Six months ago tonight, I went to the Senate floor to speak out about Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General – Jeff Sessions.
Nobody wanted to talk about the fact that President Trump had nominated a man that both Democrats and Republicans had decided was too racist to become a federal judge in the 1980s. So I went to the Senate floor to read an old letter from Coretta Scott King. She knew about the way former US State Attorney for Alabama Jeff Sessions had intimidated and prosecuted civil rights workers for helping elderly black citizens to vote, and I wanted the Senate to hear what she’d had to say.
Mrs. King wrote of African-American families visited repeatedly by the FBI. Of people pressured to change their testimony. Of elderly black men and women herded onto buses and driven 180 miles to appear before a grand jury. She talked about fear and the toll it took on people. And she said that Sessions had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
Every senator voting for Jeff Sessions and every person in America needed to hear that letter. When Mitch McConnell threw me out of the Senate for reading it, I was shocked. It wasn’t just my voice that was being silenced. No, Coretta Scott King was silenced.
And just to be clear: Mitch McConnell wasn’t the only person who tried to silence me that night. I appealed his decision, so the whole Senate got to vote. Every single Republican in the Senate chamber that night voted to censure me. Not one of them wanted to talk about why Jeff Sessions was a problem.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a problem – and I’m still talking about it:
- He supported the Texas voter ID law – the strictest voter ID in the country, meant to stop African Americans and Latinos from voting.
- He reversed the Obama Administration directive to stop using predatory, for-profit private prisons.
- He reinstated the failed “War on Drugs” with harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses.
- He rolled back investigations of police departments that commit civil rights violations.
- He announced a probe on college admissions programs to twist and distort federal civil rights laws.
- He promised to withhold federal funding to cities with immigration policies he doesn’t like.
But here’s the deal: When Mitch McConnell and every one of his Republican colleagues kicked me off the Senate floor that night, he didn’t silence me, or Mrs. King, or anyone else. In fact, they made us louder. I went outside to the hallway, pulled out a phone, and read Mrs. King’s letter online. Over the next few days, tens of millions of people heard – or read – Coretta Scott King’s words.
I never expected anything that happened on the Senate floor that night. I never expected “Nevertheless, She Persisted” to become a meme, a t-shirt slogan, a tattoo, or a rallying cry for people all across this country who are tired of being told to sit down and shut up.
This fight isn’t about me – it’s about all of us. This is our moment in history. Not the moment we wanted, but the moment we are called to. Donald Trump may call us names. Mitch McConnell might tell us to sit down and shut up. But we will not give up and go home.
We will resist. We will persist. And we will win.