Tennessee's Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones greets a crowd of supporters at the State Capitol

Justin Jones greets supporters in the Rotunda

Photo by Seth Herald/Getty Images

We Are Still Here, and We Will Not Bow Down

Plunging into totalitarianism, Tennessee's GOP has boldly decreed the best way to end the slaughter of kids by guns is to expel two young black lawmakers urging we end the slaughter of kids by guns. In "a farce" of stunning contrasts, poised, eloquent Reps. Jones and Pearson blasted a venomous GOP who ousted them for doing their job - giving voice to their constituents. Jones: "We called for a ban on assault weapons, you called for an assault on democracy." Now can we say they're fascists?

The bad-faith debacle in Tennessee, wherein a super-majority of right-wing, racist hypocrites in the birthplace of the KKK expelled two popularly-elected, extraordinarily gifted black Democrats for "minor-verging-on-made-up infractions" - while letting off the white lady who joined them - represented a ruthless erosion of rights that Rep. Justin Jones called "a lynch mob (of) the democratic process (that) will not stand." Jones and Justin Pearson, both 27 and both fiery orators, were evicted from the House for behavior last week that "brought disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives" by chanting in support of a protest to save kids from our obscene gun violence. But, Jones piercingly noted, "How can you bring dishonor to an already dishonorable House?" "You have stolen the People's House," he charged in the session debating his audacity, ever-elegant in a white suit. "I walked up to the well because you are pushing my people back, and there comes a time when people get sick and tired of being sick and tired...What we did was act for our constituents who have been silenced (and) for a generation of young people who are letting you know - your time is up." With the unprecedented expulsion for a hollow breach of "decorum," he told the GOP, "You are showing the world that in Tennessee, democracy is no more."

The expulsion of Jones and Pearson - Gloria Johnson, 61 and white, kept her seat by one vote - was the latest in a long history of grotesqueries committed by a corrupt, racist GOP whose members once freaked out when they mistook a new mop sink at the Capitol for a Muslim foot-washing basin after passing a bill to make some Muslim practices a felony - that's who they are. Thanks to their debased proclivities, they've only expelled colleagues three times in 200 years: In 1866, six bigots for refuting the 14th Amendment making former slaves citizens; in 1980, a guy who took a bribe to kill a bill; in 2016, finally, a guy accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women. In 2019, theydeclined to expel a perp who'd molested teenage girls, declaring that power should be used "rarely if ever," in "extreme circumstances," and besides he said he'd been "forgiven by God." In blatant contrast, the actions of Jones, Pearson, Johnson were neither illegal nor unethical, which is why lawmakers from 35 states condemned the GOP move as "anti-democratic...There is nothing 'disorderly' about courageously standing in solidarity with the people we are elected to serve." A local Circle of Elders also praised their "action in the spirit of Rep. John Lewis to protest 'business as usual' (amidst) outcries of pain," citing Lewis' ideal of "a beloved community" - apt, given that Jones often sports a "Good Trouble" button.

When they went to the well last week, the three Dems - representing over 200,000 voters in Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville, which due to gerrymandering doesn't even have its own representative - were joining in solidarity with thousands of people who've gathered to demand basic gun control after the Covenant shooting, and then to protest the threats against the newly named Tennessee Three. On Thursday, crowds of kids from around the state thronged the Capitol, furious chants echoing: OUR BLOOD YOUR HANDS, THE PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED, YOU BAN BOOKS, YOU BAN DRAG - KIDS ARE STILL IN BODY BAGS. Emotions ran high: They exultantly cheered the three as they entered, fists in the air; after speaker Cameron Sexton shut down the half-full gallery, they yelled, "Let Us Up!"; in the chamber, an angry GOP staffer ripped down a banner proclaiming, "Rural TN Against Fascist GOP." The almost 10-hour proceedings were infuriating, inspiring, surreal, positing impassioned, persuasive rhetoric from Dems against a GOP barrage of staggering stupidity and pettiness about House rules, what is "yelling," when recess was called, who wore what button, how a bullhorn got into the chamber, what "No action, no peace" means and other vital elements of Warren Zevon's famed "disorder in the House." Throughout, protesters' muted chants resounded from the Rotunda.

