To My Rural Tennessee Neighbors: You Are Not Alone

Tennessee legislators hold hands
Former Tennessee state Representative Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Representative Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and former Represenative Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, raise their hands outside the House chamber after Jones and Pearson were expelled from the Legislature Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville . (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Let’s keep going and show the country what love can do.

By Whitney Kimball Coe
Reprinted from The Daily Yonder

Editor’s Note: Last week the Tennessee House of Representatives voted on the expulsion of three members accused of breaching decorum in their support of debating gun regulations after a school shooting in Nashville that left three children and three adults dead. The Republican supermajority expelled Democrats Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis. The third representative, Democrat Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, retained her seat by one vote. Jones and Pearson are Black men. Johnson is a white woman.


To all my rural Tennessee neighbors who are on the frontlines fighting for democracy and safer, kinder communities; who feel lost in the aftermath of the Covenant school shooting and appalled by a state government hellbent on abusing its power; who love our state and our small towns, but struggle to reconcile the disconnect we know exists between the voting box and our lived experience: 

You are not alone.

To my rural Tennessee neighbors who carry grief and rage over what is happening in our state House; who wonder if you can trust friends and family to see through the smoke and mirrors in Nashville; whose voices and perspectives are often ignored because we don’t fit the stereotype of rural voters:

You are not alone.

Maybe you feel isolated today, an anomaly in a place that voted overwhelmingly for the supermajority that now holds our state hostage. The country doesn’t seek out our voices and our perspectives, and our own representatives would rather not hear from us at all. 

Yet we are here, on the front lines in our communities, fighting for change: for common-sense gun laws, for the future of public education, for access to reproductive healthcare, for inclusive welcome for immigrants and new Americans, for the dignity and rights of workers, for our LGBTQIA family and friends. 

We are here, showing up at community events and serving our neighbors in distinctive ways, committed to staying in relationship even as we seek to hold them and ourselves accountable to a future that includes everyone. 

Some of us made the trip to Nashville this last week to call for gun reform alongside students, parents, and clergy. We joined hands with people from all over the state and sang “This Little Light of Mine” while our supermajority Legislature silenced and expelled two of its members (and their constituents) for daring to amplify voices calling for reform. Some of us stayed closer to home and braved hard conversations with family members and neighbors who are caught in the crossfire of extremist propaganda and deeply held beliefs about the Second Amendment. 

To all my rural Tennessee neighbors: This legislative supermajority does not represent our hearts, and in fact, underestimates the deep love we have for the places we call home. 

Our superpower is our love for our people and our state. We are here; voices, hands, and feet, practiced at staying in, holding on, and showing up, even when the country and our own representatives underestimate our presence. 

Let’s keep going and show the country what love can do.

Whitney Kimball Coe lives in Athens, Tennessee, and is vice president of national programs at the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder. She is the director of the Rural Assembly.


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