Staff Ed: The expulsion of Tennessee lawmakers leaves a wound in our democracy

To think an act of civil protest would result in the severe expulsions and censorship of elected U.S. political representatives appeared to be nothing but a sheer impossibility. However, as we witness the glaring divide over topics like abortion access, gun violence and LGBTQ+ rights throughout the federal government as of late, there no longer seems to be any guarantee of legitimate democracy.

On March 30, Tennessee State Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson sparked a protest from the House floor calling for gun reform laws in the wake of the recent school shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, which killed six people, including three children.

A week later, Jones and Pearson, the chamber’s two youngest black representatives, were put on trial before being expelled from their House seats due to a violation of decorum rules during their protest. Meanwhile, Johnson, a white woman, narrowly escaped expulsion.

Even before their expulsions, Jones and Pearson had established themselves as two prominent and outspoken leaders in the Republican-controlled Tennessee House of Representatives, combining to represent over 130,000 constituents.

The protest was meant to be a powerful statement of opposition to the relentless waves of shootings and a call for legislative change to prevent further gun violence – the leading cause of child and teenager deaths in the U.S., according to CNN – through civil protest, a First Amendment right. However, it slowly devolved into a partisan movement filled with baseless accusations, with parts of the Republican-dominated chamber arguing the act “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives.”

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, a deeply concerning trend of U.S. citizens’ ideals and rights being silenced and overturned by a minority of opposing politicians has followed. From the growing movement banning the abortion medication of mifepristone to the ceaseless waves of legislation espousing more lenient gun laws or educational censorship, there appears to be no end to this war on democracy. The same politicians oppose solutions to gun violence, concurrently proposing legislation arming teachers in classrooms or lowering the required age for gun permits.

Enough is enough.

The decision from a minority of Republican politicians to oust the two Tennessee representatives constitutes a suppression of their very constituents. For that disagreement to arise in the House and lead to complete censorship of the people’s opinions undermines the self-governance the U.S. prides itself on and corrodes the democratic tenets that predicate the country. It certainly highlights that the core values of democracy are assailed, vulnerable and unprotected.

The expulsion of Jones and Pearson sets an extremely dangerous precedent for other representatives and politicians to hinder the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and protest. Not only does this act of political partisanship unshelve the sanctity of democracy, but it instills a sense of fear and threat within politicians in opposition party-controlled legislatures and deters any future uprisings of justice in these houses.

Jones and Pearson have been reinstated, with much more national recognition and following. Their outcome symbolizes the truth of the disconnect and division between the youth generations and the Republican party itself.

According to a Harvard Youth Poll, 63% of youth adults of varying education, race and gender backgrounds support stricter gun control laws. The perpetual agenda for the Republican party to express their opposition toward the same values that today’s generation will forever hold on to reveals the disproportion they currently face.

This constriction of youth voices ignited a swift and unified response across the country, sparking outrage until the two representatives were reinstated.

It is impossible for any politician to experience the same fear and anxiety children and teenagers experience whenever a school shooting occurs. Politicians cannot see themselves in the shoes of a victim of a school shooting like the youth of our society can. Their decisions to align in stubborn support of their party’s beliefs of extending gun rights while lives are imperiled on a daily basis marks a reality far too long accepted. Though the upcoming generation still has to wait to take to the stands to represent their ideals and beliefs, change seems to be imminent.

Though there may exist a divide between supporters of different parties over gun legislation, there must be a recognition that human lives exceed any form of economic gain or party support. A true generational shift in our country’s positions of power is the key to unlocking the bipartisanship and progressiveness that will bring fair representation and tangible movement in the nation.

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