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Tennessee Republicans Move to Expel 3 Democratic Lawmakers for Supporting Student-Led Gun Protests

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As students across the United States today join a nationwide school walkout to demand lawmakers take action on gun control, we go to Tennessee, where Republicans are trying to expel three Democratic lawmakers for supporting student-led gun control protests at the state Capitol after last week’s school shooting in Nashville. “We’re demanding that lawmakers hear that we can’t be ignored anymore,” says Ezri Tyler, a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and a national organizer for March for Our Lives. “This is authoritarianism,” Tennessee state Representative Justin Jones says of attempts to remove him. “This is an assault on our democracy.”

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StoryAug 25, 2023“Shameful”: Reelected Tenn. State Rep. Justin Jones on GOP Silencing of Critics on Gun Control
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Students across the United States today are joining a nationwide school walkout to demand lawmakers take action on gun control, just over a week after a mass shooting at a Nashville elementary school killed six people, including three 9-year-olds. Gun violence remains the leading cause of death in young people in the United States. The tragic attack prompted multiple student-led mass protests that filled the plaza outside Tennessee’s state Capitol building, as well as the halls inside the Capitol. Among those who joined them were three Democratic state lawmakers. Now Tennessee House Republicans are taking steps to expel the three.

For more, we’re joined in Nashville by one of the targets of the Republicans. Democratic Tennessee state Representative Justin Jones faces an expulsion vote Thursday along with Representatives Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson. They have already been stripped from committee assignments, and their member IDs have been shut off. And we’re joined by Ezri Tyler, a national organizer for March for Our Lives and a student now at Vanderbilt University. She was 13 years old when she organized her first walkout after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ezri, talk about the — I mean, there is not that much attention on what’s going on in Nashville right now after this mass shooting killed six, but over a thousand people protested at the state Capitol on one day alone. Talk about what you’re demanding.

EZRI TYLER: Absolutely. We’re demanding that lawmakers hear that we can’t be ignored anymore. This issue has been — as you said, it’s the leading cause of death for young people across the nation. But Tennessee is uniquely impacted by this. We have some of the loosest gun control laws in the entire nation and some of the highest death rates of gun violence. And it means that it’s an issue that impacts us every day. And the Covenant School shooting is a tragic reminder that this is something that impacts our young people every single day.

So, thousands of students turned out on Monday, and in a coalition of teachers, students, elected officials from the level of school board levels all the way to state representatives, showed out with us. And it shows that we are not alone in wanting this change, and we are demanding this change. And the expulsion is just an attempt to silence our voices.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s been the responses of teachers and other school officials to the walkouts?

EZRI TYLER: Teachers and other school officials have been completely supportive. In fact, we actually had a Metro Nashville Public Schools board member join us and speak at the rally with us. They are here with us. Teachers are equally fed up. And the reason that we had these walkouts is because our schools aren’t a safe place for our students, and we need to acknowledge that.

AMY GOODMAN: Ezri, you said you’re protesting also the attempted expulsions tomorrow, which brings us to our next guest, to Representative Justin Jones. Can you please explain how this is possible? You were elected by the people. You’re one of the youngest representatives in the Tennessee state Legislature. And now the Republicans are attempting not only to strip you of your committee assignments, which you already have been stripped of, but to throw you out? Why? What took place on the state Legislature floor?

REP. JUSTIN JONES: Yes. Well, thank you, Amy.

I think it is so morally insane that a week after a mass shooting traumatized our community, instead of passing laws to take these weapons of war off our streets, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are passing a resolution and pushing a resolution to expel us for being voices of opposition. This is authoritarianism. This is an assault on our democracy. And it’s an attempt to silence the voices of thousands who gathered — students, mothers, grandparents, teachers — people who are demanding action to stop our children being massacred in schools. This is a preventable issue. And our colleagues are trying to bury us because they want to shift attention from the children we had to bury, the 9-year-olds, in our community, that is still grieving.

