OPINION: This Is Not Democracy

By Nadira Freeman, Executive Director of Organize Tennessee

The basis of American democracy is that we pick our leaders. Ousting Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson for representing and supporting the voice and values of their voters is not only anti-democratic, it is degrading to our representative democracy. Not to mention, the time and energy spent on expelling these members – who are passionate about advocating for the well-being of children and families – definitely doesn’t do anything to make our schools safer, which is the issue at hand.

“Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee,” tweeted President Joe Biden.

And to add insult to injury, a group of lawmakers are trying to pass a tone-deaf bill that would allow teachers to carry firearms in their classrooms. Students in Tennessee want lawmakers to pass laws that will keep them safe from gun violence, not put more guns in the hands of untrained individuals whose job is to educate our children, not act as campus security. Arming teachers is not a solution– we need real policy change.

What we witnessed during yesterday’s seven-hour session affirms that our democracy is facing a serious crisis. “The world is watching Tennessee,” Jones said during the session. “What is happening here today is a farce of democracy.” Voters in Davidson County and Shelby County have been disenfranchised by these decisions made over “a lack of decorum” and an absence of due process by the State House. The spread of anti-democratic practices serves as a setback to our fundamental freedoms.

President Barack Obama weighed in saying, “This nation was built on peaceful protest. No elected official should lose their job simply for raising their voice – especially when they’re doing it on behalf of our children.”

Tennesseans deserve an ethical government that works for everyone. Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. Equity calls for consistent and systematic, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals. Transparency necessitates that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement.

We can’t normalize the erosion of our democracy. Political inequalities start at home. We don’t need more of the same and we can’t sit by idly. You can make a difference by getting engaged in your county.

What happens next

There is a strong likelihood that both Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson may find themselves back in the House of Representatives. Metro Nashville Council has called a special meeting for Monday where all arrows lead to them voting to reappoint Jones. In the same fashion, the Shelby County Commission can vote to reappoint Pearson.

“I do hope to get re-appointed to serve in the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners, and a lot of them, I know, are upset about the anti-democratic behavior of this White supremacist-led state legislature,” Pearson said.

Better days ahead

We believe the best days of democracy are ahead of us as Tennessee youth are making their voices heard and their presence felt. When young people vote and participate in civic life, they can bring valuable perspectives and new ideas about issues that impact their future. They possess the potential to become powerful activists with their abundance of energy and passion for social change. If youth are excluded or do not participate, our democracy is not truly representing all people and not meeting its full potential. Understanding this, Organize Tennessee is engaging and educating college students across the state to increase youth engagement, voter turnout, voter protection advocacy, and removing common barriers from civic engagement.

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