Building a Movement for a Better Tennessee
Posted by: In: Report Backs 22 Jan 2017 Comments: 1 Tags:

Here’s a copy of the speech given by Zoe Wells at the start of our People’s Assembly on the steps of City Hall in Johnson City, TN, January 20, 2017.

Inauguration Day Shutdown (photo source: WJHL)

We are in uncharted territory. We are now in a place where will wake up every morning aware that we have no idea what the president of this country will do or say today. We will wake up every morning and think, “Please don’t let today be the day World War III gets started by a tweet.” Rates of depression and anxiety among youth, teens, and adults have been climbing in this country for decades. It’s a product of the society we live in, a society that says if your job doesn’t pay enough, get a new job. If you can’t get a job, go back to school. If you get that education and come out of it with debt and still no job that pays a living wage, you shouldn’t have taken out those loans knowing they’d have to be paid off. If you have kids, get laid off, lose your house, and have to move your family in with friends—or your car—you shouldn’t have had kids.

We live in a society of judgement. We live in a society where, if we aren’t living the American dream, it’s our failing—despite the stagnating wages, despite the precariousness of jobs, despite the rising costs of housing, despite wage discrimination and job discrimination and the fact that there are too damned many people and too damned few so-called “good” jobs. It’s our failure despite the breathtaking hikes in the cost of going to even a state college. It’s our failure despite the fact that there are 27—thank you, Kentucky—27 states that have adopted “Right to Work” laws that can be more properly described as “Right to Fire.” It’s our faults despite the fact that mental health was significantly defunded in favor of funding prisons. Our faults despite the high costs of health care—if we get sick, it’s our fault for not taking better care of ourselves. Twenty percent of adults in this country have a mental health issue. I would not be surprised if, after four years of President Trump, one hundred percent of this country has PTSD, because, folks, on top of the toxic, individualist culture we’ve already been living in, we now add utter and complete uncertainty every morning we wake up.

I’ve spoken with many people between November and now, and one common thread has been an overpowering feeling of dread and helplessness. It’s like we’re on the Titanic. We can see the tip of the iceberg sparking ominously in the ocean before us. The captain doesn’t care—it’s a great iceberg, you’ll love the iceberg, it’s the most beautiful iceberg—and what can we do?

What can we do, so far from the nation’s capital, so far from any sphere of influence? What can we do?

We can start by building lifeboats. Our sphere of influence is right here at home. We start where we’re at. We figure out what we need. We make it happen. Making it happen can mean pressuring our local and state governments. Making it happen can mean running our people for school boards, city councils, state district reps. Making it happens means creating our own resources where there are none. It means boycotting if we have to, it means demonstrating, it means, sometimes, making a racket so loud they can’t ignore us.

We’re on the steps of the Johnson City municipal building, where our city council holds their twice monthly meetings. I recommend we all start going to those meetings, get to know these people, how they vote, how they respond to citizen concerns. Let them see your faces and get used to seeing your faces. If you’re not from Johnson City, find out when and where your local government meets and put your face there in the audience as often as you can. We are going to want things from them. We’re going to expect things from them. They’re not going to do these things on their own. We are only going to be able to achieve what we need if we come together as a force they cannot ignore. And if they still ignore us, we will replace them. We will replace them.  With God as my witness, we will replace them.

Now I’m going to turn things over to you. I said we need to build lifeboats right here at home. Let’s talk about what these lifeboats are going to look like. What do we need to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, to keep our children clothed, fed, and educated, and reduce our struggles in this getting-harder-every-day-to-make-ends-meet world we live in? I know there’s no shortage of needs. What are they?

What a heartbreaking and spirit-lifting weekend. Here are the bad (some might say “nasty”) things that happened this weekend:

  • The Civil Rights, LGBT, and Immigrants pages on were replaced with a commitment to more law enforcement and a promise to defend gun rights through all levels of the justice system.
  • The Climate Change page was replaced with a vow to eliminate environmental regulations, extract oil and natural gas from publicly owned lands, and revive the coal industry.
  • An executive order was signed to allow the dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
  • Violence against women grants, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for Humanities were put on the chopping block.
  • The Trump administration lied—repeatedly—about crowd sizes, and even the weather, of all things (and to the CIA, of all people), showing that we cannot take their word for anything—except for the policies they promise to implement, or destroy.

I’m almost afraid for Monday to come and the administration to have their first real day at work.

But there was good this weekend, too—so much good. Trump’s pre-inauguration concert was desolate compared to previous such concerts, his parade & inauguration were virtually deserted, and it was all overshadowed by the massive turnouts in D.C. and across the country both on inauguration day and the day after. We, in fact, had the largest protest in United States history on the 21st, with an estimated 3,000,000 people turning out across the country. They were joined by a million more in the rest of the world. We can stand up to the system. We will continue standing up to the system. And we will not stop at blocking the actions of the Trump administration; we will not stop at returning the country to its previous status quo: We will not stop until we have achieved economic, social, and political justice in this country and beyond.

Right here at home, we tested out our “standing up to the system” capabilities as well, starting Thursday night.

January 19, 2017

Instead of watching Trump’s pre-inauguration concert, people came out to our pre-inauguration benefit show at The Hideaway in Johnson City. Local bands Secret Bleeders, Yog Sothoth, and POVERTYBOMB, as well as a dozen noise musicians, gave their time and some phenomenal performances to help raise money for the Northeast TN People’s movement. The event turned out better than anyone expected, everyone enjoyed themselves, and we are all stoked to do it again.

POVERYBOMB playing to a crowded house on January 19th.

January 20, 2017

We staged an Inauguration Day Shutdown here in Johnson City. Fifty people turned out for our march, rally, and people’s assembly.

Inauguration Day Shutdown People's Assembly

Our People’s Assembly on the steps of City Hall during our Inauguration Day Shutdown event, January 20, 2017.

This was an amazing event, starting at Memorial Park, we all met up and learned some chants. At 11:30, we began our march across the street, around the Municipal Building, and up the steps of City Hall, where we rallied for the next half hour. People who’d never yelled into a megaphone before that day took turns leading chants like pros. At noon, we had a moment of silence…or, well, we tried. Before the second hand could tick all the way around to 12:01, we ended the only silence this administration will get from us and began our People’s Assembly on the steps of City Hall. As a group, we discussed the issues we face here and what we expect—and demand—from our local and state governments. At the end, people shared what the organizations they’re working with are doing and how we can get involved with them. Then we marched back to the park, shared hugs, and left looking forward to seeing many of the same faces the next day in Jonesborough.

January 21, 2017

Jonesborough was the scene of the local Women’s March held in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. The sidewalks and street in front of the courthouse were packed—an estimated 1,000 people attended. Spirits and solidarity were high. People there were hungry for next-steps and ways they could get involved; it was great to see such renewed interest in getting involved. We were there flyering for our February 8th People’s Assembly, and a number of other organizations had representatives there as well. The organizers are putting together a page of local organizations; in the meantime, you can check their Facebook post for a list.

Women’s March in Jonesborough, TN, January 21, 2017 [photo by Whitney Prater]

Going Forward

As we said in the graphic we made for the Inauguration Day Shutdown, this is the start of Four Years of Fight Back. We are committed to working right here in Northeast Tennessee to protect our communities, defend our rights, and change the neoliberal and neoconservative policies that have led us into the situation we have now. We hope you’ll join us.