And so, what happened is that our colleagues, we stood with these students. We stood with the young people. We stood with those gathered in the state House, because that is our job as lawmakers, is to make sure that the voice of the people are heard. And the speaker cut off our microphones. He wouldn’t let us talk about the issue of gun violence on the House floor. And so we stood up in the well and chanted with the people in the galleries and let them know that we need action, that until we take action, there will be no peace in our community, that Nashville — this is not the first mass shooting in Nashville. There was one on my constituents with the Waffle House shooting, was impacted by the Waffle House mass shooting. And unless we take action, this will not be the last mass shooting in Nashville. This is a crisis that we need to address.

And so, we’re facing a crisis of mass shootings, and now we’re facing a crisis of our democracy, where colleagues on the other side of the aisle are openly welcoming and signaling a system that is nothing less than fascism. To oust three democratically elected lawmakers and to silence over 200,000 voters in our state is — it is a danger to democracy all across this nation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative Jones, they actually shut off your ID card access, removed you from being able to access the parking lots of the Legislature and also removed you from committees? Was this done by a vote, or was this done just by fiat by the leadership?

REP. JUSTIN JONES: It was done by the speaker, Cameron Sexton, who is acting like an autocrat. I mean, what we saw was no due process. He kicked — we got a notification to kick us off committee, to limit our access in the building.

But what we want to say is that it’s not about us. It’s about — that what they’re doing is they’re limiting the movement. They’re limiting what we represent. And what we’re seeing is opposition voices being kicked out of the Legislature by a supermajority Republican body that is drunk with power and that is trying to silence any voice of dissent in our state. Our state Constitution, Article II, Section 27, says that lawmakers have a right to dissent from and protest against legislation that is injurious to the people. This proliferation of guns, of weapons of war on our streets is injurious to the people. We had no other choice but to do our job and to speak and dissent and protest against this immoral obedience and worship of guns in our state. And we will continue to do that, whether we are expelled or not. We will continue to stand with the people, because that’s what we should do.

AMY GOODMAN: Representative Jones, I want to play a clip of you last month. This is on the Legislature floor after the passing of House Bill 30, which seeks to expand banning drag shows in public spaces.

REP. JUSTIN JONES: I just want to point our attention to some hypocrisy that’s happening in this building right now. So, we just voted to not have any type of regulation or any type of safety precautions around the Second Amendment, but now have a bill to regulate drag shows. Drag shows are not a threat to our community. Mass shootings are. So, I just — I hope that we pay attention to the ridiculousness, the circus that is this body, where we’re now passing a bill to create a regulatory board of drag shows, but the sponsor of the previous bill said that we should not regulate the Second Amendment. But when it comes to the First Amendment, members of this body have every intention and every comfort with disrespecting, undermining and regulating First Amendment’s free expression clause. I just think it’s absurd that we are so threatened by drag shows, but we don’t take seriously the real threats to our community. And I just ask my colleagues here again to look in the mirror. What is going on in this body? This is absurd. And I hope that the sponsor of this bill will reconsider this attack on the LGBTQ community.

AMY GOODMAN: Banning drag shows but not guns. Representative Jones, you also had an interaction with one of your Republican colleagues where he attacked you on the floor, grabbed your phone and slammed it on the ground?

REP. JUSTIN JONES: Yeah, on Thursday — excuse me, on Monday, when they first introduced this resolution to expel, they cleared the gallery. I know Ezri was up there with students. The media was kicked out of the gallery. And so, I was trying to record what was going on. They sent troopers to descend on the gallery and to remove people from their House. And as I was recording, Representative Justin Lafferty pushed me and grabbed my phone. And so, he acted in a way that was disorderly and in a way that was instigating violence, but we don’t see any motion to expel him.

