John Lewis urges young activists to get into 'good trouble' to save democracy
© Greg Nash

Rep. John LewisJohn LewisThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt Atlanta mayor signs bill to change Confederate street names Under attack: Because we don’t vote Republican MORE (D-Ga.) urged young activists in an address Tuesday to get into "good trouble, necessary trouble" to help "save our democracy."

“We have a moral obligation to stand up, speak up,” Lewis said during his opening remarks at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The event’s honorees included advocacy organizations March for Our Lives, Color of Change, the International Indigenous Youth Council, and United We Dream. 

“We will set the Dreamers free,” Lewis said, addressing the representatives from United We Dream, a youth-led organization that fights for immigrant rights.

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And if comprehensive immigration reform does not happen, Lewis said, “history will not be kind to us as a people, as a nation.” 

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award has been given to individual activists every year since the award’s inception in 1984, but this year the award was given to youth groups to commemorate the 50 years since Robert F. Kennedy’s death. 

“These young people ... carry forward a key element of Robert Kennedy’s unfinished work,” Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy said.

Activists, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Cameron Kasky, spoke about the fight for justice. 

“We can’t let the terrible system in which we were raised beat us,” Kasky said. “We are all more powerful than any political system as long as we stand together and demand more from it.” 

Members of the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC), an organization started during the 2016 Standing Rock protests, spoke at length about the indigenous Anacostine people who once lived in where Washington, D.C., is today.

“On June 2, 1924, 94 years ago, the United States granted indigenous people American citizenship,” IIYC youth coordinator Eryn Wise said.

“Thank you for doing that and welcome to our country,” she joked, sparking laughter from the audience. 

Several activists referenced the Trump administration directly.

“When discussing immigration policy, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE said, 'These aren’t people. These are animals,' " a member of United We Dream said. “This racist language is disgusting. ... [and] has been used from generation to generation to criminalize, arrest and kill people of color.” 

At the lunch reception afterward, IIYC members played drums and sang, and the entire room danced in a circle, including Kerry Kennedy.

“All of the sudden, everybody realizes we’re in a critical moment in our country,” labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told ITK. “We have to step it up."

“We have to march, we have to protest and we have to vote,” Huerta said.