As GOPers pushed to suspend the rules to show an inflammatory video of the "insurrection" - aka three people speaking up against the murder of children - Dems persistently took the high road and long view, focusing on the deadly issue at the heart of it all: "We are here because six people died, and hundreds of Tennesseans before them...Voices have been silenced, time and time again... (The three Dems) raise issues you don't want to hear about...Decide to be on the right side of history... Martin Luther's 'God's grace received must be bestowed.'" And on the looming expulsions, "If you want to set this precedent, think long and hard - that dog bites twice." Repubs sputtered in rage and racism. A repugnant Rep. Andrew Farmer, who sponsored the expulsion move, came this close to saying "boy" as he sneered that the stately Pearson "just wanted attention" with his "temper tantrum"; Pearson, in response, was the essence of dignity. After Jones charged the GOP was beholden to the gun lobby, Rep. Gino Bulso attacked him for his "disrespect," "lack of remorse," and "mutiny" as the gallery chanted, "Fascist!" Jones retorted, "What he's essentially saying is that Justin Jones is an uppity Negro...How dare he act like he's your equal? How dare he come before this body and not bow down?" "I'm not here to make friends," he declared. "I'm here to make change. Children get ready."

After the GOP abruptly moved to end debate and vote on expulsion, frustrated Democrats erupted about the lack of due process, the other lawmakers scheduled to speak, the affront to decency "when children are dying of gun violence." Speaker Sexton curtly ruled each out of order. In a fierce summary, encircled by (often black) Dem colleagues, Jones reiterated he was "acting for the kids out there saying, 'Do something, do something'...This is not about me, it's about all those young people. I pray that we uphold our oath on this floor, because the world is watching." The final vote: 72 to 25 for expulsion. A mournful, enraged "NO!" spilled from the crowd in the gallery. Gloria Johnson spoke more briefly; her vote was 65 to 30, one shy of the 66 needed to expel. Asked to explain her different fate, she wryly noted, "It might have to do with the color of my skin." Pearson, last, was explosive on the moral mandate to be "disruptive to a status quo that silences the minority...Just because you have power doesn't give you the right to abuse it." His vote was 69 to 26; again, the crowd shouted "NO!" Observers were furious and heartbroken: "Shame...Democracy officially died in Tennessee today...This is what fascism looks like...Jesus wept." As Jones and Pearson exited the chamber, GOP vermin lounged, fidgeted, turned their backs on them.

The grand, win-the-battle-lose-the-war irony, of course, is that the GOP's malfeasance has galvanized a growing national gun-control movement; evidence suggests "justice and Karma are just getting warmed up," and new icons Jones and Pearson have now replaced an old white guy in Florida as the country's most famous former office holders. "They are better, more talented, and braver than Republicans ever dream of being," said one supporter. "And they, along with every Gen Z-er, are about to be Republicans' worst nightmare." "He will go farther and do more good than any of the people remaining in that chamber," wrote environmentalist Bill McKibben of fellow organizer Pearson. "You ding-dongs have just launched a rocket." The state's GOP is already fundraising off their descent into fascism, smugly bragging about "having the conviction to protect the rules, the laws, and the prestige (sic) of the State of Tennessee." But they are clearly dumber, meaner and less popular than their worthy opponents. "They're going to do what they do," Pearson calmly said before the foreordained-by-the-numbers vote. "They want you to stop clapping, they want you to stop marching, they want you to stop protesting, they want you to stop saying that kids' lives matter. But we have to keep fighting. If we never quit, we never lose."

They are both fighting. Jones is exploring his legal options, and has re-started fundraising. Pearson is comforting victims of gun violence, and loudly speaking out. Experts say both could be returned to the House within days if City Council members choose to seat them, and they cannot be expelled again for the same offense. Wherever they land is good and hopeful news. If you want to know why, see and hear them here, or here, or here, or here, or all of it from WaPohere. Arguing that to "truly fight" can mean "breaking some of the decorum rules (to) go to the well of democracy," Pearson is a powerhouse who sometimes eerily echoes both MLK Jr. and Malcolm X. In his fire-and-brimstone conclusion, he summoned a country founded on protest: "You who celebrate July 4, 1776, who pop fireworks and eat hot dogs - you say to protest is wrong because we spoke out of turn, spoke up for people who are marginalized, spoke up for kids who won’t ever speak again...This, in a country built on people who speak out of turn.” Nonetheless, he said, "Resurrection is a promise, and it is a prophesy. It is a prophesy that came out of the cotton fields, it came out of the lynching tree, (it) still lives in each and every one of us...We are still here, and we will never quit." At that, he raised his fist. The gallery exploded. The speaker pounded his gavel. "Out of order," he roared. "Out of order."

Tennessee Rep. Justin Pearson gives power salute to supporters in galley during the House vote to expel himRep. Justin Pearson - with Rep. Justin Jones seated - are not going away.Photo by Seth Herald/Getty Images

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.