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Tennessee: Racism, Jan 6th Comparisons & GOP Overreach
A turning point in America?
While the media has been captivated by the indictment and arraignment of former President Trump this week, another significant story has been unfolding somewhat under the radar in Tennessee.
Following the Nashville Covenant School shooting on March 27, widespread protests erupted at the Tennessee Capitol building just three days later, on March 30. The demonstrations, spearheaded by predominantly young Americans, centered on the urgent need for gun control. Despite Republican attempts on social media to draw a false equivalence between the peaceful protest and the violent January 6th riots at the US Capitol, there was no justifiable comparison to be made.
Armed with a bullhorn, a triumvirate of Democratic lawmakers, comprising Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson, led a rousing chorus of supporters in the public gallery, clamoring for gun reform in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Their disruptive actions during the proceedings led to allegations of disorderliness, and ultimately a vote for expulsion.
In a startling turn of events, two Democratic politicians, both ardent proponents of stricter gun control laws and people of color, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, were expelled from the Tennessee statehouse by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, while Gloria Johnson, a white female Democrat, managed to dodge the expulsion vote.
In Tennessee's recent expulsion of three Democratic lawmakers, the glaring differences among the trio have not gone unnoticed. While Justin Jones and Justin Pearson are young and up-and-coming Democrats who happen to be people of color, Gloria Johnson is an older, seasoned politician who is white. These differences may have little significance, except for the fact that the Republican-controlled Tennessee House is composed almost entirely of white representatives.
During the expulsion vote, Johnson survived while Jones and Pearson were removed, prompting questions of racial bias in the decision. When asked about her survival, Johnson raised the possibility of race being a factor, stating to reporters, "I'll answer your question; it might have to do with the color of our skin."
Republicans argue that Jones and Pearson's expulsion was due to their more vocal participation in the gun control protest that led to the legislative halt. However, for young Tennessee voters who prioritize diversity and inclusion, the optics of this decision may not look favorable.
January 6th Comparisons:
Republican officials across the country have attempted to downplay the actions of their counterparts in Tennessee by labeling the events of March 30 as an "insurrection," using the same term used to describe the violent riots that took place at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021. However, the comparison between the two events is disingenuous to say the least.
On January 6th, a mob of armed individuals broke through police barricades, physically assaulted officers, and disregarded their warnings. The group then climbed the Capitol building, shattered windows, and chanted aggressive and violent slogans. Once inside the building, they stole items from congressional offices, left threatening notes, and smeared feces on walls, all with the goal of halting the certification of a US election. In the end, dozens of people were injured.
On March 30, 2023, protesters entered the Capitol building without resistance, holding up signs and causing no harm to anyone. They listened to police commands and exercised their right to free speech in a peaceful manner, advocating for stricter gun control measures to protect children's lives.
It is clear that one event was a violent insurrection aimed at disrupting the democratic process, while the other was a peaceful protest centered on saving lives. The attempts by Republicans to conflate the two are both disingenuous and misleading.
Following the expulsion vote, Representative Gloria Johnson, one of the three Democratic politicians at the center of the controversy, stated that she would consider pursuing legal action, arguing that their protest was constitutionally protected.
"We're going to push back, and we're going to fight this because it's unprecedented and utterly ridiculous," she defiantly declared in an interview with the Tennessean. Johnson went on to accuse Republican lawmakers of employing double standards, claiming that they had in the past failed to expel a colleague who was a "child molester," despite his having been on the floor for years, and of having ignored incidents of one member urinating in another's chair.
A Generation Lost by The GOP
The chasm between young voters and political parties seems to be widening, especially in the case of Generation Z. Recently, young Americans participated in a peaceful protest against the gun violence problem in Tennessee, but were left feeling more estranged by the GOP.
The Republican party has often dismissed the concerns of younger voters, and even attacked them, dismissing them as unproductive and detrimental to society. Although this may have seemed like a temporary victory for Tennessee Republicans, they may have underestimated the determination and recall abilities of these young people. As images of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson spread on social media, this situation has gained national attention, and could potentially become a problem for the GOP in future elections.
In their pursuit of picking up seats across national and local elections, Republicans may be setting themselves up for failure with their current approach. The electorate is skewing younger and voters are increasingly intolerant of political overreach and abuses of power. Though the GOP may feel victorious in the short term, they have likely lost the war for the young vote in the nation and it will be an uphill battle to win them back.
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