When several thousand teachers from all across Tennessee gathered in Nashville in March to protest forthcoming legislation they regarded as punitive and repressive, they staged a rally in the middle of a downpour. When several hundred activists representing “a coalition of minorities” from all over Memphis gathered on Sunday at First Congregational Church in Memphis to protest the effect of this year’s legislative actions, they did so outdoors in 100 degree weather.
The protests in March at War Memorial Plaza were energetic and, in places, inspired. The same holds for the call-and-response between speakers and attendees at the "Justice for All" rally at First Congo.
But that specter did not deter the determination of the "Justice for All" ralliers. As Michelle Bliss of the Tennessee Equality Project, moderator for the event, proclaimed, “We’re here, we’re together, and we will not be quiet!”
As the speakers at the rally, each a representative of a different challenged group, pointed out, there were formidable obstacles to confront at every level of government. Jacob Flowers of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center described the current political environment as ”a deficiency of love…from City Hall to Nashville to Washington.”
For Katy Smith of Planned Parenthood, the issue was state government’s current push to exclude her organization from involvement with federally funded family planning services. For Marion Bacon, a disabled person, the adversary was the newly enacted HB600, a bill prohibiting local non-discrimination ordinances, or as protesters call it, the “SAD Act” (for “Special Access to Discriminate.”).
Gaby Benitez of the Tennesse Immigration rights Refugee Coalition, noted various legislative efforts aimed at immigrants and broke into tears as she expressed a fear that her father would be deported before he could see her graduate from the University of Memphis.
Shelley Seeberg of AFSCME lamented efforts on the City Council to out-source sanitation work and the County Commission vote to reduce pension levels for public employees.
Bliss had begun the event by saying, “”When justice is denied to any one of us, we are all less free,” and calling upon those in attendance to join a “coalition of minorities.” In concluding Will Batts, executive director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, struck a similar note.
“Our opponents want us insular with tunnel vision,” Batts said. “We will be stronger, more effective if we work together….We will speak together, we will shout together, and we will win that way.”
Among the public officials on hand were 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, state Senate Beverly Marrero, state Representative Antonio Parkinson, and Memphis City Schools board member Jeff Warren.