This afternoon I turned on the television about the time the Tennessee legislature was about to expel one of its members, Justin Jones. The details will be all over the news, including the fates of two colleagues, Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson. There will be more than enough detail on the regular news, so I’ll not rehash. I was only somewhat aware of the situation that I was witnessing on TV.
After Mr. Jones was expelled, I needed thought time. I went for one of the “covid drives”, I used to take during the pandemic. This day it was the drive on Grey Cloud Island, more or less 10 miles, enough time to reflect on what I was witnessing in that State Capitol building in Nashville, Tennessee. (As I wrote, the floor deliberations continued. One young legislator (African-American male) was expelled; the 60+ year old white woman legislator, a former teacher, has survived by a single vote, the third black man legislator had not yet been decided, but he was later expelled as well.)
As I drove a short while ago my thoughts went back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama March 7, 1965.
2023 is not 1965.
April 6, 2023, in Nashville TN can possibly be one of the important Edmund Pettus Bridge moments in todays Civil Rights movement.
We tend to forget that the 1960s were young people’s movements.
In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man of 36, he was elder among most of the protestors, people like John Lewis, 25, nearly killed that day. (King didn’t live to age 40; Lewis died at 80, after years as a Congressman.)
In the Tennessee State Capitol today the two young men were in their 20s, I think, and were they incredible.
They each had been elected to represent about 70,000 citizens. That is about the population of my own Senate District here in Minnesota
This time in history the young folks have advantages they could not have had 58 years ago. There is a different dynamic. In 1965 there was no potential of parity for the folks on the bridge against the Bull Conner types on the other side.
The then-generation were pioneers; teachers for the future.
2023 is not 1965.
In 1965 power to the people was just beginning. Those old enough to remember the 60s know it was a somewhat messy route to major and positive changes (some of which are again at risk).
The 60s were nothing at all like today in the ways people could communicate, instantly, internationally. On and on and on…. Ask any old-timer.
1965 and the other years were foundation years. A foundation is necessary to build towards the future. Hopefully building up, rather than tearing down.
The critical ingredients for change, then and now, are courage and determination. Power has rarely been given up graciously by its possessor.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a synagogue meeting room talking to some folks at a table after we’d listened to some clergy who’d visited Civil Rights places like Selma back in January.
I wrote about the experience here. It’s title: Activism.
At the table, when it came my time to comment I told the folks what I had written on my comment card:
I truly believe what I said to my table mates that day: “Evidence of Progress is Pushback”. “Pushback” is what happened at the Tennessee State Capitol today. Yesterday may have been a setback, but don’t forget that it is “evidence of progress”. Those who expelled the two young black legislators are on the losing side of history, and are terrified.
Wherever you are, keep on, keeping on.
POSTNOTE: In the end, the white lady missed being expelled by one vote. She was asked why. Color of her skin…. She’s a hero too, and we’ll hear more from and about her in coming days.
As I finished the postnote, this commentary came into my e-box. It’s title was exactly the same as mine. Great minds…?
Here’s another from Jay Kuo on Friday.
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