By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Race. Power. Money. Writer and philosopher George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Well, it seems like Tennessee’s Republican state legislators are either too indolent, oblivious, or willfully resistant to understanding the state’s mistakes of old.
Some of those errors include the founding of the Ku Klux Klan in 1865, in Pulaski, Tennessee. The violent organization key in the effort to dismantle Reconstruction policies that empowered former enslaved African-Americans. From 1872 to 1887, thirteen black legislators were elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives during Reconstruction.
When white southern legislators decided they no longer wanted to be bothered with Black men in state houses and congress, they promptly ran the remaining Black legislators out of office. Literally, locking them out of their workplaces and threatening to harm them with violence. What was the motivation? Race. Power. Money.
A few days ago, Tennessee decided to take a stroll back down memory lane. I guess in 118 years since Santayana uttered that quote, Tennessee’s Republican legislators haven’t had time to crack a book, learn a lesson, or maybe were just too busy banning books to learn a thing or two.
In utter disbelief, Americans across the nation watched as partisan, gerrymandered Republican leadership took up resolutions to expel three members of their House of Representatives. State Rep. Justin Jones, State Rep. Justin Pearson, and State Rep. Gloria Johnson faced expulsion resolutions for allegedly violating the chamber’s rules of decorum. After protestors converged on the Tennessee House of Representatives, in frustration over the latest mass shooting at a Nashville elementary school, the three legislators joined the protestors in chanting on the floor of the House.
While the race of the legislators should not matter, it is relevant to the outcomes of the House votes. Jones and Pearson, who are Black men, were voted out of the Tennessee legislature. They were expelled immediately. Johnson, who is a White female, was spared and kept her seat. The Tennessee legislature voted to expel Black members for doing the exact same thing that their white colleague had done. In reality, none of them should have been removed.
Immediately after the decisions, groups began to convene around the known for some time that moves like this were possible. Threats to remove duly elected or appointed officials are the new cause de jure for Republican legislatures. What happened in Tennessee is the new normal, taken from an old playbook.
Republicans, that espouse outdated policies and who are losing footing among American voters, are looking for ways to maintain power. Race is a familiar and reliable wedge issue to help control the levers of that power. And money is a necessary tool to buy that power. But just as we learned from slavery, there is not enough money, power, racism or hate to break us. You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution. Jones and Pearson will be back, stronger, wiser and prepared to continue the fight. I plan to do everything I can to make sure of that.