The second graphic novel in the March trilogy - which details largely forgotten stories Congressman John Lewis experienced during his engagement with the Civil Rights in the 1950s-60s. - is a must read. Not just because of the historical perspective it provides. Not just because March Book One is now required reading in many history classes throughout the nation. And not just because it puts fuel in the tanks of people who need it desperately to fight back against injustices such as the recent murder of a black man by a policeman in South Carolina.
It’s important for a reason many people never consider: because it demonstrates what happens when we act on what we know is right instead taking refuge in pointing our fingers at our oppressors. John Lewis understood this even at the tender age of 23. During the march and protest days of the Civil Rights movement, Lewis knew that what was happening to his life and the life of other black citizens was wrong. He also knew that being “patient” in redressing such grievous wrongs would not work. Plenty of people get to this point of frustration with injustice. What distinguishes people such as Lewis and Dr King is their ability to find the psychological strength necessary to act on their frustrations without blaming their oppressor. To express their understandings forcefully, but in ways that respect rather than demean their adversaries. This quality is what captivates the readers of books such as March as much as anything else about civil rights heroism. It captivates us because we know, without doubt, that doing this is an act of courage.
All of us have opportunities at various points in our lives to hold fast to what we know is right. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail. Sometimes we fail even when we’ve learned what we have to do to succeed from past experience. Succeeding in standing up to injustice is not just a matter of knowing what is right. Doing what is right is what makes it hard. How do we move from point A to point B?
There are a lot of different answers to that question. Sometimes, it might mean giving up a sense of entitlement(and the narcissism it is based on), and being willing to let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes it means linking hearts with others similarly outraged and finding our mettle that way. Sometimes, our empathy for those who are being mistreated is so great we find ways to convert that empathy into courage. Sometimes we accidentally act bravely, notice the impact of what we’ve done, and take enough confidence from doing so that we never look back.
People all around the world are fighting against oppression, large and small. More and more, people are learning that pointing their fingers at their oppressors is not the way to win - lowering their finger and putting themselves forward is. This is what Gandhi did when he marched to the sea to protest the injustice of the British Empire’s salt tax. This is what the freedom riders did in the Civil Rights movement, even when they knew (correctly in some cases) they might be violently killed as a result.
The notion of hiding from the responsibilities your awareness brings you in the hopes that you can escape the injustices you see around you is as incorrect today as it was when many German citizens seeing injustice in their streets employed that very strategy. As we know, that passivity paved the way for Hitler to rise to power and perpetrate more injustices on a much larger scale. It will always be tempting to turn away from injustice - such is the power of fear - but building the psychological foundation to face it is a powerful way of pointing your life down a much different, much more human road.
We saw this in South Carolina when Feidin Santana made the decision to deliver the video he had taken on his phone to the family of Walter Scott. Initially, his fear of repercussions from the police led him to consider destroying the video. Then, apparently, he had the thought of leaving town altogether. In the end he thought of Mr. Scott’s family, and how important it was for them to know this piece of what happened. And he acted.
We don’t have to take actions on the scale of Gandhi’s march to the sea to make our contributions to justice. But we have to do something just as difficult: lower the finger of blame and act on what we know to be right when such opportunities present themselves.
Thank you, Feidin Santana, for showing us how to do this.