Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Black Lives Matter protesters are seen marching upon the Tennessee State Capitol building on June 04, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee

Black Lives Matter protesters are seen marching upon the Tennessee State Capitol building on June 04, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. George Floyd's death set off days and nights of protests as its the most recent in a series of deaths of African Americans by the police. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

'This is the Opposite of What Americans Fought a Revolution For': Tennessee to Strip Right to Vote from Protesters

'If our votes didn't matter they wouldn't work so hard to silence us.'

Common Dreams staff

Tennessee protesters will face harsh penalties, including losing the right to vote, as punishment for participating in protests under a law enacted by the Tennessee  GOP-dominant General Assembly.  Right-wing Governor Bill Lee quietly signed off on the bill Thursday, AP reports.

Under the new law, demonstrators who camp on state property can now be charged with a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, rather than a misdemeanor it was previously.

Since George Floyd’s killing earlier this year, protesters have camped outside the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, demanding a meeting with the governor to discuss racial inequality and police brutality. The protesters set up camp in War Memorial Plaza near the Capitol, naming it the “People’s Plaza” and “Ida B. Wells Plaza,” after the civil rights leader. They stayed there 24 hours a day for more than two months.

Tennessee is one of 21 states that punish felons by taking away their right to vote, and Gov. Lee made it clear that this threat is meant as a warning to the Black Lives Matter protestors who have called for racial justice in the state.

“The racial motivation underlying this law is undeniable. This is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and to those who are resolutely opposed to racial injustice and police violence,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “To criminalize protest activity and disenfranchise voters on top of it defies principles that lie at the heart of our democracy. This is abuse of state power intended to silence voices of dissent from the streets to the ballot box."

“We are very disappointed in Governor Lee’s decision to sign this bill, which chills free speech, undermines criminal justice reform and fails to address the very issues of racial justice and police violence raised by the protesters who are being targeted,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement. “While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent.”

Protest organizer Justin Jones, 24, told The Washington Post: “There was no violent behavior by the protesters, but there was violence by the state troopers who dragged us down the Capitol stairs. This is all about criminalizing peaceful protesting. Everything we’ve done is the spirit of nonviolence. This will not deter us from pushing forward in challenging these laws, both in the courts and in the streets,” Jones said. “This just confirms that we must continue.”


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

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

Progressive International Convenes Global Summit to Achieve Vaccines for All

The virtual gathering aims to foster "vaccine internationalism" and cooperation to put human lives over corporate greed.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·


'There Is No Excuse': Amnesty Slams Biden Over Skyrocketing ICE Detentions and 400,000+ Expulsions

"Nearly half a year in, the administration has still not delivered on change that has not only been promised, but is of the utmost urgency."

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·


After Campaigning Against Death Penalty, Biden Admin Seeks Execution of Boston Marathon Bomber

Advocates say the president could eliminate the use of the death penalty by commuting all federal death row sentences.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


Led by Sanders, Senate Dems Weigh $6 Trillion Infrastructure Bill as Bipartisan Talks Fail on Climate

"The Republican Party has made clear that they are not prepared to stand up for the American people and address the many crises facing working families today. We can get to work without them."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·


Progressive Warnings Grow as Big Oil-Backed Republicans Endorse Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

"The Senate GOP members participating in these talks on infrastructure have accepted a career total of $15,896,919 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·