We write once again to offer you hope and solidarity through what continues to be turbulent and exhausting times in our path toward social justice. This year has seen a rise in obvious attacks against protesters who speak out against restrictive and malicious legislation. The media has increasingly reported about legislative attempts to deny access to education, reproductive rights, and the right of the transgender community to thrive. Across the country, nearly 500 bills have been introduced that would negatively impact the LGBTQ+ community. Mass shootings and police shootings, together continue to exceed the number of days in the year, but many legislatures continue to loosen gun access. We continue to see heated policy and court battles around access to abortion care with the most notable disputes around access to mifepristone. Several states have passed, or are attempting to pass, laws to prevent students from learning about racial inequality in America by forbidding conversations about race under the guise of banning Critical Race Theory. Public and private attacks on speech and actions that critique these harmful legislative measures have been barely veiled:
On March 8, police killed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (a.k.a. Tortuguita) and arrested dozens of other protesters in the Weelaunee forest in Atlanta, Georgia. Tortuguita and other protesters were occupying the forest to prevent the city and the Atlanta Police Foundation from breaking ground on a project colloquially known as “Cop City.” The project would replace the Weelaunee forest with a police training facility that would simulate an urban cityscape. Protests argue the facility could endanger the watershed underneath the forest and potentially increase police brutality incidents through the proposed military-style training. Despite the killing and arrests, protesters continue to occupy the forest…and the march toward social justice plods on toward criminal justice and policing reforms.
On April 7, representatives from Tennessee were disciplined because they breached “decorum” by stepping onto the legislative floor (“the well”) in support of protesters. The protesters, many of whom were young people, came to the state building to demand gun reform after a deadly school shooting in Nashville. Justin Pearson, Justin Jones, and Gloria Johnson – later known as the Tennessee Three – supported protesters by chanting with them. Two of the three representatives were expelled while the third expulsion vote failed. The two expelled representatives, Jones and Pearson, are Black while their colleague, Johnson, is white. Pearson and Jones were later reinstated as temporary representatives by their respective districts. The Tennessee legislature did not address gun legislation before ending its session early…but we persist in the march toward social justice in gun reform.
On April 20, Representative Zooey Zephyr was censured by the Montana legislature for speaking out against the proposed anti-gender-affirming healthcare bill that targeted transgender youths. Zephyr, herself a transgender individual, said, “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” While other lawmakers in other states have used similar phrases without reproach, Zephyr was censured and forbidden to speak on the floor until she apologized for her comment. Protesters came to the legislature to demand the censure be lifted but many were instead arrested by the state police in riot gear… we will and must continue to speak out about injustices around gender and transgender equality.
On May 2, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) struck for better wages, healthcare benefits, pensions, and better compensation for work aired on streaming platforms. While the studios reached an agreement with the director’s guild to prevent an additional strike, they still have not come to the table to address the WGA’s concerns. The WGA joins other industries’ professionals like teachers and service workers who have struck this year for livable wages, workplace protections, and other resources…we will continue the fight for pay equity and fair labor practices and standards.
The silencing of protests and critiques continues loud and clear as the Supreme Court issued its decision in Glacier Northwest v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The decision will allow employers to sue workers for property unintentionally damaged during worker strikes. The case may have a chilling effect on future strikes because of the increased and unexpected liabilities workers may face if they strike. Only Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson dissented from the opinion noting that the decision “risks erosion of the right to strike,” which is currently protected by federal law…we continue to strive for freedom of assembly, protest, and speech as it is one of the footholds of democracy.
State legislation also targets educational institutions. Florida passed a bill attacking education by demanding colleges and universities remove course materials that discuss “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequality” from general education courses. Similarly, the Ohio senate recently passed SB 83 that “prohibits any mandatory programs or training courses regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, unless the institution receives an exemption” from the chancellor of higher education. The bill would also prevent educators from teaching (“inculcating”) students about “controversial beliefs” like climate change, marriage, abortion, election policies, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The bill (now HB 151) is before the Ohio House Higher Education committee… we must continue to bolster nuanced discourse and education surrounding the stumbles and successes of social justice and American progress.
Many are standing up against state silencing measures. Young people in Tennessee staged walkouts during the school day to demand gun reform. Libraries in New York and other states have pushed back against bans that restrict access to books about and by people of color or people from the LGBTQ+ community by expanding access to books and creating “banned book” reading lists. In other states like Arkansas, librarians and booksellers sued the state to challenge laws that would criminalize librarians and school staff who provided “harmful” books to people under the age of eighteen.
We encourage all of you to join those who continue to raise their voices and use their actions to push the needle away from silence and repression. This action can occur in a variety of ways but must first and foremost occur in spaces outside of social media. While social media can be a force to increase social discourse, it cannot effectuate change alone. Instead, we ask you to also reflect on your beliefs and habits. Ask yourself what you know, what you need to learn, and determine how you can teach yourself or find others willing to teach you. Next, educate yourself about your local and state political processes. Learn about what bills are being proposed in your town or state and steps you can take to support or oppose those bills. This may involve submitting testimony, calling officials, hosting letter-writing parties, or a variety of other activities. Learn about your elected representatives and use your vote to keep or remove those in office. While some parts of may feel removed from voting impact, remember elected representatives can enact policies, legislation, and censure. Last, but not least, remember to find support and rest for yourself and give support and space to others as we advocate and recuperate together.
On this Fourth of July, we leave you with this: ignoring injustice is an injustice. The Jones Center will continue to live up to our namesake… and answer the call. We hope you will join us.
The Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice