By Victor Shi
Tennessee Republicans have unleashed a political movement. As the entire nation watched unfold a week ago, they voted to expel three members of the Tennessee State Legislature — Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson. And the justification that Republicans used was that the three members lacked “decorum” for protesting with gun violence protesters after the Nashville shooting. Disturbing as such an argument is, even more unsettling is the fact that Republicans did not try to hide their fascism and racism.
Of course, I’m referring to the fact that Republicans expelled only two of the three Tennessee state representatives (an act which, in itself, is a mark of fascism): Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. Jones and Pearson were not only the two youngest members of the Tennessee state legislature but also were Black and the only members removed from their seats. Gloria Johnson, a white woman, kept her seat — and has called it out for what it is: unmistakable racism.
While, thankfully, both Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were unanimously voted back in by their county commissioners this week and are now serving in their duly-elected positions, no one should forget why Republicans did this and the awakening Tennessee has ignited among young people.
It’s important to remember that what happened in Tennessee was not random. It was not by chance. It was a deliberate attempt to silence the people who represent the biggest threat to the survival of the Republican Party — a Party that knows it is losing control. That is, Republicans know that people like Justin Jones and Justin Pearson — who are young and who are Black — are the people who pose the biggest challenge to Republicans who want to maintain power.
Indeed, if Republicans did not view Justin Jones and Justin Pearson as a threat, they would not be trying so hard to gerrymander maps to favor them politically. They would not be trying to raise the voting age to 21 and seeking to strip drop boxes and voting centers from college campuses. They would not be going on Fox News and complaining about how Republicans are not getting the youth vote. Quite literally, Republicans have made clear through their actions they seek to strip the power that young and diverse people possess through their civic engagement.
Although Republicans tried to silence both Jones and Pearson because of their age and race, it didn’t work. In fact, it failed miserably. By voting to expel two young and Black members of the Tennessee State Legislature, Republicans not only handed Jones and Pearson a national megaphone, but Republicans also lost an entire generation of voters. That generation is, of course, Generation Z.
Lest anyone forget, starting in 2018, Gen Z has shown up to the ballot box in record-breaking numbers. My generation knew that our lives were under attack by Donald Trump and the Republicans. We saw the deterioration of norms and rules. We saw their attempt to denigrate minority communities. We saw our peers gunned down while the GOP sat back and did nothing about it. And because of that, young people turned out in record-breaking numbers and ushered a blue wave, flipping control of Congress.
The same happened in 2020, 2022, and again last week in Wisconsin. Repeatedly, Gen Z has shown the entire nation that we do not like our lives endangered and our voices silenced. We do not like our rights being stripped away from us. And that frustration and outrage have only translated into one thing: higher turnout at the ballot box.
And then Tennessee happened. Over the past couple of weeks, against the backdrop of continued mass shootings and the subsequent expulsion of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, I have heard more young people tell me their concern for the state of our nation than ever before. I have heard more young people tell me how fed up they are with a Republican Party that does not care about our lives. Based on the conversations and the diverse group of young people I have talked to, it feels like something monumental is shifting in the passion and commitment young people have to vote out Republicans.
As 2024 quickly rolls around, Republicans should take a lesson from what happened in Tennessee. They should understand they will pay the price — both politically and electorally. They should realize that if they bet against young people, not only will they lose, but we will become stronger, fiercer, and better than before. Picking a fight with Gen Z is not a winning strategy. There are more of us, and frankly, we’ll be around longer.
We’ve been trying to teach Republicans these lessons for five years. But they do not seem interested in learning. That is why, as elections have proven consistently, the vast majority of young people are rejecting the Republican Party in all its forms. Don’t expect that to change any time soon because the Republican Party won’t.