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Capuano hosts event with civil rights leader

Karen Morales
Capuano hosts event with civil rights leader
U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano and John Lewis address attendees at a town hall event at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. photo: courtesy of Capuano for Congress Campaign

U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano of the 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts and John Lewis from the 5th Congressional District of Georgia held a discussion on civil rights at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury Saturday as the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee announced its official endorsement of the Somerville Democrat, who is facing a challenge from at-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

The two congressmen referred to each other as not only colleagues on Capitol Hill, but friends as well, both fighting for gun control and comprehensive immigration reform.

“On our side of the House, Mike is one of our key leaders,” said Lewis. “We need all the people in his district, throughout the state and U.S. to turn out and vote like we’ve never voted before.”

Lewis grew up in rural Alabama and is a notable civil rights activist, having been one of the leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington and one of the 13 original Freedom Riders.

“He’s a guy whose parents were sharecroppers and he had a thousand other things he could have been doing but he chose to put his life on the line to make the world a bit better place,” said Capuano while introducing Lewis at the town hall event.

In their endorsement, the CBC PAC highlighted Capuano’s “commitment to creating opportunities for communities of color in his district and across the U.S.”

That commitment includes Capuano’s co-sponsoring of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization Act, which maintains the provisions of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Also in 2016, Capuano asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Keolis Commuter Services was diverting Fairmount Line trains from neighborhoods of color in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury and instead using the trains to serve other, more affluent communities in the suburbs. In 2017, he donated $53,000 of his own campaign funds to make the line free for two weeks to encourage ridership.

While running on similarly progressive platforms, Pressley has said her eight-year-long career as at-large city councilor and her life experiences as a woman of color and daughter of an incarcerated father make her better-equipped to represent the majority-minority district.

Capuano has also received endorsements from former governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Martin Walsh.

At the church town hall, the two congressmen emphasized the importance of the Democrats regaining the House majority.

“Who’s the majority sets the agenda and allows bills to move forward,” said Capuano. “When Democrats take back the House, it is almost guaranteed we can pass certain gun control measures.”

As he reflected on meeting Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., coordinating efforts as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for black voting rights and even getting arrested 40 times, Lewis said, “The vote is powerful. It is precious, almost sacred. Use the ballot, use the vote as a powerful nonviolent tool.”

He continued, “Too many people gave too much for the right to vote, the right to engage in the democratic process. It’s one reason we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”

“We set people on the path to citizenship. We register people to vote. We will change things,” said Lewis.

Capuano said Lewis helped lead House Democrats in proposing gun reform laws recently, particularly in the wake of a school shooting epidemic.

“We knew we couldn’t win per se but it was the best we could do to capture the imagination of the American people to let them know that there are some of us fighting for thoughtful and strong gun control laws,” he said.

Lewis said although some progress for civil rights has been made, “I think there is a deliberate and systematic effort on the part of the administration to take us back to another time.”

But Lewis instilled hope for the town hall attendees. “We lost people. People were beaten, churches were bombed, but we didn’t give up or lose faith. We too can be part of that effort to redeem the soul of America.”