Inauguration boycott grows as Trump meets with son of Martin Luther King Jr
Twenty-six members of Congress will boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, amid escalating outrage over alleged connections between the president-elect’s team and Russia and disparaging remarks about civil rights veteran John Lewis .
As the US marked its national holiday honouring Martin Luther King Jr on Monday, the number of congressional Democrats pledging to shun Friday’s inauguration ceremony and celebrations rose. Their extraordinary step was praised by progressive leaders.
A little before 1pm, however, Martin Luther King III, the oldest child of Martin Luther King Jr, arrived at Trump Tower in New York to meet the president-elect.
Fifty minutes later, King emerged from the building’s elevators and spoke to reporters. Asked why he had met Trump, who did not come out to talk to the press but was seen shaking his guest’s hand, he said it was a constructive meeting and added: “We have got to move forward.”
He spoke with Trump, he said, about voter participation. When asked about Lewis he said there was emotional rhetoric from “both sides”. Trump’s “intent” was to reach out to all Americans, King said, adding that it takes “pressure” to maintain engagement.
“I think my father would be very concerned about the 50 to 60 million people living in poverty,” he said. “It’s insanity that we have poor people in this nation, it’s unacceptable. We need to be talking about how to clothe people, how do we feed people.”
One civil rights veteran told the Guardian she supported the meeting but also praised members of Congress who plan to boycott Trump’s inauguration.
“Those members of Congress feel that not attending the inauguration is making a statement that they are against the politics put forth by Donald Trump,” Doris Crenshaw, who campaigned with Rosa Parks and met Martin Luther King Jr before his assassination in 1968, told the Guardian.
She called on Trump to call Lewis and “have a conversation”.
Cornell William Brooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), has demanded that Trump apologise to Lewis, the long-time Georgia congressman who had his skull broken by the police during the pivotal Selma to Montgomery march of 1965.
Lewis said last week he would not attend the inauguration in Washington and did not regard Trump as a legitimate president, following intelligence reports of Russian interference in the election.
Trump launched a fierce counter-attack on Twitter in which he accused Lewis of being “ all talk ” and warned him to focus on his district which was “crime infested”.
Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2017
On Monday in Miami, Lewis spoke at a breakfast to celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday. He did not mention Trump but invoked King’s philosophy of non-violence in a hinted rebuke at the president-elect’s vitriolic style, while appearing to support the inauguration boycott.
“You must never, ever hate,” he said. “Stand up, speak up, when you see something that is not right and not fair and not just, you have a moral obligation to do something and say something.”
In a witty and personal speech, Lewis spoke of his childhood, of trying out his voice as a preacher, a budding ambition, while he was tending chickens at his family farm.
“The chickens listened better than some of my fellow members in Congress listen to me now,” he said, to laugher from the audience. He also told of a member of the Ku Klux Klan who once beat him up later coming to his office on Capitol Hill, where he has been a congressman since 1987, to apologise and ask for forgiveness.
Lewis added that he did now know where his career – or America – would be without Martin Luther King Jr.
“He freed us, he liberated us,” he said.
— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) January 16, 2017
Martin Luther King III was ushered into Trump Tower by the president-elect’s surrogate and former reality TV participant Omarosa Manigault . The agenda for the meeting was not publicised beforehand.
“I think it’s good that he meets Trump,” said Crenshaw, who was vice-president of the NAACP youth council during the civil rights years.
“You cannot operate with a ‘no talk’ policy: someone has to get in there and talk to Donald Trump and I think King should be congratulated for his efforts. It’s important to address poverty and education problems that we have nationwide.”
Some of the members of Congress boycotting the inauguration, such as Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Nydia Velazquez of New York and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, have said they will attend the Women’s March on Washington Saturday instead.
The Women’s March is expected to attract hundreds of thousands rallying for progressive causes deemed under threat from a Trump administration, ranging from women’s and racial equality to reproductive rights, the environment and the minimum wage.
Kaylin Whittingham, president of the Association of Black Women Attorneys, a partner organisation of the march, said those marching instead of going to the inauguration were showing Trump the power of action over words.
“If you go to the inauguration and you do not go to the march it looks like you are supporting whatever Donald Trump stands for,” she said, “but if you go to the march you are lending your voice and being part of this movement.”
Whittingham said Trump had shown great disrespect to Lewis. “John Lewis has been in action since Trump was a little boy,” she said.
Trump’s remarks about Lewis brought anger among congressional opponents to boiling point. Some planning to boycott the inauguration followed Lewis in citing Trump’s alleged links with Russia, which are the subject of controversial reports ranging from his business dealings to whether Russian intelligence has compromising material on him.
Trump has said he thinks Russia was behind hacks against Democratic party sources, but he has also deepened a potentially damaging rift with the main intelligence agencies.
Congressman Mark DeSaulnier of California said in a video statement he would not attend the inauguration because he believes Trump as president will be in violation of the constitution, because of conflicts of interest with his business empire.