Hundreds gathered in Civic Center Plaza in Downtown Memphis on Saturday to protest the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the appointment of Matthew Whittaker to replace him by President Donald Trump.
The Rally to Protect the Mueller Investigation was part of a wave of protests that swept the nation this week that sought to bring attention to the dangers of a president who considers himself above the law.
“No one is above the law” was a common chant throughout the rally.
Speaking through a bullhorn on a crisp Fall day, Emily Fulmer told the crowd her group Indivisible Memphis “…is against Trump’s racist, anti-LBGT, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-democracy, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies.”
She vowed to bring an end to “incompetent and hate-filled leadership in Washington. We’ve been working hard to elect replacements for our out-of-touch, Trump-loving representatives here and across the country.”
Fulmer said Trump had exceeded his authority. “This week he crossed the line when he fired Jeff Sessions and picked the most inexperienced, anti-Mueller, right-wing lapdog loyalist he could find, Matt Whittaker, to replace him…This is an unconstitutional attempt to obstruct the Mueller investigation just as the hammer is about to come down. We cannot allow this to happen. Trump is scared. He saw what happened on Tuesday, when the Democrats took back the house. And now he’s breaking the law to protect himself. We are here to remind him that no one is above the law.”
Activist Theryn Bond opened her remarks by saying “We believe in the rule of law, and we have a president who doesn’t. We are here to stand up to Donald Trump. We the people are the ultimate power in our democracy. Donald Trump can’t take that away from us no matter how hard he tries. It will be we the people who will hold him accountable for his abuses of power and corruption, and it is we the people who must stand up to his latest attempt to protect himself, his family, and his indicted associates from being held accountable. The Mueller investigation must continue without delay or interference. President Trump is not above the law.”
University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy analyzed the legal situation. “Trump’s appointment of Matt Whittaker is probably illegal and unconstitutional. It was probably done designedly to obstruct the Mueller investigation. And he’s probably got a serious conflict of interest. Other than that, everything’s fine.”
He said, due to the complexity of the situation, “Don’t count on the courts to come riding over the hill to the rescue. This is on us. We’ve got to act…It’s going to be us demanding Congress take action. Organize, mobilize, and publicize.”
The focus turned local for a moment when Cat Allen of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center described her experience of being the subject of surveillance by the Memphis Police Department. “You think traffic is bad, imagine being tailed by unmarked cars. That happens to us every day, and it’s got to stop.”
She thanked the ACLU for helping win a recent lawsuit banning political surveillance by the police. “We told the Memphis Police Department that their job is to protect citizens, not to surveil them.”
The she turned to the defeat of the three ballot measures during last week’s elections. “On Tuesday, we told the city council not the first time but the second time that Memphians want instant runoff voting. We’re not going to stop until we get it. And we mean implemented, not just won. And two terms is enough, thank you very much.”
She promised future action to clean up city government. “We’re going to do this all over next year when we elect a new city council. And I do mean a NEW city council.”
By far the loudest cheers of the day came for Congressman Steve Cohen, who just won re-election by a comfortable margin. Cohen compared the situation to The Godfather, and talked about his experience on the House Judiciary Committee and as the ranking member of the Constitution Committee, both of which are liable to play major roles in the coming political confrontation when the Democrats take control of the House in January.
“The Judiciary committee has been meeting by conference call twice this week with legal scholars. We will be participating, if the Senate does go in, with a legal action to question the appointment of Whittaker. People of standing to bring the action is either Rosenstein for being stepped over or the Senate for not being able to confirm. The house can’t bring the action, but any Senator can, and the House can join with them. We will join with the Senators to come forward. When we get the majority in January, we can subpoena Whittaker. We can subpoena Mueller, and we can subpoena his report.
"We can turn the House of Trump, which is what the House of Representatives has been these last two years, back into what it was supposed to be, the People’s House…I thank you each for choosing me to represent you in Congress and on the Judiciary Committee. I assure you, your thoughts and wishes will be expressed there. We will not let them trample on our Constitution, take away our rights, and hide the Mueller Report. It belongs to the American people. We deserve to know what went on with Russia. You know, Trump’s over in Paris right now, and I understand he’s going to meet with Putin. Putin’s gonna get an update on his account.”
Cohen said the Mueller investigation is in danger from Whittaker, (“He’s the hatchet man.”), and encouraged Democrats in the House of Representatives to sign on the bill he introduced last year to protect the inquiry into the connection between the Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. 185 Democrats and 1 Republican endorsed the bill last year, and Cohen said he expected a wave of new co-sponsors when he returned to Washington.
The final speaker was high school student Zoe Gurney, who led the ever popular “Show me what democracy looks like” chant.
“March for Our Lives inspired me, like many youths, to fight for our future. We stand here untied to protect the Mueller investigation. To fight for a nation with liberty, equality, and justice. To let it be known that no one is above the law…Social media posts are not enough. This is our future. Get out of your comfort zone.”
Like other speakers, Gurney took hope from the recent election results. “In this last election, participation by first time voters was up by 700% in the state of Tennessee. The youth are the leaders of the future, and we are the face of tomorrow!”