The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump began just as we were learning of the death, on February 7, of the bold and brilliant labor leader Karen Lewis.
As president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Lewis shook up that city and just about everyone’s presumptions about unions, teachers, and taking on bullies when she took on Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and revived a long-dormant tradition of labor-led, community-wide organizing.
Where contract negotiations had typically taken place in private with the mayor cast as the city’s brash defender and striking teachers demonized as selfish, Lewis took what she called a debate over Chicago’s “soul” — its schools — into the streets and made it everyone’s business.
The problems in Chicago’s schools, she said, weren’t the fault of bad kids or failing teachers, but a city’s bad policies and priorities. And changing those, she taught, wasn’t the work of a professional few, but everyone’s responsibility.
My problem with the impeachment scenario currently taking place in DC, is that while Donald Trump clearly incited the homicidal invasion of the Capitol, the white macho mob that stormed Washington January 6 is part of something bigger. The sort of bully thugs that came in hunting for Pelosi and the Congress have been hunting other people and groups for years. The seditious lie that they’d been fed — that an armed minority can keep a majority down through violence in a society that calls itself a democracy — is very old. Indeed, it’s a lie that’s been perpetuated over centuries of American mythology and practice.
Not just MAGA thugs but US policies and laws have sought to segregate, control, and criminalize people along lines of race and gender. Think slavery, redlining, Jim Crow, the denial of reproductive rights, mass incarceration, and sterilization abuse. We are all culturally culpable for the whitewashing of American apartheid and America-first wars and militarism.
Karen Lewis called out Emmanuel’s top-down tactics and hate speech and built relationships between teachers and students and parents and janitors and lunch ladies… She defended and reintroduced the principle of public education to the greater Chicago community.
While power corrupts, and our pay-to-play system doesn’t favor angels in our politics, it just may be that we need to stop the demonization of our politicians and stand up for public service and government.
At the very least, we need to embrace Lewis’s dictum that “the only way to beat a bully is to stand up to a bully.” And that goes not just for people, but for ideas.
Whether or not Trump’s impeachment trial ends in conviction, the impeaching of corrosive, racist lies needs to happen everywhere. It’s all our responsibility, not just the Senate’s.