The authoritarian removal of duly-elected Tennessee State Representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones is disgraceful and anti-democratic. As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to consistently and courageously confront systems of oppression and work toward creating what our nation has yet to achieve: a multiracial democracy that honors the worth and dignity of us all.
The decision to expel the two Black men in the #TennesseeThree is a demonstration that the governing structure and practices of the Tennessee legislature are inherently anti-democratic. From the Republican leadership attempting to silence Rep. Pearson and Jones, to the racially gerrymandered districts that gave them the power to strip 131,000 constituents in largely Black districts of their representation, it is clear that we will not have a democracy until we confront white supremacy.
Now, as we mobilize around the urgent calls to appoint Pearson and Jones to their vacated seats, let us be a powerful witness to the full scope of the problem. We must remember the expulsions of April 6 were another manifestation of our national unwillingness to address anti-Blackness at its roots–allowing the fires of authoritarianism to continue to spread unchecked.
The Tennessee legislature’s actions this week demonstrate clearly that when white supremacy and anti-Blackness are the core values of the power holders, all of our communities suffer.
Last month, the Tennessee legislature banned gender-affirming care, the latest among 14 anti-LGBTQ laws passed in the state since 2015. In August of 2022, they passed a law banning abortions in the state. Two months later, in a ballot measure proposed by the state legislature, workers were stripped of their bargaining power. Today, Tennessee remains one of the 10 states who have declined to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act which would provide life-saving care.
Weakening democratic norms through pathologizing and silencing our communities (BIPOC, immigrant, trans, disabled) is a calculated strategy to disrupt our justice movements and fracture our power. Building solidarity across anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist movements is the moral imperative of our time. As people of faith and conscience, we must center the experiences and demands of the oppressed, so that we may disrupt the power structures that keep us all from liberation.
Today, join Side With Love in condemning the actions of the Tennessee House leadership and join coming actions to to reappoint Representatives Pearson and Jones to their seats. And every day, may we lend our voice, our resources, and our courage to this righteous and urgent work of justice.