"The message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can't expel hope. You can't expel justice. You can't expel our voice. And you sure can't expel our fight," the representative declared. "Let's get back to work."
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The Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to reappoint Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson to represent District 86 in the Tennessee House of Representatives nearly a week after Republican lawmakers expelled him and Rep. Justin Jones over a protest demanding stricter gun laws.
Pearson's reinstatement—following a prayer by his father, a pastor—came after the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously Monday night to reappoint Jones (D-52). While the GOP-controlled House expelled both young Black lawmakers, the resolution to oust Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-13), who is white and also joined the protest, narrowly failed.
"Nashville thought they could silence democracy. But they didn't know the Shelby County Commission was filled with some courageous leaders," Pearson said in a speech after his reappointment, highlighting that the board's 7-0 vote came in spite of alleged threats to reduce state resources to the region. Six of the 13 board members were not present for the meeting, including the four Republicans.
\u201cJust a colossal miscalculation from Tennessee Republicans. \n\nThe only thing they accomplished by expelling two members was 1) grow the members\u2019 warchests and audiences and 2) draw intense scrutiny on the @TNGOP\u2019s recent history of racism and corruption.\u201d— Kyle Tharp (@Kyle Tharp) 1681325543
Wednesday's vote shows that "we do not speak alone, we speak together; we fight together," Pearson declared.
"And so the message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can't expel hope. You can't expel justice. You can't expel our voice. And you sure can't expel our fight," he added. "We look forward to continuing to fight, continuing to advocate, until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Let's get back to work."
\u201cOn the road back to Nashville from Memphis.\n\nThe people of District 52 and 86 have representation again, but make no mistake\u2014democracy is still in crisis in Tennessee.\n\nWelcome home, brother. The Tennessee Three will be back in the PEOPLE\u2019S HOUSE! @Justinjpearson @VoteGloriaJ \ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udffe\u201d— Rep. Justin Jones (@Rep. Justin Jones) 1681341283
Jones tweeted Wednesday that "the people of District 52 and 86 have representation again, but make no mistake—democracy is still in crisis in Tennessee."
Ahead of the vote to send him back to Nashville, Pearson—joined by Johnson and Jones—addressed a crowd at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, before marching to the Shelby County Commission meeting.
\u201cWe are marching to the Shelby County Comission with the people. People Power is greater than any power that attempts to suppress it!\u201d— Justin J. Pearson (@Justin J. Pearson) 1681323173
Pearson also wrote Wednesday in a New York Times opinion piece that "it's not just our individual voices that were sanctioned and silenced last Thursday. It was the voices of the nearly 135,000 Tennesseans we represented—many desperate for protection from the absence of many commonsense gun safety laws in our state."
Pearson noted that "since the Covenant School shooting, the Republican supermajority in the state House has done little but advance a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns in school and propose a $140 million budget increase to pay for the presence of armed guards in public schools, further militarizing them without adequate evidence that this makes schools safer."
"Besides expanding already expansive gun rights, Republican-led statehouses across the country are proposing and passing staggering numbers of bills that serve a fringe, white evangelical agenda that abrogates the rights and freedoms of the rest of us," he added, pointing to GOP attacks on trans children, the social safety net, abortion access, and voting rights.
\u201c"We have a nation in pain and peril," writes @Justinjpearson.\n\n"We and the young protesters are the future of a new Tennessee. Those who seek to silence us will not have the final say." https://t.co/oxOzkUrkAe\u201d— Institute for Policy Studies (@Institute for Policy Studies) 1681308963
"I was elected early this year by the people of Memphis and Millington to stand up for all of us against encroachments on our freedoms. I will continue to fight with and for our people, whether in or out of office," Pearson vowed. "We and the young protesters are the future of a new Tennessee. Those who seek to silence us will not have the final say."