Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms evoked the legacy of the late civil rights legend John Lewis when calling on demonstrators to channel their frustrations into voting this fall.
The first-term mayor of Georgia’s capital city spoke on the final night of the Democratic National Convention – a nod to her growing prominence in the party beyond Atlanta politics. Bottoms, who was an early backer of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, was considered a contender for vice president.
“People often think that they can’t make a difference like our civil rights icons, but every person in the movement mattered — those who made the sandwiches, swept the church floors, stuffed the envelopes,” Bottoms said from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.
“The baton has now been passed to each of us,” she said. “We’ve cried out for justice, we have gathered in our streets to demand change, and now, we must pass on the gift John Lewis sacrificed to give us, we must register and we must vote.”
Bottoms remarks came as Democrats paid tribute to the longtime congressman who died in July after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Known as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, Lewis was badly beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The violence is often credited with spurring the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
“Maybe George Floyd’s murder was a breaking point, maybe John Lewis’ passing the inspiration. But however it’s come to be – however it’s happened – America’s ready, in John’s words, to lay down the heavy burden of hate at last and (to do) the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism,” Biden said in his speech Thursday night.
Biden’s running-mate Kamala Harris said on Twitter Thursday night that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would become “one of the first things” Biden does as president if Senate Republicans do not act on it.
Bottoms said Lewis “walked gently amongst us, not as a distant icon but as a god-fearing man who did what he could to fulfill the as-yet unfulfilled promise of America.” She summoned Lewis’ parting words of caution that the hard-fought right to vote could be lost.
“There are those who are disgracefully using this pandemic to spread misinformation and interfere with voting, forcing many – in 2020 – to still risk their lives to exercise their sacred right to vote — a right that has already been paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, and lives of so many,” she said.
Thursday wrapped up a week that at times cast the spotlight on Georgians from past and present, including former President Jimmy Carter, Lawrenceville state Rep. Sam Park and a MARTA bus driver, Natasha Taylor, who pushed for more protections for frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The GOP seized on Bottoms’ turn on the national albeit virtual stage.
“While Mayor Bottoms revels in her consolation prize for losing her bid to be Biden’s VP pick, Georgians will not forget her weakening the Atlanta Police Department after years of defunding,” Savannah Viar, Georgia Press Secretary for the Trump Victory, said in a statement ahead of Bottoms’ speech.
Bottoms has described the so-called “defund the police” movement as “reallocating funds toward social services and support and community enhancement initiatives.” As mayor, she has worked to close the city’s jail to turn it into a community center.
The Republican National Convention, when the GOP will officially nominate President Donald Trump for a second term, is set for next week.