Updated Wed. April 19:

The Tennessee GOP supermajority has once again capitulated — this time during a high-octane and highly emotional Moral Monday action that saw hundreds of clergy and gun safety advocates from across the country march into the Tennessee State House. Faced with the protest led by Bishop William Barber, the House appeared to abandon a vote on a controversial bill to arm teachers.     

This is the latest walkback from Tennessee’s GOP-dominated legislature. Earlier this month, the Republican supermajority voted to expel two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville and Justin J. Pearson, D-Memphis, after they led a raucous protest from the House floor calling for gun law reforms. Both freshman representatives were later reinstated.

This thrust Rep. Jones and Rep Pearson into a national spotlight and brought the controversial gun legislation back into focus. It also reinvigorated the Moral Monday movement led by Bishop Barber and Repairers of the Breach, an organization dedicated to building grassroot movements. 

Faced with the protest led by Bishop William Barber, the House appeared to abandon a vote on a controversial bill to arm teachers. 

Faith leaders and students carried empty caskets symbolizing victims of violence through the streets of Nashville, and then up the Capitol steps. They delivered them with the demand: “Pass lifesaving gun safety legislation and end extremists in state legislatures trampling over democracy.”

One emotional speech came from Sarah Neumann, a mom whose son witnessed the mass shooting at Covenant School in March. 

“Third graders saw the dead bodies of their friends, their classmates,” she said through a quivering voice and tears. “They sat in those rooms shielded by teachers with bullets flying over them. The trauma is not going to dissipate. I have worked in pediatric oncology and I have not heard screams worse than that day.” 

Inside the chamber, protestors sat for hours awaiting the vote on a proposed bill that would arm teachers. Many were startled when House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, motioned to table the bill moments before it was scheduled for a vote. 

The house erupted in shouting and booing. 

Outside the chamber, Rep. Pearson told the protesters that they were witnessing “anti-democratic behavior” from state lawmakers. 

The bill has since been taken off the calendar entirely. It has also been reported that even if HB 1202 did pass a vote, it would not survive the Tennessee Senate.

“We’re winning, we’re winning,” Bishop Barber said to a crowd in the rotunda after the vote was abandoned. 

“Today you focused on the issues and called out policy murder and showed them this religious, moral, advocate, impacted people coalition. They saw us and said ‘ain’t no way in heaven we’re going to do this today.’ Now we know the lesson: Stay here.”

Tues. April 18:

Faith leaders gathered for a national day of action to condemn gun violence and demand reform in Nashville on Monday afternoon.

The event was motivated by ongoing gun violence as well as the recent expulsions of two Black Democratic state lawmakers, Justin Jones who represents Nashville and Justin J. Pearson, a Memphis representative. Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers voted to remove the two representatives from the legislative body for leading a protest against gun violence on the House floor. After a national outcry, the expulsions were overturned and they returned to their seats in the Tennessee House.

Related Photo Essay: Nashville Keeps Marching Against Gun Violence

The “Moral Monday” rally at the state capitol was led by state, local, and national faith and civil rights leaders, including Bishop William J. Barber, II. Hundreds rallied alongside major gun safety organizations, including Tennessee Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action volunteers, which is part of the Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network.

The rally featured a march to the statehouse with a weighty display of child coffins to highlight the senseless deaths caused by assault weapons and the urgent need for lifesaving gun safety legislation.

The Moral Monday action in Nashville comes just a week before the 10th anniversary of the first Moral Monday in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 24. A decade ago, 17 North Carolinians walked into their state’s General Assembly to bear witness to the immoral attacks on the most vulnerable residents in the state. Their protest grew into one of the country’s largest direct-action campaigns directed at a state legislature.

At Monday’s action, the organizers released a vision for moral governance called “The Nashville Principles” that declares, “In Tennessee and in state legislatures across the country, we must challenge the politics of public policy murder.”

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