At a time when Americans are politically splintered, the Democratic Party represents an inclusive "big tent" for all comers, civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis told activists Saturday.
"We're black; we're white; we're Latino; we're Asian-American; we're Native American," the five-term Atlanta congressman said at Olivet Baptist Church. "We're one people; we're one family; we're one house. We all live in the same house."
Once described by The Associated Press as "the first major House figure to suggest impeaching George W. Bush," Lewis is known as one of Georgia's most reliable liberal voices. Before his political career, Lewis organized Nashville sit-ins as a Freedom Rider and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fighting for equal voting rights across racial lines.
Speaking in a deep, authoritative voice three days before his 72nd birthday, Lewis said he's old enough to remember signs that said "white men only" and "colored men only," his face folding into fury as he mentioned them.
But he quickly segued into a political stump speech, praising Medicare and Social Security as top Democratic achievements and dreading the thought of President Barack Obama as a one-termer.
"We must not and we cannot allow it to happen," he boomed.
Several local officials and candidates attended the speech, including state Sen. Andy Berke and state Reps. Tommie Brown and Joanne Favors, all Democrats from Chattanooga. In an introductory speech, Berke said "the 14-year-old teenybopper in me came out tonight" when he met Lewis.
"Every day, when each of us wake up, we wake up to a better country and a better world because of John Lewis," Berke said.
About 200 people attended the Hamilton County Democratic Party event. Officials said proceeds from the $10 admission fee will benefit the local party's photo ID voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts.
That fee was a drop in the ocean compared to recent GOP events.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and one of his challengers, Weston Wamp, each held $1,000-per-couple fundraisers last year.
Earlier in the day, Lewis held a separate "meet-and-greet" fundraiser for his own re-election. He charged $100 per person but spoke at no charge for Saturday evening's party benefit, officials said.