John Lewis was an American civil rights leader and activist, a respected representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district for over 30 years and a champion for reducing global inequalities. John Lewis introduced or sponsored at least 23 bills and resolutions that influenced U.S. foreign relations, humanitarian aid and advocacy. While some of his bills did not pass at the time, John Lewis’s globally-minded legislative style set a precedent for advocating for the world’s poor through legislative action.
Timeline of John Lewis’s Foreign Affairs Legislation
Under the Clinton Administration, John Lewis sponsored H.Con.Res.348. This resolution officially declared that Congress condemns the use of children as soldiers in any context. It provided guidelines on addressing the use of child soldiers, reintegration approaches for former child soldiers and incentives for foreign armies or organizations to dismantle exploitative child soldier systems.
Under the Bush Administration, Lewis sponsored H.R.2522, which defined modern-day slavery and enabled the government to better restrict it. Lewis’s bill called for a congressional commission to address the ways global modern-day slavery creeps into economic systems. The bill addressed how modern-day slavery targets vulnerable populations and requires intervention. This legislation would have also affected U.S. trade relations at the time, pressuring the government to halt trade with nations known to endorse modern-day slavery.
In 2008, Lewis introduced H.RES.1169. This resolution pushed the U.S. to advance its stance on eliminating discrimination and all forms of human or civil rights abuses. The resolution had both a domestic and international focus. It proposed to recommit several NGOs and governmental bodies that promoted equity.
Under the Obama Administration, Lewis reintroduced H.RES.1169 with slight wording changes. This resolution continued to advocate for the U.S. to step up as a global human rights leader. That same year, John Lewis also introduced H.R.3328 and H.Res.948. The first resolution called on the Secretary of State to collaborate with India in funding the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative, an educational and professional exchange program. While that bill did not pass, the other resolution officially endorsed the organizers and participants of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence.
After the U.N. General Assembly declared July 18 International Nelson Mandela Day, Lewis also introduced H.Res.1518. This resolution expressed the U.S.’s support for the U.N.’s action, which recognized Mandela’s progression of the nonviolent fight for equality under the law. This legislation also called on U.S. citizens to appreciate democracy, discourse and peace domestically.
Throughout the 112th, 113th and into the 114th congressional sessions, Lewis continued to introduce versions of his previous legislation. Lewis reintroduced H.Res.1518, regarding International Nelson Mandela Day, in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In those same years, John Lewis also restructured and then reintroduced what was originally H.RES.1169, regarding the U.S.’s commitment to protecting human rights globally. The new versions of the resolution maintained all components but did not specify to which conventions the U.S. must recommit, leaving room for expansion.
In 2011, 2013 and 2016, Lewis also reintroduced revised conditions for the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative bill. In 2016, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.Con.Res.158, which focuses on the importance of U.S. citizens and government recognizing the 35th annual International Day of Peace.
This time, under the Trump Administration, John Lewis persisted through the 115th congressional session. Despite blockage from other congressional leaders on several bills, he reintroduced legislation centered on humanitarianism. In 2017, Lewis first reinstated recognition of International Nelson Mandela Day, then of the International Day of Peace. He lastly revised the bill intended to strengthen the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative.
In his last year serving, at the age of nearly 80, John Lewis continued to advocate and reintroduce globally-conscious legislation. Lewis again dedicated floor time to the Nelson Mandela International Day resolution, and then again to the International Day of Peace resolution. At the end of 2019, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.R.5517. This bill had the same goals as the previous Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative legislation Lewis introduced. However, Lewis amended the bill to include rhetoric affirming the altruistic intentions of the U.S. in collaboration with India. The 116th congressional session is still unfolding. This is an opportunity for other congressional leaders to pass the initiative Lewis pushed for over a decade.
Aside from his decades of success in public service and activism, John Lewis’s persistence in the congressional fight for global equity has paved the way for future lawmakers. John Lewis thought and acted as a global citizen. Despite setbacks and congressional stalemate, Lewis consistently and creatively committed the U.S. to the advancement of conditions for the world’s poor. Lewis leaves behind a legacy of care and compassion, ready for the next generation of American citizens and politicians to adopt.
– Caledonia Strelow