What the Anti-Protest Bill Means for Tennesseans

By Blair McDonald, Civic Engagement Intern | April 2021

The summer of 2020 marked an important moment in American history. Beginning in March, people found themselves stuck at home with little more to do than consume mass amounts of information from local and national news sources as we all adjusted to life during a pandemic. Nevertheless, one aspect of American life remained painfully constant: racism.

In the span of a few short months, news outlets reported the murder of Black Americans such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, who tragically lost their lives because of officers who ironically swore an oath to “protect and serve.” 

In response to these horrific acts of police brutality, cities across the country erupted in protest with rallying cries for action, justice, and change. I remember marching through the streets in Nashville last summer, chanting “I can’t breathe” with thousands of other people. The experience was incredibly empowering. 

Acts of Legislative Revenge

State legislatures across the country have since responded by drafting new bills that infringe on protestors’ First Amendment rights in order to target and suppress this reawakened movement for equality. In fact, a newly proposed bill in Tennessee—aptly referred to as an anti-protest bill— seeks to criminalize protesting while protecting people who unintentionally injure or kill protestors, or in other words, murder.

In February of this year, the Tennessee General Assembly introduced House Bill 0513 aka HB513. House Bills are proposals that members of the House of Representatives and the Senate submit to become law in order to expand existing legislation in the state.

This is what the law says now:

  • It is illegal to obstruct a “highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, or hallway” and doing so results in a Class A misdemeanor.

But here’s what the bill will do:

  • The current misdemeanor will become a Class E felony, punishing people with up to six years in prison and a mandatory fine of up to $3,000.
  • It will make throwing an object at an individual to harm the person, or “intentionally intimidating or harassing” someone who is not participating in the “riot” a Class A misdemeanor. If the thrown object causes injury, the act would then be classified as a Class E felony under the bill.

This is absolutely ridiculous. If signed into law, it would strip an individual’s right to vote because of the felony charges.

Simultaneously, the bill gives legal immunity—a particular status where an individual or group cannot be punished for violating a law—to anyone in a vehicle who “unintentionally causes injury or death to another person” while they’re blocking a pathway. Yes, it legalizes murder.

Finally, HB513 includes extremely vague language to punish protestors who cause “emotional distress” or “frighten another person”. Yes, you read that right. I don’t know about you, but something doesn’t sound right when the police will now be arresting protestors who cause “emotional distress” when police officers have a long, violent history of frightening and intimidating Blacks and other people of color, but they get to do it because they wear a badge. The hypocrisy is borderline comical. 

The Silencing of Free Speech 

The reality of this bill is quite clear: HB513 poses a threat to protestors by targeting the people’s right to peacefully assemble. Here’s a throwback to your high school government class…

  • The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
  • Freedom of Assembly grants the right to peacefully protest and walking, marching, and kneeling in streets or other pathways are often forms of nonviolent protest that most effectively publicize and amplify the messages of the movement. 

If nothing else from this entire post, please remember that HB513 is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled on a number of different cases—Hague v. CIO (1939); Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989); and McCullen v. Coakley (2014), for example— that have upheld every American citizens’ right to freely express their political opinions in public spaces such as parks, streets, etc. 

In a country where the powers that be insist on invalidating Black pain, Black struggles, and Black experiences, HB513 is now attempting to take away our avenues for protest, for assembly, and for political grievance. As a result, HB513 encodes racist motivations in strategically vague language to deny one of the last platforms we have to freely and publicly advocate for change.

I first heard about this proposed legislation two weeks ago, and I was shocked to learn that our elected representatives are in the process of passing a bill that would result in so much pain and damage. I was angry at first, and you should be too. Then, sadly, I was unsurprised. I had to remind myself that the Tennessee legislature caters to a certain group of people, and those people don’t look like me or you. Once again, Black and Latinx people are specifically targeted simply for the color of our skin and the power we possess. 

Ultimately, we elect representatives to make policies on our behalf that fulfill the interests of all people, not some people. While politicians are meant to hear us, HB513 seeks to silence and disenfranchise.

Act NOW to Get Our Fair Share

Pandemic Resources Available for Nashville Residents & Small Businesses

Our Fair Share Nashville powered by The Equity Alliance

Nashville:

You spoke, and your city officials listened.

