Discover more from What I'm Reading
A quick chat with ousted Tennessee state Rep. Justin Pearson
I talked with the Memphis native for a bit before he caught a plane to see Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones reinstated.
I spoke with former Tennessee state Rep. Justin Pearson before he hopped on a plane to Nashville to stand with state Rep. Justin Jones, who was reinstated to the state House of Representatives Monday.
For HuffPost, we talked about how he was shocked but not surprised at reports that legislators have threatened local officials with funding cuts if he is reinstated to the Tennessee House.
“I think that it is appalling that leaders in Nashville would actually threaten other elected officials in Shelby County with the removal of funds from our county if they follow the democratic process of reappointment,” he told me. “It is a testament to the type of culture that we’ve been dealing with, with the supermajority of the Republican legislature in Tennessee.”
The vote to reappoint Pearson will take place on Wednesday.
I wanted to share a bit more of our conversation that didn’t fit in my story from earlier. The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Thanks for reading! There are two ways to support this publication. Feel free to spread the word or make a pledge!
Can you talk about why it is crucial for people to get out and participate in the electoral process?
Participating in the Democratic process is extremely important. It is extremely important to vote, and we need everyone to vote because we're up against gerrymandered districts that have legislators who are in power choosing the constituents versus the constituents choosing those who represent them.
But in addition to being voters, we need people who are actively, consistently, consistently engaged in democracy. [People] who protest, who make phone calls, who show up to hearings, who stay engaged, all the time, all year round because what legislators are doing on off years as it relates to elections leads to a lot of problems.
Because, as you see, no election has happened, and they are expelling members of the House. It is important that we be engaged actively in the process as witnesses and as people demanding just laws and legislation because these firms and these lobbyists have a lot more money than average people do. But they do not have people power, which are the numbers that we have to show up and consistently engage in the fight.
People have brought attention to your oratory skills. Where does that come from?
Well, I was born into it. I'm very fortunate to have a mother who's a teacher and a father who's a preacher. Some of it came through osmosis, and a lot of it came through the Black church, which I've grown up in pretty much all my life. [The Black church] is where I saw profound speakers and theologians articulate a liberation and a justice and love framework and mindset that I carry in my life publicly as a public official, but also personally.
I noticed that you were using the Bible and scripture in a particular way that allowed you to deliver it back to the Tennessee GOP. Was that what you had in mind when preparing your responses last week?
My responses were not to respond to other people's Christian theology. It was to speak to the theology that I know and that I believe in, which is one of liberation Christianity that liberates those who are most oppressed, those who are poor, and supports and lifts up those who are marginalized. It just isn't coincidental that people who profess the same faith oftentimes do the antithesis of what I just articulated.
And so I don't believe that we are worshiping the same brown-skinned Jewish boy who was lynched by the government. I think they are worshiping an altar of something else: an altar of capitalism, an altar of greed, an altar of control, an altar of power, and an altar of white supremacy. I was not intending to offer anything other than the liberation that I believe Jesus the Christ and the Christian faith was for all of us to have. And that means lifting up the issue of gun violence, victims, and communities that are being shattered. It’s just unfortunate that the consequences are what they have been.
What is the message that you want to leave us with?
Two things. One, let us remember that this moment, the catalyst for this conversation about ending gun violence and all its forms started in tragedy. I personally remember the lives of all six of the people at the Nashville Covenant School who lost their lives due to gun violence. And it is a tragedy that instead of responding to that incident, the state legislature has responded to a peaceful protest by lawmakers during the recess. We have a responsibility to remember and to do the work of justice to prevent gun violence into the future.
And on the other piece, we need everybody to realize that this is not just a moment — this is part of a movement for justice, and we all have a role and responsibility in this. And so whether that be people's resources of time and connections, money, everybody needs to bring all that they can in this moment to help to continue the conversations that have been happening about ending gun violence and to use this catalytic moment to continue that conversation to create change in state legislatures.
I remain ever hopeful because I see children and teenagers and young people who are saying we know the status quo is not worth it and that violence only leads to more violence. Today in Louisville, there was another mass shooting. We have to find ways to sensibly prevent people from getting guns that they shouldn't have access to and prevent people from having guns that have magazine capacity that are built for war, not for civilian living.