After the March 27 Nashville school shooting and subsequent gun safety protests by students and parents at the state Capitol, the Republican super-majority expelled two black state legislators, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, for their participation in those protests. A third representative, Gloria Johnson, a white woman who was involved in the same protest was not expelled. Rep. Jones, who was reinstated by the Nashville Metropolitan Council on April 10, vowed that no unjust attacks on democracy will go unchallenged.
The expulsions in Tennessee have become a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy and reminds us of the Republican party’s dangerous national embrace of minority rule and white supremacy. For years, the GOP has increasingly used the tools of voter suppression, gerrymandering and attempts to invalidate majority votes in elections and referendums to impose their extremist and unpopular policies on constituents.
In states across the country, Republicans have engaged in a culture war that bans books, erases the slave era and racism in American history and wages attacks on the LGBTQ community while criminalizing abortion and denying women reproductive healthcare. An increasing number of political observers believe the GOP is clearly on a march toward authoritarianism or fascism. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Bill Fletcher Jr., a longtime labor and racial justice activist, former president of TransAfrica Forum and author. Here, he examines the Republican party’s recent expulsions of two black legislators in Tennessee and how pro-democracy forces can effectively challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis’ long list of repressive policies in Florida.
BILL FLETCHER JR.: I think what we’re looking at in Tennessee, we’re looking at a complete affront to democracy. It’s lunacy. When you think about the two of these three representatives expelled for issues of “decorum,” whereas in the U.S. Congress during the Jan. 6 coup attempt, you had various representatives of the Republican Party who, in one way or another were supporting the coup effort.
And they haven’t been expelled. They haven’t been jailed. The disproportionate penalties is just amazing. So that’s why it’s not just race, it’s race and authoritarianism.
SCOTT HARRIS: You know, I wanted to get your comment on what we see unfolding in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely believed to be thinking about launching his presidential campaign for 2024. But meantime, he’s ushered in many authoritarian policies targeting the LGBTQ community. Education, censorship. Banning of books and a whole list of just extremely right wing-authoritarian pieces of public policy. There are many people who look at Florida and believe it is the Republicans’ laboratory for fascist public policy. What do you think?
BILL FLETCHER JR.: The Republican agenda is to overturn the 20th century. And so they want to turn things back pre-1912. Basically, Florida is the Spain of the United States in the sense that the Spanish Civil war of 1936 to 1939 was a testing ground for Nazi Germany and fascist Italy in its preparation for a world war. Florida is a testing ground for the right-wing authoritarians. The notion of whatever they can get away with.
Now, Florida has some particularities, including a large émigré population of well-to-do immigrants. And this is really important to recognize that we’re talking about well-to-do people for the most part, who have come here to get away from the “pink tide,” so-called, in Latin America. And that’s not true in most of the rest of the country.
We have had a weak Democratic party in Florida for a very long time and it had no coherent strategy. And the picking of Charlie Crist to run in the last election only because of the fact that in the election four years ago it had been tight, was a complete misread of the situation that we’re currently in. So there’s hopefully now some reassessing that’s going on.
I know that there is on the ground of grassroots organizations that like the Dream Defenders, Florida Rising and others that are really rethinking how to launch the right kind of counterattack. But it’s going to be very much of an uphill struggle. There’s no question about that. In order to carry out that struggle, we have to force progressive forces there, have to turn the tables on the right.
So, for instance, I’ve been advocating it to whoever will listen. DeSantis pushed through the law around so-called critical race theory. It’s not about critical race theory. It’s about history. And the argument of the law is that it can’t be anything that’s taught that offends a child or that makes a child feel guilty about something over which they had no control.
So my argument has been that, okay, fine, so now what we need to do in Florida is there needs to be a massive class action by African-Americans and their allies that challenges U.S. history as taught in the Florida school system. Because your history as taught denies us significance, makes us feel bad, does not give any context to how it is that we came to the United States or why. What misleads us makes us feel bad.
So we should use the same law and jack them up. So we’ve got to be thinking in a very different way about how to take on the opponents. I remember reading about during the American Revolution, the British constantly complain that the continental forces under Washington weren’t fighting fair. So the British are marching around in red uniforms in the woods and they’re getting shot and killed by U.S. troops that are hiding in the bushes and everything and not dressing in the appropriate red uniforms.
And the British are complaining instead of changing their attitude towards the war that they were in. They’re going to complain about lack of fairness. I think that that’s part of the problem here. You know, the Republicans aren’t playing fair. No, they’re not. Because the nature of political warfare has changed fundamentally. And if you keep fighting the last war, you’re going to lose.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!: And 20 Other Myths about Unions.” for more information, visit his website at billfletcherjr.com.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Bill Fletcher Jr. (16:44) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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