Thank you for making your voice heard by taking the Our Fair Share Survey. The Equity Alliance is extremely proud of the work that the Our Fair Share team of canvassers and community partners poured into the campaign. Because of you, we were able to present 8,505 survey responses to Mayor John Cooper and Metro Government with a report that reflects the hardship, concern, and uncertainty faced during this Covid-19 pandemic by Nashville’s Black and Latino residents and minority-owned small businesses. 

Thanks to your participation, the Metro Covid-19 Financial Oversight Committee, along with Metro Council and Mayor John Cooper, allocated federal CARES Act funding for the following purposes:

Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Relief – $10 Million

$10 million to the United Way of Greater Nashville, to be disbursed to certain partner agencies for rent, mortgage, and utility relief. Call 2-1-1 to find an agency providing these funds.

Food Security & Nutrition – $2.5 Million

$2.5 million to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee to provide more food to those impacted by COVID-19.

Small Business Relief – $5.7 Million

Other State & Local Resources Available

MDHA Emergency Housing Assistance Program
Short-term rent or mortgage assistance will be provided for up to 3-months in an amount of up to $1,400.00 per month to help low-income persons/households at risk of eviction or foreclosure due to a loss of income because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  
APPLY NOW

Tennessee Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant (SERG) Program
On October 7th, 2020, Governor Bill Lee announced the creation of the Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant (SERG) program, a small business relief program designed to reimburse eligible business owners for direct expenses or business interruption costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The application window will open October 7, 2020 and remain open until December 29, 2020, or until all funds are depleted. Funds will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
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Tennessee Department of Human Resources
Child care and services during Covid-19 are available at no cost.
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Unemployment Benefits
Lost your job due to Covid-19? You may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
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Good to Go Program
Good to Go is a hospitality safety program created by The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, in cooperation with Vanderbilt Health, Ryman Hospitality Properties and SERVPRO, to help businesses in every industry implement health and safety guidelines.
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The Equity Alliance Fund endorses Bradshaw for U.S. Senate

Black-led, statewide advocacy group also endorses five candidates in Tennessee General Assembly races to push back against ‘radical laws’

NASHVILLE—The Equity Alliance Fund, a statewide racial justice advocacy group focused on increasing the civic power of Black and minority voters in Tennessee, announced six endorsements for the 2020 election season: 

  • Marquita Bradshaw, U.S. Senate
  • Glenn Scruggs, State Senate District 10
  • Brandon Thomas, State House District 49
  • Andrea Bond Johnson, State House District 82
  • Torrey Harris, State House District 90
  • Gabby Salinas, State House District 97

“These progressive leaders have a clear vision for a better future for Tennesseeans. Under their leadership, families, black, white and brown, will have a chance to earn a good living, send their kids to well-resourced schools and get access to quality healthcare that they need to get well and stay well,” said Charlane Oliver, co-founder and co-executive director. “These candidates are champions for Black and Brown lives and will stand up to greed-fueled special interests and defend us against radical laws that seek to control our communities, suppress our votes, and perpetuate decades of racial injustice.” 

The state legislature has a longstanding and concerning history of passing laws that target African American communities after Black-led movements push for change, according to Oliver. 

In 2016, the legislature prohibited local governments from removing war memorials after the majority-Black city of Memphis announced its plans to remove a statue of KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest. 

In 2019, the legislature created the most severe criminal and civil penalties in the nation for voter registration groups that turn in forms with applicant errors after the Tennessee Black Voter Project, led by The Equity Alliance Fund, coordinated the largest voter registration drive in state history and submitted over 91,000 forms. 

In 2020, the legislature targeted Black Lives Matter protestors with a law that made it a felony for being on state grounds after 10 p.m. after dozens of people demonstrated day-and-night at the Capitol for two months.  

The Equity Alliance Fund, the affiliate 501(c)4 advocacy organization of The Equity Alliance, encourages Black voters to support policies and candidates who will invest in overlooked and underserved communities of color.

The Equity Alliance makes CARES Act spending recommendations to Mayor Cooper

Statewide non-profit offers framework for protecting working families, voters, minority small businesses and vulnerable populations

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Leaders with The Equity Alliance, a statewide non-profit focused on the civic and economic empowerment of the black community, offered Mayor John Cooper guidance on spending the $121 million of the city’s share of federal CARES Act funding for economic recovery.

