Expelled Tennessee legislators show political courage 2023

On Thursday, a GOP supermajority expelled two of three Democratic senators for attending a gun control demonstration in Tennessee’s State Capitol, making headlines, history, and careers.

In a blatant act of political retaliation, Democratic Reps. Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson, and Justin Pearson were charged of “violating decorum standards” for protesting on the House floor last week after a Nashville private school massacre that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds. Republicans removed Black Jones and Pearson. White Johnson wasn’t. The chamber and local media broadcast it live.

Even now, when right-wing politicians celebrate lawlessness, the vote was shocking. The expulsion was so blatant it might have been ripped from another period, before social media or smartphone cameras, when smoke-filled chambers formed politics and local leaders’ authoritarian instincts could be more readily disguised from the rest of the country.

‘Today we see a lynch mob assembling not to lynch me but our democratic process’.

The expulsion’s architects unknowingly created a national turning moment in the struggle over gun control, institutional racism, and the GOP’s disturbing embrace of authoritarian government by pressing through like no one was watching save a few colleagues and teenage demonstrators. Jones and Pearson became rock stars within the Democratic Party and multitudes of voiceless young people overnight, rallying support for gun violence remedies that have polled well but have lacked a unified voice.

Both men visually and orally summoned the passion and uniting force of civil rights leaders to address 21st-century inequities and political stalemates.

“What we witness today is a lynch mob gathering not to lynch me but our democratic process,” said Jones, clad in a white suit and speaking calmly from the chamber platform Thursday before he was voted out. “This is your attempt to evict the people’s voices from the people’s house. Fail. Your overreaction and false authority have awoken a generation who will tell you your time is over. Everyone’s watching.” The chamber chanted “Shame!” as the majority decided to eject Jones.

Jones, Pearson, and Johnson’s bullhorn protest last week violated etiquette. Denied House floor time, they protested.

They were expelled—how remarkable? The Tennessean said that the state House has only removed two members since Reconstruction, for sexual misbehavior and bribery, before Thursday. It made it evident that Republican legislators, who were all white and male on the floor footage, were telling everyone to stay in their place.

Jones, Pearson, and Johnson held their hands in the air as they went into the Capitol and into the national media spotlight: We will not stand for the politics of exclusion and retaliation, and neither should you.

Leave a Reply