By Heather McDonald
Following a school shooting in Nashville last month, hundreds of protesters gathered in the Tennessee capital demanding lawmakers act to address the out of control gun violence that once again unnecessarily took innocent lives.
In response, the Tennessee’s Republican-controlled state House took the historic and extraordinary action of expelling two Black Democratic lawmakers for joining their constituents in demanding justice. This egregious overreaction not only gave us permission to drop the “theory” from critical race theory, it also gave us a masterclass in the dying efficacy of respectability politics.
The lawmakers in question, state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were expelled for “breach of decorum,” and a third lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, narrowly survived expulsion by a single vote. On Monday, the Metro Nashville Council voted to reappoint Jones to his seat, the Tennessee Lookout, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, reported.
In the lead up to the vote, Republican Rep. Andrew Farmer did little to disguise his haughty disdain saying, “Just because you don’t get your way, you can’t come to the well, bring your friends and throw a temper tantrum with an adolescent bullhorn.”
The unspoken sentiment was clear, “Know your place.”
Respectability politics rely on the idea that that process and procedure are paramount in all scenarios. Those in power create invisible hierarchies to label their behavior as proper and the behavior of their foes as problematic. It is historically a tool of those in power as a way to slow progress, disparage the marginalized, and justify harm. As have many shameful lawmakers before them, Tennessee Republicans weaponized the rules of conduct to punish elected officials who disagree with them.
The contrived cloak of dignified decorum starts to seriously fray when the subject at hand is children gunned down at school. Protests led by students erupted through the capital doors, while lawmakers, shielded by police, hung their heads as they maneuvered through the crowds.
The typical heartless platitudes post-mass shooting did nothing but fan the flames of discontent. Republican leaders nationwide mindlessly tweeted out their classic slap-in-the-face response of thoughts and prayers, and they were met with unflinchingly honest chants from hundreds of students: Shame! Enough! Do your job! You ban books, you ban drag, kids are still in body bags!
Kids are still in body bags
In case it was not abundantly clear: respectability politics mean nothing to GenZ. Rehearsing dodging bullets in your classroom will do that to you.
If such glaring issues as gun violence, healthcare, and climate change were not enough to engage the youth, watching racism and inequality so blatantly on display certainly did the job.
Jones said as much on his way out, “Your overreaction, your flexing of false power has awakened a generation of people who will let you know that your time is up.”
Consider the numbers:
- 63% of 18-29 year olds believe gun laws should be stricter
- 70% of 18-29 year olds voted for U.S. John Fetterman, D-Pa., (That was similar to the numbers for Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro)
- 77% of GenZ voted for Democratic candidates for Congress in 2022
- And just last week, 87% of students voted for the Democrat in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race
Guns are now the leading cause of death for children, and until lawmakers address the issue head-on, GenZ will never vote Republican. Republican rhetoric sounds old and lame to a generation taught how to play dead just in case they become one of the 19,000 kids per year that will be shot.
Gun-obsessed Republican lawmakers should stop hiding behind 2nd Amendment rhetoric and tell GenZ point blank that some of them will have to die so they can keep their hobby, that they would rather build schools with curved hallways to stop bullets rather than try to keep them safe.
Decorum being front and center in the same week that a former President Donald Trump was indicted on 34 felonies including paying a porn star hush money shows how painfully out of touch Republican messaging really is.
Even more stunningly tone deaf, one Tennessee lawmaker compared the student led protest to an insurrection. Another asked the children gathered in the capital which gun they preferred being shot with. The Tennessee GOP has been fundraising boasting that they were just getting started.
While egregious, this authoritarian behavior is yet more proof that the right has run out of ideas. This hideous attempt to silence dissent has the potential to become a cultural touchstone for years to come.
When Tennessee Republicans inadvertently grabbed the national spotlight, it was the chants of the protestors that were amplified, the speeches of the subverted that were canonized, and “the Tennessee 3” who embodied the often-cited “Good Trouble” credo of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an icon of the civil rights movement.