In a memo delivered to a working group of community leaders Tuesday, The Equity Alliance Co-Executive Director Charlane Oliver outlined suggested spending to support economically vulnerable and at-risk members of the community. The recommendations included:

  • Increased funding for elections, including PPE for poll workers, bus fare for those without transportation, and more polling locations in minority neighborhoods;
  • Funding for Black-owned businesses, particularly owners with past criminal histories,  whose Small Business Administration loans were denied;
  • Direct payments to struggling working families to recoup unexpected household expenses;
  • Rent and mortgage relief payments for terminated and furloughed workers;
  • Stipends for temporary healthcare plans and COVID-19 testing fees;
  • 14-day quarantine housing and additional halfway houses for recently released prisoners due to Covid-19.

Oliver, a member of Cooper’s working group to address CARES Act spending, said black and immigrant residents, working people, and the economically disadvantaged have been among the hardest hit in Nashville during the economic downturn.

“To jumpstart our local economy, we believe in putting resources directly in people’s hands who have been most impacted. Mayor Cooper has an opportunity to right some past wrongs of previous Administrations by directing these funds to be spent to ensure that Black residents are neither disenfranchised from their civic right to vote nor left behind in the economic recovery. With Black Nashvillians making up 28% of the city’s population, we expect the CARES Act funds to be equitably and proportionately distributed to us,” Oliver said.

The Equity Alliance has been busy responding to economic inequities statewide in the aftermath of tornadoes that destroyed portions of both Nashville and Chattanooga. In addition to distributing more than $19,000 in cash assistance, the group has led efforts to educate homeowners in predominantly Black North Nashville with professional advice on the value of their damaged property. The organization also offered economic relief to black families in Chattanooga struggling to pay insurance premiums after the Easter Sunday tornado.

“The economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in already distressed communities. This is a unique time in Nashville’s history, and it calls for bold leadership and unprecedented shifts in how we uplift historically black neighborhoods which were already struggling that will have the hardest time recovering from this pandemic,” said Tequila Johnson, co-executive director of The Equity Alliance.

The Equity Alliance’s recommendations to Mayor Cooper can be found here.

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About The Equity Alliance: Founded in November 2016 by six black women, the mission of The Equity Alliance is to proactively advocate for African Americans and other communities of color to have a fair and just opportunity at realizing the American dream. We are a Nashville-based 501(c)3 nonpartisan non-profit organization that seeks to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. Learn more at www.theequityalliance.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Equity Alliance files lawsuit to expand absentee voting in Tennessee amid COVID-19

Lawsuit seeks to ensure voters can vote safely by mail in the upcoming elections and ensure ballots count

For Immediate Release
May 1, 2020

In the midst of a global pandemic, The Equity Alliance, in partnership with Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of two qualified voters and organizations whose many members are not eligible for vote by mail under current law, but wish to avoid exposing themselves or elderly family members to coronavirus.

Other plaintiffs include five organizations facing restrictions preventing them from carrying out necessary voter engagement activities for their members and the community in 2020. Under Tennessee law, the organizations can be punished for giving voters unsolicited requests for an absentee ballot with up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

Typically, Tennesseans have cast their ballots largely in person. Recently, the rapid shift towards voting by mail has revealed how unprepared Tennessee is to ensure all absentee ballots are counted in the upcoming elections. The state gives election officials discretion to reject absentee ballots when elections officials decide, in their judgment, that the voter’s signature on their ballot doesn’t match the voter’s signature on file with the voter registration. This “matching” process is unreliable and prone to mistakes, and because the state does not give voters any opportunity to fix apparent problems with their ballot, leads to disenfranchisement.

The following statement is from The Equity Alliance Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Charlane Oliver on A. Phillip Randolph Institute v. Hargett. The Equity Alliance is an organizational plaintiff in the suit.

“Tennessee voters should not be forced to choose between their own personal safety and participating in our democratic process. Our state needs to adapt to the current environment brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our organization wants to be able to proactively assist voters with voting by absentee ballot without the threat of criminal prosecution. We are in unprecedented circumstances that call for state officials to implement safer and secure approaches  t  ensure democracy is preserved in the Volunteer State.”

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Read more about why we need to expand absentee voting during a pandemic.

The Equity Alliance delivers financial support to Chattanooga tornado victims

Statewide non-profit offers support to working-class families

For Immediate Release
April 29, 2020

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The Equity Alliance delivered financial support and supplies to four Chattanooga families in the East Brainerd area that lost their homes and belongings in the Easter Sunday tornado. 

