NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 14th, 2023

Justin Jones meets Jesse Jackson in an unforgettable moment at Netroots Nation

As they embraced on the dais at the Net­roots Nation con­fer­ence in Chica­go, twen­ty-sev­en-year-old Ten­nessee State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Justin Jones and eighty-one-year-old civ­il rights icon Rev­erend Jesse Jack­son some­how sym­bol­ized dis­tance trav­eled toward achiev­ing the Amer­i­can Dream, and the obsta­cles and entrenched resis­tance that remains.

Justin Jones meets Jesse Jackson

The Rev­erend Jesse Jack­son meets Ten­nessee State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Justin Jones, to the delight of thou­sands of Net­roots Nation atten­dees (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Jones and Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­league Justin Pear­son were expelled from the Ten­nessee State Leg­is­la­ture ear­li­er this year. They had joined demon­stra­tors call­ing for action on gun safe­ty after an assas­sin killed three peo­ple in a mass shoot­ing at the Covenant School in Nashville. When his micro­phone was cut off, Jones pulled out a bull­horn on the House floor.

“We love to go around the world talk­ing about democ­ra­cy, but we have no democ­ra­cy,” Jones told the crowd, adding: “We are the state where the Klan was born and their descen­dants are gov­ern­ing.” Of the state’s Repub­li­can rulers, he added: “They real­ly believe they are fight­ing the Civ­il War again.”

If leg­isla­tive lead­ers thought they were teach­ing two uppi­ty young African-Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tors a les­son, they in turn received one.

Jones, Pear­son and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Glo­ria John­son – a white law­mak­er who sur­vived the expul­sion vote – became cel­e­brat­ed nation­al fig­ures. The “Ten­nessee Three” were received at the White House by Pres­i­dent Biden.

“We have bro­ken the sys­tem so peo­ple now say, our state is not some­thing to give up on,” said Jones. He gave Net­roots a cap­sule his­to­ry les­son. While Nathan Bed­ford For­est may have found­ed the Klan in Ten­nessee, the Vol­un­teer State played a major role in birthing the Civ­il Rights move­ment of the 1960’s.

Fisk Uni­ver­si­ty, Jones’ alma mater, was an ear­ly cen­ter of lunch counter sit-ins. The High­lander Folk School trained activists (includ­ing Rosa Parks) in non-vio­lent action. Justin Jones car­ried for­ward the tra­di­tion cam­paign­ing to have a bust of Nathaniel Bed­ford For­est removed from the State Capitol.

Of those who urged him to apol­o­gize, Jones reflect­ed Fri­day: “There are peo­ple who con­fuse prox­im­i­ty to pow­er with pow­er.” Mem­bers of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Coun­cil of Nashville and David­son Coun­ty, who spurned Jones’ can­di­da­cy last year, vot­ed 36–0 to restore him to the Leg­is­la­ture, over­turn­ing the expul­sion. He is still offi­cial­ly an inter­im rep­re­sen­ta­tive and must run for his seat in a spe­cial election.

Jones described his state’s rulers as “fas­cists” and said “We do not have free.” The ger­ry­man­dered Ten­nessee Leg­is­la­ture has ignored gun leg­is­la­tion, vot­ing instead to restrict drag shows, vir­tu­al­ly out­law abor­tion care and ban gen­der affirm­ing health­care. Nashville no longer has its own mem­ber of Con­gress, but was split into pieces of three Repub­li­can-lean­ing U.S. House districts.

Rev­erend Jack­son, who suf­fers from Parkinson’s Dis­ease, came on stage in a wheel­chair. He has been engaged in civ­il rights work, Jack­son fig­ured Fri­day, for six­ty-four years and in 1968 was on the motel bal­cony in Mem­phis where Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

Jack­son announced Fri­day that he is giv­ing up lead­er­ship of the PUSH-Rain­bow Coali­tion which he found­ed in 1996. “I’m not leav­ing, I’m step­ping over,” he said. “I’m going to teach young min­is­ters how to fight for justice.”

Alicia Garza interviews Justin Jones

Ali­cia Garza inter­views Justin Jones at Net­roots Nation 2023 (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

His voice now soft, Jack­son led the crowd in chants famil­iar to those who cov­ered his 1984 and 1988 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns: I am… some­body. Stop the vio­lence. Save the chil­dren. The chants were first heard when the young North Car­oli­na min­is­ter moved to Chica­go and began to chal­lenge the immov­able polit­i­cal machine of May­or Richard Daley.

When he first arrived in the Windy City, armed with a let­ter of praise from the gov­er­nor of North Car­oli­na, Jack­son went to see Hiz­zon­er. If you hus­tle your precinct and get out the votes, Daley told him, there might be a patron­age job wait­ing for you, like tak­ing tolls on the Chica­go Sky­way or the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Chica­go vot­ers recent­ly put an African-Amer­i­can may­or in office for the third time, a for­mer school teacher and Chica­go Teach­ers Fed­er­a­tion leader named Bran­don John­son, who spoke last night. Jesse Jack­son has helped send two sons to Con­gress. And a young com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er who worked in the city, Barack Oba­ma, was elect­ed and reelect­ed the forty-fourth Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

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