Carrying coffins honoring the dead, Poor People’s Campaign marches in Tennessee
Rev. William Barber speaks on gun control laws in Nashville. | video screenshot/Poor People's Campaign, via Twitter

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Carrying empty coffins honoring three adults and three nine-year-olds shot dead at a Christian school around two weeks ago, hundreds of Tennessee Poor People’s Campaigners marched on the state capitol building in Nashville on April 17, demanding the Volunteer State’s Republican legislative supermajority pass tough gun control laws.

But their demand, like the initial protest of 7,000 students and adults, which jammed the Capitol and which was led by two first-term Black Democratic state representatives, was met with silence or scorn.

And that in turn led campaign co-chair the Rev. William Barber II to declare that refusal to enact gun control laws is part of wider “death by public policy” the rich and right-wingers have constructed for decades, not just in Tennessee but nationwide. He called it “moral and political murder.”

Moral murder policies include a linkage between racism, gun violence, denial of voting rights, and repression of workers, among others, he said. “The current voter suppression laws affect 60 million people, not just Black people, but Americans,” Barber explained.

“But here’s what you know:

“The same people that suppress the vote block the gun bans. The same people that block gun bans block health care. The same people that block health care block (raising) the minimum wage. And the same people that block the minimum wage block environmental justice.”

Speaking to the crowd inside a jammed Nashville church beforehand, Barber fully expected the marchers, with 27 pallbearers for the coffins, to be denied entrance. They were. They weren’t fazed.

“We’re not gonna stop and we’re not gonna roll over,” he declared. He later told the marchers “You don’t have to beg…you voted” in 2020 and more must vote in 2024, especially in southern states such as Tennessee.

An increase of 20% in turnout by low-income and low-wealth voters would evict repressive state lawmakers, Barber declared. Youthful speakers at the end vowed to register, vote, and vote the Tennessean right-wingers out—a task made difficult by Tennessee’s Republican-rigged extreme gerrymandering.

The Tennessee lawmakers’ response so far on gun control has been two-fold: No gun control laws and to evict the advocates, Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, from the legislature by party-line Republican supermajority votes. All but one member of the supermajority is white. The exception is a native of India.

The supermajority claimed Jones and Pearson “violated decorum” by leading pro-gun control chants by the packed House gallery. After lawmakers evicted the two, the Nashville-Davidson and Memphis-Shelby city-county boards voted them right back into their seats, temporarily and pending special elections, to be scheduled under state law. But state reps ignored demands by Jones, Pearson, their 140,000 constituents, and other Tennesseans for gun control measures in the Volunteer State.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.