But they’re expelling us because we stood with the people. They’re expelling us because we called attention to their proliferation of guns and weapons of war on our streets. They’re expelling us because they don’t want to talk about the issue, and they think that by getting rid of us, that the issue will go away. But we know that it will not, that the people will continue to show up and hold them accountable and say that we must to protect our kids and not protect guns, that our communities are more important than money from the NRA. And that’s what we’re saying.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Ezri Tyler back into the conversation. There’s a national school walkout today, Wednesday, as students continue to demand that lawmakers enact stricter gun control laws. Is it your sense that given the inability of grown adults and politicians to be able to do something about gun violence, that it will necessitate continued disruptions of the public school system by high school students walking out to force change in our government policies?

EZRI TYLER: High school students have been walking out for years now to demand change on this issue. I started in this movement five years ago, when we began with the tragic Parkland shooting, at 13 years old, where I felt like it was my responsibility to walk out of my middle school. And we have continued to be showing out and continued to show up.

And the nationwide walkouts are in support of the Nashville walkouts that we saw on Monday, which were a huge show that all of these coalitions are in unity on this. But the biggest thing with these nationwide walkouts is that they’re drawing attention to the fact that there is not only inaction, but there is flagrant disgrace and disregard for students and the continued organizing. And that is why we are also needing to expand and discuss the fact that gun violence is an inherently intersectional issue. And by censoring our representatives and the representation of those who are protesting with us, it is even more disrespectful to the youth vote.

Youth voters are consistently turning out in record numbers, and we are who are deciding the policies. We saw, even in these last midterms, the youth is what decided what was — who was elected and what is coming next. And so, to these lawmakers who think that they can continue to ignore us, and who can continue to ignore us on the nationwide scale, they’re going to feel the price, because if they continue to try to not pay attention to young people, they are going to be voted out.

AMY GOODMAN: Ezri Tyler, you’re at Vanderbilt. Justin Jones, you were at Vanderbilt. Justin Jones, what is your recourse to stop this from happening, the response of your constituents who voted you in? And also, you and your colleague are the youngest Black representatives in the Tennessee state House, is that right? You’re also joined by a white female representative who they’re trying to throw out?

REP. JUSTIN JONES: Yeah, that’s correct. So, myself and Representative Pearson are the youngest Black representatives in the state, and Representative Gloria Johnson is one of only two Democratic women. And so we see that this body of predominantly white men are trying to silence the voices of our districts and our voters, which is over 200,000 people. And by doing so, they are insulting and attacking and assaulting our democracy. We’re calling for a ban on assault weapons. They are assaulting our democracy. And that is shameful.

And we need action, because if this goes forward in Tennessee, this will happen all across the nation in states like Tennessee that are controlled by these extremists. And so, this is going to set a very dangerous precedent for democracy in our country. And we hope that the people of the nation will continue to keep an eye on Tennessee and stand with these young people, who are simply saying that they want to live, that they want to be able to go to school without it feeling like a war zone, and that they want to feel safe.

And so, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, they can expel us, but we know that what they’re doing is unconstitutional. We’re going to challenge it in court. We’re going to challenge it in the streets. And what they’re doing is just amplifying the movement, that is calling attention to the crisis of these mass shootings and the inaction of lawmakers who are beholden to the NRA, who are beholden to the Tennessee Firearms Association, and who are ignoring the will of the people. That’s not democracy; that’s authoritarianism. But we will not be intimidated.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, Justin Jones, one of three Democratic Tennessee state representatives who face an expulsion vote on Thursday, author of The People’s Plaza: Sixty-Two Days of Nonviolent Resistance, which has a foreword by Bishop William Barber. And Ezri Tyler, national organizer for March for Our Lives and a student at Vanderbilt University. Again, the Tennessee governor, Bill Lee, signed yet another deregulation of guns in Tennessee in a Beretta gun factory.

That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our website is democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

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“Shameful”: Reelected Tenn. State Rep. Justin Jones on GOP Silencing of Critics on Gun Control

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