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Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson unanimously reinstated, students lead marches in support

After his reinstatement, Jones marched from the Historic Metro Courthouse to the Tennessee State Capitol; MFOL student activists are similarly holding a rally in support of Pearson tomorrow.
Justin+Jones+marches+alongside+clergy%2C+civil+rights+leaders+and+community+members+en+route+to+the+capitol%2C+as+photographed+on+April+10%2C+2023.+%28Hustler+Staff%2FBrina+Ratangee%29
Brina Ratangee
Justin Jones marches alongside clergy, civil rights leaders and community members en route to the capitol, as photographed on April 10, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)

Vanderbilt students working with March for Our Lives co-organized a march and rally on April 10 to support Vanderbilt Divinity student Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) as he was reinstated to the Tennessee House of Representatives after being expelled on April 7. 

Another rally organized by MFOL student activists will be held at the capitol in support of Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) tomorrow morning after he was reinstated earlier this afternoon.

Jones marched with clergy members, civil rights leaders and other community members, including Metro Nashville Council member Zulfat Suara, along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from the Historic Metro Courthouse to the Tennessee State Capitol after the vote.

“I want to thank you all for being here today, particularly the young people who are the heartbeat of this movement. It was students walking out of classes and taking to this capitol that led us into the well that day calling for common sense gun laws,” Jones said after being sworn in on the capitol steps by a local judge.

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Jones being sworn in on the steps of the capitol, as photographed on April 10, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)
Jones being sworn in on the steps of the capitol, as photographed on April 10, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)

MFOL Judicial Advocacy Associate Brynn Jones, a junior, and MFOL National Organizer Ezri Tyler, a first-year, said they appreciate the opportunity to mobilize in support of Jones and Pearson.

“[April 10] was a powerful show of the strength of this coalition and the movement the Republicans accidentally added fuel to, we are honored to be a part of it,” Tyler said.

Reinstatement votes

The Nashville Metropolitan Council session began at 4:30 p.m. CDT on April 10. The council members unanimously voted (36-0) Jones back into his seat within 20 minutes. In a session beginning at 1:30 p.m. CDT on April 12, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners similarly voted to reinstate Pearson in a unanimous decision (7-0). 

Jones and Pearson will serve as interim representatives until a special election is held to permanently fill their positions, which they are eligible to run for. They cannot be expelled again for the same offense.

In a state where approximately 78% of residents are white and 17% are Black, Districts 52 and 86, represented by Jones and Pearson, respectively, are among the most diverse. Jones’ District 52 is 31% Black, while Pearson’s District 86 is 61% Black. Each district contains around 70,000 constituents.

The reinstatements come after Jones and Pearson were expelled from the House for joining protestors as they chanted for gun control policy on March 30. Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) also participated in protests although the vote to expel her failed by one vote. Vanderbilt students have led a series of protests and marches against gun violence since the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School.

March to the capitol after Jones’ reinstatement

Marchers followed Jones and MFOL student activists to the capitol building, chanting “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!” and “No Justin, no peace!” Jones reaffirmed his commitment to gun reform after his supporters reached the steps of the capitol. 

“The first thing I do when I walk into this building as a representative is to continue that call for common sense gun legislation,” Jones said.

He then asked the crowd to take a moment of silence to honor the five people killed and the eight injured in a bank shooting in Louisville, KY on April 10, exactly two weeks after the Covenant School shooting.

As Jones was sworn in, Pearson stood beside him in support. Pearson described that Jones was being brought “back into his calling.”

“They thought they could expel the voice of the people, that the people would not rise,” Pearson said. “But they were wrong. The people’s power cannot be stopped.”

Supporters in the gallery cheered as Jones walked onto the House floor to reclaim his seat during the ongoing legislative session. After being officially recognized back into his position by Speaker Cameron Sexton (R), Jones was given time to address the room, during which Jones stated that he was welcoming “the people back to the people’s house.” Sexton interrupted cheers from the gallery twice to caution against causing disruptions.

“Last Thursday, members of this body tried to crucify democracy, but today we stand to witness a resurrection of a movement, of a multiracial democracy that no unjust decision will stand,” Jones said. “There comes a time where time itself is ready for change. That time has come back here in Nashville, Tennessee.”

Jones directly addressed his supporters in the gallery and from across the state.

“To the people of Tennessee: I stand with you. We will continue to be a voice here,” Jones said. “And no expulsion — no attempt to silence us — will stop us. It will only galvanize and strengthen our movement. We will continue to show up to the people’s house. Power to the people.”

MFOL volunteer Alejandro Moncayo (‘22) has recently helped coordinate safety for attendees at MFOL protests and referred to Jones’ reinstatement as a “resurrection.” Moncayo worked with Jones three years ago to remove a bust of Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee State Capitol and urged young people to get involved in politics in the future.

“This is the best time of any to get involved in organizing and to start being hyper-aware of the politics of this state and in this city,” Moncayo said. “In the 60s, we [Nashville residents] were a bastion of civil rights and we still are today.”

Jones left the session after his speech to greet march attendees at Legislative Plaza. There, he declared his intention of calling on Sexton to resign.

“We walked in there and they [House members] were looking around because they’re in the ‘find out’ portion,” Jones said. “I want to lift up another demand that we have to one of the greatest threats to democracy in the state, and that is to call on an enemy of democracy: Cameron Sexton to resign as House Speaker.”

This story was originally published on The Vanderbilt Hustler on April 12, 2023.