Local Governments Advocate for Democracy in Tennessee

We stand in solidarity with Tennessee state representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. We applaud the Nashville Council Members who upheld the will of their communities and voted in favor of reinstating Justin Jones today and the Shelby County Councilors who will be voting to reinstate Justin Pearson on Wednesday. 

On Thursday, the Tennessee State House voted to expel Representative Justin Jones of Nashville and Representative Justin Pearson of Memphis after they rallied with their communities in favor of gun reform. Their expulsions are part of a concerted effort by conservative state representatives to undermine and dismantle local democracy. The people of Nashville and Memphis chose their representatives to advocate for their values, but conservatives in state government are attempting to force their will on the voters. Even before this flagrant violation of democracy, the State House had passed legislation to shrink the Metro Nashville Council from 40 seats to 20. By trying to reduce the size of the Council, conservatives aim to suppress the voice of community members in these cities. Individually, these actions are attacks on the ability of localities to self-govern. Together, this is part of a longer effort to unravel democracy in more progressive and multiracial parts of the state.

It is no coincidence that these attacks on local government have a disproportionate impact on people of color, and Black people specifically. Of the three representatives who were threatened with expulsion, the members who were actually expelled are both Black, while the member who retained her seat is not. Nashville and Memphis – the cities that Justin Jones and Justin Pearson represent – also have a higher proportion of Black residents, other residents of color, and working class communities. Memphis itself is a majority-Black city. Tennessee already has the country’s highest rate of disenfranchisement for both Black and Latinx Americans. The expulsions and the attempted reduction of the Metro Nashville Council are both intended to further disenfranchise communities of color. We need to collectively fight back against these racist and antidemocratic attacks by the state on our local communities.

We have deep appreciation and gratitude for both representatives Jones and Pearson and for the local elected officials in Nashville and Memphis continuing to advocate for justice. In the aftermath of the vote, Local Progress member and Nashville Councilmember Delishia Porterfield stated “with this vote to reinstate Representative Jones, we are restoring the political voice of the 70,000 people of District 52. Our community members are more than capable of selecting their representatives and their will should have never been undermined. Conservatives in our state government and across the country should understand that we will not tolerate threats to our democracy.” We’re heartened by the fact that Councilmembers in Nashville stood strong behind Justin Jones and that commissioners in Shelby County have announced that will similarly vote to reinstate Justin Pearson. Local communities know their needs the best and must be trusted to govern themselves.