and ideas that have changed America forever. We are all a beneficiary of this powerful legacy.”
Lewis added, “… I don’t where I would be if it had not been for the teaching of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We are looking forward to fulfilling an inspiring journey [sic],”.
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