The majority of voters and the majority of elected state officials are decidedly right of center in Tennessee. Whether a true majority of the state goes red is another question. Every month Tennessee finds a new way to become famous in the national media for embodying this bent in our public policy.
How do you fight back in a situation like this?
Lawsuits: If the Legislature and the Governor are trampling your rights, you can take ‘em to court. That’s what a group of plaintiffs including TEP have done in our challenge to HB600. The worst case scenario is that we put our opponents on the defensive as they have to reexplain and redefend their discriminatory actions. In the best case scenario, we win and the law is struck down. The Occupy Nashville movement is already seeing results from their court challenge to the administration’s efforts to shut down their protests.
We will likely have a red majority for at least ten years, so I would assume court challenges to bad legislation and bad policy will become business as usual for the foreseeable future.
Occupy Nashville: Three members of TEP’s Nashville Committee have been involved in the protests. So it’s a topic we watch very closely. By sustaining their protest over several weeks, the participants have forced the hand of the state thereby showing the public in a very concrete way how much our state government has been overreaching since January. By ordering the arrest of peaceful protesters on public property, the state has generated more disgust with state government than all the negative legislation that has appeared this year. Maybe it’s time more issue specific strands of the progressive community take a page from this example.
|Kasey Landrum photo from WKRN|
Make up: If you really want to make some principals angry in Tennessee, all you have to do is wear a shirt supportive of a Gay/Straight Alliance, as a student in East TN did, or wear make up, as Kasey Landrum a student in West TN did. Youth really are fighting on the front lines of equality. It’s sad that some adults get angrier about self-expression than low tests scores and other real problems in our schools. Self-expression is becoming a form of everyday fighting back in Tennessee. Its value, besides just letting a person be comfortable in his or her own skin, is to make right wingers overreach in their response, which has the effect of clarifying everyone’s rights. And that takes the issue beyond a mere expression of the self and into the realm of commonly held values relating to the First Amendment.
Coalitions: Sometimes organizations have to focus strictly on their own issues and sometimes it is beneficial to work in coalition and cast issues more broadly. I believe it is time for equality advocates, labor advocates, and local government advocates to work together to advance SB2121 and fight SB2149 in the Legislature. SB2121 would restore the right of cities and counties to add to their non-discrimination ordinances, a right taken away from them by HB600 that passed this year. SB2149 prevents cities and counties from passing ordinances related to health insurance, family leave, and wages. Labor, equality, and local government defenders ought to make a pact to work together on both bills for the common good. Creative alliances make sense during these tough times.
Sheryl Crow: But I’ve saved the real creativity for last. Maybe we need to get more creative in candidate recruiting. I think Sheryl Crow ought to run for the TN House of Representatives from Williamson County. She’s getting more involved in philanthropic efforts in Franklin and she’s had a high profile as an activist on many issues.
I know what you’re saying. The Legislature isn’t big time enough for Sheryl Crow. But I would say our state government is garnering a lot of media attention and it’s a good platform for someone to address the real hot button issues—attacks on teachers, voter disenfranchisement, nullifying local equality ordinances, guns everywhere, defunding family planning, and cutting unemployment benefits. If Sheryl Crow entered the race, she could shine even more light on what’s going on in Tennessee. And if she won, I suspect it would be a little bit harder to find a lead sponsor for some of the nut bar bills we’ve seen over the last year. We might even get a song out of it. So if you’re reading, Ms. Crow, give it a shot, give us a chance!
There’s no doubt we need to fight back. I believe we will. The only question is how we’ll do it.