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“Not Giving Up”: Expelled Black Tennessee Lawmakers Are Reinstated as Movement for Gun Control Grows

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As the world watched, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to reappoint Justin Pearson to the Tennessee House of Representatives, less than a week after the Republican-led House voted to expel him and fellow state Representative Justin Jones from the body for joining peaceful protests against gun violence after the school massacre in Nashville. Pearson and Jones were the two youngest Black lawmakers in the Tennessee House. The Nashville Metropolitan Council unanimously voted Monday to restore Jones to office, and he was sworn in Tuesday. Pearson is being sworn back in today. We feature their remarks at the vote and rally Wednesday in Memphis.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Tennessee, where the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to reappoint Justin Pearson to the Tennessee House of Representatives less than a week after the Republican-led House voted to expel him and Justin Jones from the body for joining peaceful protests against gun violence after the Nashville school massacre. Pearson and Jones were the two youngest Black lawmakers in the Tennessee House. The Nashville Metropolitan Council unanimously voted Monday to restore Justin Jones to office, as well. Pearson is being sworn back in this morning. Both men will hold the seats until a special election is held.

On Wednesday, Pearson and Jones took part in a rally in Memphis with Gloria Johnson, a white lawmaker who narrowly survived the expulsion vote last week. Together, they’ve become known as the Tennessee Three. This is Justin Pearson addressing a massive crowd of supporters outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 55 years ago.

JUSTIN PEARSON: Show me what democracy looks like!

SUPPORTERS: This is what democracy looks like!

JUSTIN PEARSON: Show me what democracy looks like!

SUPPORTERS: This is what democracy looks like!

JUSTIN PEARSON: Show me what democracy looks like!

SUPPORTERS: This is what democracy looks like!

JUSTIN PEARSON: This is the democracy that is going to transform a broken nation and a broken state into the place that God calls for it to be. This is the democracy that will bring people from the back, people who have been pushed to the periphery, to the center of justice. This is the democracy that is going to transform our nation. This is the democracy that’s going to lift up the victims of gun violence, instead of supporting the NRA and the gun lobbyists. This is the democracy that they’re scared of. This is the democracy that they’re worried about, because this is the democracy that changes the status quo. This is the democracy that changes the status quo. But we’ve got news. The status quo needs changing. And the status quo needs you. So, today we march, and we’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to keep pushing, because we believe that this is what democracy looks like!

AMY GOODMAN: Justin Pearson, speaking Wednesday at a Memphis rally, where he was joined by Tennessee Representative Gloria Johnson.

REP. GLORIA JOHNSON: We need to lift up these amazing voices of these young people. We need a multiracial, multigenerational organization in the Tennessee Legislature, and these young voices are critical. And thank you. We need to welcome these young voices and not keep them down, because these young people are passionate, they’re smart, they understand the issues and how they affect every single person in their district.

AMY GOODMAN: The third member of the Tennessee Three, Representative Justin Jones, also spoke at Wednesday’s Memphis rally.

REP. JUSTIN JONES: There is a movement rising up in Tennessee, from Memphis to Nashville to Knoxville, to send a message to these anti-democratic forces that you’re in the “find out” portion. You’re in the “find out” portion, that you’ve shut off our microphones, and so we had to bring a megaphone, that you pushed our people to the back, so we had to walk up to the front of the well. And so we have a clear message that our brother Pearson is going to join us. We know. I’m confident, because I know that after crucifixion comes resurrection.

And so, when we walk in that chamber on tomorrow as representatives again, we must continue the demands that led us there in the first place, that a week after a mass shooting hit Nashville, rather than pass commonsense gun laws, they passed a resolution to expel the two youngest Black members in the General Assembly. And so we walk in there tomorrow with a clear message that we have a demand of Cameron Sexton to resign. Speaker Sexton represents an enemy to democracy, to multiracial democracy. He’s trying to bring us back to a Tennessee in our past, the same Tennessee where the Klan was founded.

But we say no longer will we sit by and be silent. It’s time to rise up not just as individuals. We didn’t go up there as individuals, but we went up there representing the people of our district, the people of our state, the young people who can’t even vote, the young people who said we need a voice. And that’s why we walked up to that well.

And so, we hope that what happens today, that you come with brother Pearson tomorrow to walk into those chambers, because we’re walking into hostile territory, a place where people — where young Black voices are not welcome and those who stand with us are not welcome. And so, we’re not going to be able to survive that alone. We need to let them know that you’re on notice and that the world is watching and that this does not stop this week or tomorrow or next week, but something is changing in Tennessee. Something is changing in our state that is going to restore democracy and get rid of these forces that are trying to take us backward.

AMY GOODMAN: After the Justins, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, as well as Gloria Johnson, spoke outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King died of gun violence 55 years ago, they led a march to the Shelby County Board of Commissioners ahead of a vote on the reappointment of Justin Pearson to the Tennessee House. This is Pearson addressing the county commissioners.

JUSTIN PEARSON: So, the message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can’t expel hope! You can’t expel justice! You can’t expel our voice! And you sure can’t expel our fight! We look forward to continuing to fight, continuing to advocate, until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream! Let’s get back to work!

AMY GOODMAN: After the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis unanimously voted to reappoint Justin Pearson to the Tennessee House, he spoke to supporters outside.

JUSTIN PEARSON: The Shelby County Commission did done their job. I’m so glad we get to get back to doing our job. And what is our job? It’s to elevate the voices of the six kids — the six people in Nashville, the three children who were just 9 years old. It’s to elevate the five folk in Louisville who died from gun violence that was preventable. We know it’s preventable, because there are good laws that exist. We know it’s preventable, because there are organizations advocating for the change of the law in order to save people’s lives. It’s not enough, as William Lamberth, the leader of the Republican Party, said, to put a tank in front of every school, because we go to banks, we go to businesses, we walk the streets, we go to church. These false solutions that they are advocating will not help or save anybody.

But a movement is rising. A movement is rising. See, they tried to kill democracy. They tried to expel the people’s choice and the people’s vote, and they awakened a sleeping giant! They put Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones and me on trial, but they ended up putting themselves on trial! The people’s verdict is back! Guilty! Guilty of white supremacy! Guilty of patriarchy! Guilty of supporting the NRA over people! Guilty of attacking the poor! Guilty of not expanding healthcare! Guilty of not giving us educational resources! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

And so, for you guilty people, the people got a message: We gon’ build this movement. We gon’ build this movement. We gon’ build this movement! We gon’ build this movement! You and you and you and you and you and — we gon’ build this movement, because we are convinced that there is a different vision for Memphis. There’s a different vision for Shelby County. There’s a different vision for Tennessee. There’s a different vision for the South. There’s a different vision for these United States of America. And I believe — I believe it’s a vision of the people who’ve been pushed to the periphery, coming to the well. I believe that it’s a vision of the people who’ve been marginalized, coming to the well. I believe — I believe it is a vision of the people who’ve been ostracized, coming to the well. See, I see white folk and Black folk, I see queer folk and straight folk, I see rich folk and poor folk, coming from the back to the well of the House, demanding justice right now! Not tomorrow, but right now! Justice right now!

AMY GOODMAN: Justin Pearson, speaking Wednesday in Memphis after the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted to reinstate him to his seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives, less than a week after he and Justin Jones were expelled for joining peaceful protests against gun violence after the Nashville school massacre. His swearing-in ceremony is taking place today in Nashville.

When we come back, we’ll be joined by Emory professor Carol Anderson, author of The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Stay with us.

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Author Carol Anderson on How Anti-Blackness Drives U.S. Gun Culture & Right-Wing Assault on Democracy

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