Last month, Georgia Democrats selected State Senator Nikema Williams to take the late Rep. John Lewis’s place on the ballot after the beloved civil rights icon passed away. It might be a daunting prospect for some, but Williams knows she’s not Lewis, and she knows that she can’t step into his shoes…no matter how many other people have asked her to. However, she does plan to move ahead and live up to the ideals and values that she learned from him, while still being herself, and while “moving the needle forward” for the betterment of the next generation.
“There are absolutely things that Mr. Lewis fought for that I want to pick up the mantle and continue, but each generation has an obligation to take it one step further,” Williams told ESSENCE. “So just picking up where he left off and continuing isn’t, simply, enough; and I know that Mr. Lewis would feel this way as well.”
Take, for example, voting rights, something that the civil rights icon literally shed blood for during the march from Selma to Montgomery when he was brutally beaten by White officers in 1965. If elected, one of the first things Williams plans to do is work on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, if it has not already been dealt with by the time she arrives on Capitol Hill.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn moved to rename H.R.4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, which passed in the House, after his departed colleague. The bill, if passed and signed into law, restores the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. A perfect representation of Lewis’s legacy.
However, Williams says beyond that, more has to be done to protect voting rights, an issue that she is equally passionate about, and one that she herself was arrested for back in 2018 while demonstrating with constituents to have every single vote be counted in the contentious Georgia elections.
“We need to be looking at things like same-day voter registration. We need to make some of this standardized in federal processes so that it doesn’t matter what state you’re in, your right to vote is the same no matter where you go,” Williams insisted. “With this pandemic brewing across the country, we need to make sure that processes and laws are in place so that it doesn’t matter what state you live in, you have access to the ballot box, you have free and fair elections across the country.”
“We’ve had our own hiccups here in Georgia with voter suppression: Some of it intentional; some of it incompetence,” she added. “But we have got to do a better job on the federal level in making sure that we are uplifting everyone’s right to vote.”
Another big issue Williams is passionate about is health care, something that she says should be a basic human right in this country.
Williams reflected on an accident she had in 2017 while running for state Senate. Her car was totaled, and she had visible bruises and burns from the encounter, and still chose to decline ambulance care and coverage.
“I waited for my husband to pick me up off the side of the road that day, because I didn’t know what the medical bills would be like had I gotten into that ambulance and actually accepted the coverage that I probably needed,” Williams said. “I didn’t have health insurance, and so I had to make a decision based on my finances and what I would be able to pay at the end of that.”
“No one should have to make that decision when they are in need of care. Health care should be a basic human right, and right now, our country doesn’t get it right,” she added. “That’s why I support Medicare for All. That’s why I want to make sure we don’t have a system of your bank account deciding your ability to get the care and the coverage that you need in this country.”
Williams emphasized that her decision-making process has always been centered around the most marginalized members of our communities, and she added, if more people in power did the same the country would be running much more smoothly in terms of voting and election issues, health care, the current coronavirus pandemic and the other issues that we currently face.
So now, instead, it’s going to take people who are willing to speak out.
“It starts with elections this November and getting the right leaders in office and making sure we have leaders who actually care about the people in this country who are living on the margins,” Williams said. Running for the 5th Congressional District, Williams added, “will be the honor of my life,” an honor that would give her the opportunity to be the voice of the people and be one of those leaders who listen.
“When I go to Congress, I’m bringing you with me. I want to be your voice. We can only do this if we do this together,” she said. “We’re all going to make sure that we’re living up to the promise of America when I get there.Share :