Passing of John Lewis, RBG leaves sadness, worry


Mylo Bissell

Photos of the late Justice and the Congressman including quotes from them that inspired the author.

2020 has been a year riddled with loss and the devastating emotional labor of processing collective trauma. 

From COVID-19 to the Black Lives Matter protests that continue nationwide, this year has felt like a marathon with no end in sight. However, for me personally, the losses of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis have left a deep cavernous hole inside me that has rattled me so deeply I had no words to use in expressing my grief for months after their passing. 

John Lewis was my first real introduction to a lesser-known activist of the Civil Rights Movement. He was an advocate of mythic proportions focusing on the importance of voter registration within the black community to overcome centuries of voter suppression of people of color. 

John Lewis was a hero of mine and the news of his passing felt heavy. I wept in ways I hadn’t thought would happen for someone I only knew from stories and history.

In the week before his death, John Lewis went to a Black Lives Matter Protest instructing people to “Give until they cannot give anymore”— a heart-wrenching reminder of just what Lewis had done during his life. 

Then within a few months of that loss, like the echoing ring of a bell, the news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. It felt almost surreal to see the headline and as the reality of what this truly meant set in. We were left her final words as relayed to her granddaughter: “It is my most fervent wish that I not be replaced until a new president is instated.” Instead of worrying only about her goodbyes to her closest friends and family, she gave a cry for the future of the nation, a nation she made strong through years of courageous action.

The actions of the Republican-led U.S. Senate and President Trump to replace her with their own hand-picked successor pissed me off like nothing I had ever felt before. It has always been a bitter pill to be American for me as I have felt years of pain from ingrained oppression against my communities being black and queer in the United States. And now we were witnessing the flagrant disregard of someone’s dying wishes of someone who used her last moments alive to hope for the betterment of a nation.

There are countless reasons why this left me feeling discouraged. In the Broadway play musical “What is a legacy?” to which Hamilton answers “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see”. Representative Lewis and Justice Ginsburg got to see their garden but with the unfounded calls of voter fraud and demand for voter suppression and a now biased court system that does not stand for the rights of women, I can’t help but wonder: Is this country so divided that we’d harvest their gardens before they’re cold in the earth? Is this how we treat our fiercest advocates and loyalist public servants? 

A lot of people and ideals seem as if they passed away with heroes like John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am now fearful that other American ideals of bipartisanship and democracy are also near death.