They used their power and their social capital to pour into a city in grief, and in the end, they paid a high price for being the only leaders in a room full of cowards.
Leaving our nation’s youth to protest alone is not an option, and they recognize genuine governance when they see it. The small men hiding behind their wagging fingers of decorum will be remembered only for their proximity to the voices they tried to silence.
History will celebrate the good not the evil, the response not the accusation, the comeback not the dismissal.
Heather MacDonald is a co-founder of The Good Trouble Project, a central Pennsylvania real estate agent, and a former Democratic candidate for the 103rd House District. This column was first published by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
Civility is dead. Gone are the days when people could politely discuss subjects they disagreed on. Now it is win at all costs. And the cost will be our children and our democracy.
don miller says
heather would like you to believe generation z has no aspirations other than demanding, disrupting and violating until they get what they want without working with in the system. their no shortcuts so get to work.
GenZ voters are being brainwashed in college and get their news from TikTok, they don’t know any better, because if they did, they wouldn’t have voted for Fetterman. Also, the lawmakers deserved to be expelled because they broke the rules. So what GenZ voters believe is that you shouldn’t be held accountable for your actions.
Get to work until your position has been automated or company sees less profits, then you will be released. There are zero job protections or social safety nets that help actual people. neeeded a good laugh this morning. Haha Shelly apply those standards to your own (R) party. Didnt they cry fraud and try to overthrow the government and will of the people? Tik tok is simply videos like youtube for those of you who dont have it. hate to break it you ya but your information has been sold to the highest bidder for decades. How many entites already have your info?Maybe try and get less of your information from Fox who has knowing lied to you for more viewership. Id be more likely to believe something on TIKTOK than FOX. Lets remove all the republicans that cast fake electors, said there was fraud with no evidence, total abuse of power and fierce retailiation against anyone with a different option or even voiced a different opinion (see florida), took money from big donors without disclosing, blocked testimony, encouraged hate, increased gun access, forced birth policies against the will of the people, banned books, defunded schools, ect ect ect . If the choice was brown paper bag or racist republican, paper bag should win in a landslide(if you gerrymader enough though the r wins). Younger people arent believing your blind hate of other human beings. Oh yeah and we will likely all be cooked alive in a decade due to our toxic consumption (see overshoot)but hey lets target groups that dont vote for us, have a bleak future and pretend they are the problem.
Deborah Coffey says
Oh, my. Do you believe Donald J. Trump should have been held responsible for his numerous criminal actions long before now? Of course you don’t because he’s not Black and he’s not being shot at.
Shelly I guess the white lady didn’t break any rules. I suppose Donald Trump and his brainless followers didn’t break any rules during the insurrection. I guess only African Americans break rules and pure white peoples follow them. Shelly please wake up white folks aren’t the perfect spotless angles they pretend they are. If you’re white you are far from perfect.
Democrats lost me when they let the extreme left and extreme ludicrous activism control the party.
Deborah Coffey says
Could you please be more specific because on its face, your comment appears to be a lying FOX “news” talking point…and, extreme projection from the far right wing.
@ herman. . . Why is it that we did not hear your outrage after the violent and lethal Jan. 6th insurrection created by the extreme right???? Why are you not calling for trump to be held accountable??? I’m thinking you were never a true Democrat!
Assault weapons and its magazines control and strict background checks are needed to try to prevent these shootings that take the lives of our innocent children, teachers, sacrificed law enforcement officers and Americans in general…Enough is Enough!
Sgt. Dan says
“Know your place.”…….. Couldn’t have said it better myself. These “Amos and Andy” characters have both been in trouble with the law way before they bought their way into Tennessee politics. Personally I’m sick and tired of this crap. America is tired of this crap.
And we don’t really give a RATS ASS about Gen Z. Let the 20 somethings stay in their mommy’s basement and play video games . They are NOT a productive generation that will help America regain and hold onto our REPUBLIC .
Deborah Coffey says
So was Donald Trump in trouble with the law…numerous times. Shouldn’t he sit down and know his place? Careful. Your rage is showing. Gen Z is a very productive generation. It’s an easy Google.
