The Tennessee 2: Realistic Radicals or Beautiful Troublemakers?

4 min readApr 20
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Activists and legislators have different functions, but what happens when an activist becomes a legislator and continues functioning as an activist?

Headlines like this appear: Tennessee GOP expels Democratic lawmakers for anti-gun protest.

On March 27, a mass shooting at a private elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, shocked the nation. Three children and three adults were killed. Days later, over a thousand demonstrators gathered at the state capitol to demand that the Republican-controlled legislature make stricter gun laws.

No rules were broken until two black activists and first-term Democratic state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, along with Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson, entered the legislative chamber, took over the podium, and led protesters in chants calling for gun reform.

The Democratic state Reps. breached chamber rules of procedure by interrupting a house session. Democratic state Rep. Jones led the gun reform chants from the podium with a bullhorn. Obviously, he was playing the role of an activist, but why breach chamber rules when the gun reform demonstration had a good turnout and achieved the goal of a lawful protest?

Because activists like Jones and Pearson use tactics from Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution. This book states that a well-designed creative disruption will put the targets in a dilemma with no good options, and the objective of the activist is to provoke a reaction from the target. Once the target reacts, the activists use the target’s reaction against them to gain the moral high ground.

Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton called a recess and ordered security to clear the protesters, which halted legislative business for an hour.

In the aftermath, the Republicans voted to expel Democratic state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, but the third Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson didn’t get expelled because Johnson pleaded that she merely played a supportive role.

The problem was that Jones and Pearson are black, but Johnson is white.

The Republican leaders could have censured Jones and Pearson or removed them from committees, but since the…


J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.