“I feel like North Korea has more democracy than we do in the state of Tennessee, and it’s terrifying to me that we’re in this march to fascism,” state Rep. Gloria Johnson told me today in an exclusive sit-down interview at the Capitol in Nashville. “And it seems like the Tennessee supermajority is leading the charge.”
With the nation’s gaze fixed on a singular event this week—the unprecedented arrest of a former president—another critical stress test for democracy was unfolding at the Tennessee state Assembly, largely below the radar: Republicans introduced resolutions to expel three opposition lawmakers, including Johnson, citing “disorderly behavior.”
The threats stemmed from a tidal wave of outrage following last week’s mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School, which claimed the lives of six people, including three children. Just days later, hundreds of anguished students orchestrated a school walkout and marched on the Capitol en masse, demanding gun reform in a vibrant show of solidarity. In addition to Rep. Johnson, state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson spoke inside the Capitol chambers, with the help of a bullhorn, to express their unwavering support for the demonstrators.
The act of defiance prompted House Speaker Cameron Sexton to assert that the representatives would face “consequences,” likening their actions to the Capitol insurrection on January 6. The trio was subsequently stripped of their committee assignments and now faces the risk of ouster as early as Thursday. The student-led protests have only continued.
I ventured to the statehouse for this exclusive video interview with Rep. Johnson to weigh the democratic stakes at play, discuss what happens next, and share her message to families affected by the devastating Nashville shooting.
Johnson told me she’s going to fight every step of the way. “When my folks sent me here, they knew I was vocal, and they knew I would stand up and I would be their voice,” she said. “And that’s why they sent me here. There’s no question about that. Everybody in the state knows that.”
In part two of our video interview, Johnson reflects on living through a school shooting herself, in 2008. “I don’t want that to happen to anyone else ever again,” she told me. “We can absolutely do something. We are the only country that has this situation. Why are we ignoring this?”
MORE: "When you silence those voices, it's going to mean more lives." @VoteGloriaJ recounts living through a school shooting herself in this powerful interview with @garrison_hayes.
"We can absolutely do something. We are the only country that has this situation." pic.twitter.com/D0EXXFOvGZ
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) April 6, 2023