The Sales Tax Institute Book Club most recently read a book that broadened our perspectives on law, politics, race, and social justice in the United States. In Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, politician and civil rights activist John Lewis details his experience coming from a family of sharecroppers in the South to leading the Civil Rights movement alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
John Lewis separates his book into eight sections: Faith, Patience, Study, Truth, Act, Peace, Love, and Reconciliation. Each of these sections highlights fundamental values and practical examples of what it means to be a successful activist and how to embrace the activist inside yourself. Read on to learn what these guiding values meant to Lewis and his advice for activists.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
Lewis believes that activism requires you to have doubtless faith in what you are fighting for. Voices come from all directions telling you that what you believe is wrong, so it becomes easy to get discouraged and question yourself. But faith is the antidote to doubt.
The greatest test of faith for Lewis was his imprisonment in a maximum-security facility in the Mississippi Delta, Parchman Farm. This is one of the most dangerous prisons for a black man, located in rural Mississippi. In this setting, there was no order or justice. Their lives were in the hands of racist prison guards who had been known to lynch and murder prisoners with no witnesses. This was a test of faith for Lewis and his peers. Instead of allowing himself to be defeated, he used it as an opportunity. As the Freedom Riders came through Mississippi, they flooded the penal system, which left the state no choice but to free them all. The Freedom Riders kept faith even through the worst punishments, and they came out with stronger faith than ever before.
“Faith will be the lifeblood of all your activism,” said Lewis, “and it has the power to make a way out of no way.”
“Without patience, we will learn less in life. We will see less. We will feel less. We will hear less. Ironically, rush and more usually means less.” Mother Teresa
Having patience is not defeatist. Patience can actually be a catalyst for change. In order to understand, learn, and be involved in any change-making activity, you need patience. It takes time to move the needle, especially in the American justice system. Lewis reassures readers that it may take generations to see significant change, to pass a bill, to experience tolerance, but that each generation must do their part for the next.
For example, the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution gave Black people the right to vote in 1870. But in Alabama, even in the 1960s, there were various measures in place to block Black people from exercising their right to vote such as literacy tests which were privately graded. With patience and perseverance, Lewis and those around him worked to provide resources for Black Americans, such as education about the importance of voter registration, teaching skills to help with literacy tests, and providing advice for the harassment that voters experienced at the polls. Today, 150 years later, Black voters do have an easier time, but they still face systemic inequities when it comes to voting.
Activists should use patience as a tool in their protests. Just because you don’t see progress quickly does not mean you aren’t getting closer to making change.
“We ask ourselves ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson
Movements are not created out of thin air. Those like the Civil Rights movement required study, strategy, organization, training, preparation, and then action. Looking back at history by studying what worked and what didn’t offers present day activists the knowledge they need to forge ahead. Studying the history of activism can help you uncover what role you should play in your movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a prime example of someone in the leadership role of a movement. His commitment to search for answers to the problems his people faced made him fit to lead, and his heritage prepared him for it. He studied and searched for information from those in his community and those before him to best understand the problems he was trying to fix and methods to fix them.
Only with the power of knowledge can a movement be effective.
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” Winston Churchill
Lewis argues that the truth is the foundation of all things, and it cannot be denied. In some cases, the truth has been systemically obscured and misinterpreted to the benefit of certain groups. But if you know the truth, you can rest assured that it will prevail. “The truth is self-evident and it will win because it is the truth,” says Lewis.
The March on Washington exemplifies a time when light was shed on the truth. People who attended were rejecting the status quo and set their sites on the truth. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech affected the masses because it clearly articulated the truth about racial relations in the United States for all to understand.
The search for truth is a critical part of an activist’s life because it conveys meaning to action. It requires constant learning, evaluation, self-criticism, and comprehension of your movement’s core principles. Lewis believes that an activist that is grounded in the truth will not be misled. The truth can be trusted. It is up to the activist to seek out the truth and not allow others to misinterpret the truth for them because that is what leads to injustice.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.
The difference between a dream and a plan is action. Taking action that demonstrates the dignity and humanity of your cause is what leads to an effective movement. And effective movements result in change.
The threat of racism in the United States is discussed more and more frequently in the average American home. But Lewis explains spreading awareness does not put an end to the systemic obstacles and discriminatory measures that exist in this country. Progress will require planned action, for example: education campaigns, regulations and training inside police departments, and carrying out investigations of hate crimes.
Taking action has a price. When you take action against strong forces, they will undoubtedly respond. You must be prepared with a plan to counter any responses – whether it’s for organizing, educating, protesting, lobbying, passing legislation, or informing others how to make effective change.
“Peace is softening what is rigid in our hearts.” Pema Chodron
Some historians believe the last hundred years to be the most violent in human history, from political oppression to famine. Lewis believes that once we look beyond violence, we can discover pathways of peace that we have never considered before. “There are technologies of peace; there are the research and methodologies of peace. There are the intelligence and industries of peace” he says. We just have to explore them.
The Black Lives Matter protests began as peaceful expressions of concern by everyone involved. But as often happens in our violent culture, certain individuals disturbed the peace for everyone involved. However, responding to violence with peace can help it fizzle out.
Creating a culture of peace starts from within each person. Will you be that person?
“We are all bound by the ties of love … the name for that cohesive force among animate beings is Love.” Mohandas Gandhi
According to Lewis, “Love is the willingness to sacrifice, to be beaten, to go to jail, to be killed for the betterment of society rather than live out your life in silence.” The goal of unity for all people, may be achieved by acting with love. If you respond to violence with love, no matter how poorly you’re treated, that will change people.
If we all treat one another like family, love and peace will be won.
“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” Harry Dixon Loes
Lewis believes that our purpose on this earth is to shine our light and allow all other people to do the same. When it’s your time, act with love to enlighten the truth. As a result, our greater community can be at peace.
The Sales Tax Institute staff will take these essays as a framework as we go about our personal and professional lives. Activism can occur in many different forms. Raising awareness about tax inequities or burdensome tax compliance is a form of activism. We can look to the founding of our country and the Boston Tea Party as tax policy activism. We hear from so many of you about your sales tax challenges – is it time for you to take action either through actions within your company to obtain the resources you need to comply or through the state authorities to raise awareness and request changes to process that seem burdensome or unjust. If you aren’t sure where to start, reach out to us. We can let you know of resources to assist you. Wherever you find activism in your life, let these points guide you.
If you’ve read Across That Bridge and have thoughts or insights, we’d love to hear! Email us here.
Next, the Sales Tax Institute will take on The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. We’d love to have you join us on our next journey. We encourage you to support your independent local bookstores. Our neighborhood bookstore is Sandmeyer’s Bookstore in historic Printer’s Row Chicago. Join us and support your own favorite local store!