Deborah it’s not just Trump, there has been many on both sides of politics. Dick Cheney, the Clintons, Biden, and the Pelosi’s all have skeletons and I am sure that if they were ordinary people they would of been prosecuted and until individuals look at these leaders and representatives with un-bias eyes instead of voting party lines all the way down a ballot nothing will change. I have voted for Democrat, Republican and Independent in elections because I went with best candidate not political line.
They have a lot of Votes Sarge lolol
How sad to call Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson “Amos and Andy” characters and to be pleased with the statement “Know your place.” My hope is that future generations of Americans, including GenZ, will no longer feel the need to denigrate young black men.
As for the statement “America is tired of this crap”— You do not speak for me. I am not tired of seeing young people take a stand against gun violence.
Interesting that you placed no stereotype on Rep. Johnson.
You showed us what a big man you are by insulting these 2 State Representants. Amos and Andy were played by white men in black faces, what a stupid insult you uttered.
Yes, Jutin Jones being an activist has been in trouble with the law before his election now can you please elaborate on when and why Justin Pearson has been in trouble with the law before this racist expulsion in 2023? He was his HS Valedictorian, he graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine majoring in Government & Legal Studies, he is a fellow of one of the Carnagie Mellon Foundations and was accepted for a summer program at Princeton. Nothing to laugh about this very accomplished young man.
Please go back under your rock.
Whathe: Amos and Andy started out as a radio show, featuring white men playing black men. In the ’50’s the show went on TV and the characters were played by black men, not white men in black face. I actually, slightly remember the show. Just an FYI.
However, I’m sure Stg. didn’t mean it as a compliment.
I very much remember Rochester on the Jack Benny Show. He often had the upper hand! Benny was a good man
Dan do you know your place? Don’t know your color but sounds white to me. Non of my business. Sgt. Dan, sound like employment with the police department or some other industry. Feel for the people of color working under you. God help your crazy thinking. How do you know Gen Z isn’t productive. Do you consider productivity to be the slavery way, the whip and the attack dogs, making people of color work or die. Lynched and raped, butt breaking and humiliated before their families. Is that your definition of productivity?
Atwp: You are making history a career, and you will continue to suffer from it I’m sorry to say. Slavery exists today, it’s call “trafficking.” There are foreigners, American white people, black people, kids and teens answering to masters. Put all that energy you have towards today! :)
@ Sgt. Dan. . . please let me clue you in. Your generation is not going to live forever. Like it or not, Generation Z and the next generations are the future. Simply because they have different ideas than yours does not mean they are irrelevant. “Smart” citizens and politicians know this. It is “your” generation that becomes more and more irrelevant each and every day. The future is NOT yours!
Sherry: And how old is Sgt.? The “Jews will not replace us” tiki brandishing boys were, at estimate, in the 35 to 50 year old range.
Great question Laurel. . . I was thinking a “white” guy more in the 50-65 year old range. Regardless. . . generalizing and writing off an entire generation sounds like the words of an ignorant, insecure, hate filled, self loathing old geezer. . . no matter his age. How very sad and pathetic!
William Moya says
Sorry to disappoint, but Gen Z will have a fair amount of fascists in their ranks. I love this guys, I’m with them, but the fight will go on.
Samuel L. Bronkowitz says
The author might want to take a look at the handling of the pandemic, school shootings, health care, student loans, cost of living issues, and the minimum wage before declaring that two expelled black lawmakers are at the center of gen Z’s revulsion regarding the republican, and her very own democratic party.
Rookie politicians says
These idiots Acted like ass clowns with their megaphones and disruptions of order, a complete disrespect for decorum, just like these others running amuck up Illinois way the other day. The woman should have been kicked out too, so they couldnt play their race card. Elected officials should hold themselves to some degree of civility especially these rookies.
Sorry, but I cannot pay any mind to anyone who states that two, young, black representatives who used a bullhorn, since Republicans clearly don’t listen, is comparable to a group which contained Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Neo Nazi’s and the like, who broke into our Capital, using Old Glory, injured police and crapped on the Capital floor. If this is you, you have no logical reasoning capabilities. Maybe you should take a critical thinking class.
