It’s no secret that MAGA Republicans are doing everything they can to destroy our democracy. From passing laws to suppress votes to drawing gerrymandered maps, they’ll stop at nothing to gain and maintain power. As I watched in my home in Memphis, Tennessee showed us a disturbing, unprecedented example of just how far they’ll go.
In the wake of a tragic school shooting, three Democratic lawmakers—Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson, and Justin Pearson, now known as the Tennessee Three—faced expulsion for leading a protest against gun violence on the House floor. They technically broke “decorum rules” for speaking out of turn, so their free speech alongside students and their parents suddenly became a threat.
This simple act of protest was apparently so severe that the Tennessee House Republican supermajority filed expulsion resolutions for the three members overnight. Jones and Pearson, who are Black, were expelled. Johnson, who is white, was spared by one vote.
This expulsion was extreme, and political theater aimed at embarrassing and punishing Jones, Johnson, and Pearson. But I want to be clear: the state legislature has been grinding our democracy down for years. During the expulsion hearings, the Tennessee Three revealed that Republican leadership cut off their microphones, refused to allow debate or amendments on bills they advocated for, and more. Now the state legislature added a new move to their playbook: expelling anyone—especially Black people—who challenge their chokehold on power.
As Jones stated in an interview on MSNBC, the only truly disorderly conduct happening in Nashville comes from “a body that has used voter suppression and rigged maps to take control of our state.” Their expulsions were simply about Republican retaliation and control.
But the story doesn’t end here.
Thanks to local commissions in Nashville and Memphis, both Jones and Pearson were reappointed to their seats. Their journey put all eyes on Tennessee, and their leadership rallied the nation and inspired people across our state to rise up—including me.
There are thousands of people in Tennessee taking up the fight to end the MAGA movement and save our democracy. What’s happening here is just as important as New Mexico passing a comprehensive state voting rights act, Minnesota reinstating voting rights for 55,000 people on probation and parole, and Wisconsin electing Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a democracy defender, to the state supreme court.
People might think of Tennessee as a forever-red state, lost to Republican extremism that will never change. It’s impossible to deny the impact that MAGA extremism has had in Tennessee. But it’s not undefeatable or inevitable. The Tennessee Three proved that. Their actions make me proud to be from Tennessee—a place where people are fighting hard battles to end MAGA extremism.
In the words of Justin Pearson, “You can’t expel hope. You can’t expel justice. You can’t expel our voice. And you sure can’t expel our fight.”
Here’s to the fight in Tennessee.