I hope young people (and my geezer friends) vote these authoritarian ass sucks out. Our democracy is more important than politicians’ babyish, retaliatory behavior, aimed at simply keeping their jobs, at the risk of our country. You say you are tired, yet you allow the complete absurity of M.T. Green, Bobert, Santos, Gaetz, DeSantis, Trump as they continue to create chaos for the sake of attention, to continue to reside in Congress.
There is an answer to the gun problem. The far right want to keep their guns so as to fight when they feel threatened, or for hunting. I get that! However, they are going about it all wrong. Americans should be able to keep guns, with background checks, training, gun registration and licensing. This would not include AK47’s and the like. These war style machine guns would be available only when one has shown one’s ability to handle the gun through professional testing ranges with a renting machine, shown a history of responsible behavior and storage with lessor guns, a history of mental stability and reaches a master level achieved through licensing and registration. Anyone found with this type of weaponry, without this special licensing would be subject to a felony. If you can acheive this level, you can own this weapon. The sale of these weapons should be under tight scrutiny and the seller registered.
Now, Republicans should drop this culture war nonsense, and get back to the job of raising our deficet (that Trump added to big time) before the dollar is no longer trusted in the world, and causes a world wide economy collapse.
A truly excellent comment Laurel. . . DITTO!
This is much more serious than it may seem to some. This is a party showing YOU that they have no value, no respect, for the wishes of “We, the People”.
Everyone should realize that this party is willing to steamroll over your rights any time they want. Maybe you don’t care this time, but there will be a time when you will care, and you won’t be able to do anything to stop them.
They are telling you who they are – believe them.
Just me, I think the politicians that attend these type of Rally, should be more as a neutral presence. I mean that much power as a legislator they should be more structured for a speech or whatever. Showing up with a bull horn at an event suggest that it’s inciting anything that could break out. Take Jan 6th, Trump had a stage and a microphone and that was interpreted as inciting an insurrection. So a legislator or few wandering the crowd with a bull horn in Nashville, TN ? That’s even closer to an outright chaotic disorganized disruption of the peace. The issue is gun control, that in itself is a volatile rally. Both sides not wavering on their side of the issue. Apparently enough votes removed them, that’s Democracy, just as enough votes to retain is Democracy ?
What nobody is saying about Nashville. The casualty count was 6, not 20+. The gun control for the rifles, what stops the active shooter from going after children at a bus stop instead of the school with similar hunting rifles or even a handgun ? Securing schools with armed officers only & relatively secures that location. I predict there will be a day when the mass shooting is a bus stop or a sports pavillion (similar to the Indian Trails sports fields here in Flagler county). Criminals are like that, they’re going to adapt. We’ve already seen the church shootings across the nation. There are several parks around Flagler county too, the Holland Park seems to draw a crowd for basketball courts & dog parks, the playground too. These locations are ripe for drive by shootings at the very least. I mean, we’ve already had that in Bunnell.
Jimbo99: Just type in Texas mass shootings, and look at all the stuff that pops up! There has already been a mass shooting at a concert, or two.
These comments are something. They need to be expelled, the white woman stays. Racism at its best. The white republicans did the expelling. If I don’t act the way they think I should then I need to get punished and stay in my place. Most of the people who attacked the capital were white, I guess that was o.k. The election didn’t go their way they tried to do something about it. I believe they are surprised the Government is putting a lot of them in prison. I guess whitey isn’t above the law. They used to be. We need to stay in our place, something whitey has been saying for eons, everybody need to stay in their place but whitey. Some of the whitey wish they would have stayed in their place, thank God a lot of them is in prison. Their lying leader is still free, how unwise to follow a person that remains free and the nonthinking followers go to prison. White people are not too smart. There is no way I would follow a person, I go to prison and they remain free, how dumb. A lot of nonthinking white folks did just that. White folks are something, the nerve of them saying we need to stay in our place. They are something. Wow.