Residents of Middle and Southeast Tennessee have been hard hit by tornadoes and bad weather this spring. The Equity Alliance, a statewide non-profit, has marshaled efforts in Nashville and now Chattanooga to bring storm victims relief in predominantly black neighborhoods. Today’s recipient families in Chattanooga are currently displaced and living in hotels, rental properties, and a shelter.

The Equity Alliance leaders said natural disasters typically have a more devastating effect on the finances and quality of life of working-class families. These hardships are compounded by the financial downturn associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a very difficult time for working-class families in Tennessee. Our communities have been destroyed by storms, and we live with the constant threat of sickness due to the pandemic. Those factors compounded by a historically bad economy means working people in Tennessee need help,” said Tequila Johnson, co-founder and co-executive director of The Equity Alliance.

Johnson added that in the aftermath of natural disasters, homeowners in economically disadvantaged areas are sometimes targeted by predatory real estate investors looking to buy damaged homes for well below market price. The Equity Alliance has built a network of property appraisers, mortgage bankers, real estate agents and other professionals to help homeowners make informed decisions.

“It is important that we level the playing field for every storm victim,” Johnson said. “Homeowners need to understand their options before making a decision to sell their property. We can connect Tennesseans in need with the right professionals so that they can make informed decisions.”

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Our tornado relief efforts began with helping our North Nashville residents after the March 3rd tornado, but when a tornado ripped through Chattanooga over Easter weekend, we jumped into action to help out there as well. Our team was on the ground today distributing help to those that have been displaced, and checking in on the residents’ needs.

Our movement is bigger than Nashville, we are here to help communities of color all across Tennessee. If you or someone you know is needing assistance from the North Nashville tornado or the Chattanooga tornado, please have them fill out the Tornado Relief request form.

Watch the reaction of a Chattanooga families as we gifted them with $1,000 check and supplies to weather the COVID-19 crisis.

On The Front Lines

We’ve been on the front lines since disaster struck on March 3rd. Here’s what we’ve been up to.

It’s been a little over a month since the March 3rd tornadoes ripped through North Nashville and parts of Middle Tennessee. I wanted to update you on what we’ve been working on since we sprung into action on Super Tuesday. 

Many of us are anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic that is crippling our healthcare system and our economy. Now more than ever it is critical to support our work to keep Gov. Bill Lee, Secretary Tre Hargett and state lawmakers accountable to the ever-changing dire needs our people face.

This is not the first time we’ve faced crisis and, through it all, we can build power together and demand that African Americans and other communities of color have a fair and just economic opportunities at realizing the American dream. 

TEA has built a track record responding to uncertainty with this infallible truth: power belongs to the People. 

That’s why TEA has been #OnTheFrontLines during this current crisis. Even in the midst of a Safe-At-Home order, we’ve shifted our outreach strategies and tactics to meet continual community needs. Here’s a review of what we’ve accomplished this month:

And this was just in the past 30 days.

But we know the road to recovery will be long as we face an impending economic downturn. That’s exactly why we were founded – to work with you, together, to build power for our people, for the long haul. That’s our model and will always be the way we do this thing: together.

We need your support. The 3rd Annual Black Women’s Empowerment Brunch is scheduled for July 25, 2020 where we will honor Black women #OnTheFrontLines. We would love for you to be involved now: pledge to sponsor a table, invite your friends and colleagues, or make a donation today.

I know these are uncertain times, but TEA is steadfast in what we’ve always set out to do. You can count on us to be #OnTheFrontLines, and we’ll stay there with your continued support. 

Yours in the movement, 

Charlane 

North Nashville Cleanup, Canvass and Homeowner Meetings Scheduled to Assist Tornado Victims

Call to action for attorneys, real estate and insurance professionals to advise residents

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For media inquiries contact Clint Brewer at (615) 668-4535 or clintbrewer@imperiumstrategiesllc.com.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the wake of the devastating tornadoes that ripped through Nashville, The Equity Alliance is organizing two events to assist North Nashville residents in reclaiming their neighborhoods and protecting their property.

A massive cleanup and canvassing operation to protect the hardest hit areas in North Nashville will take place Sunday, March 8. More than 300 volunteers have already signed up to walk door-to-door to take inventory of the damages of each home and clean up debris.

The event is an effort to inform local homeowners and tenants of the organization’s community event taking place the following day to help them navigate their options for rebuilding their properties.

“It is important that residents in North Nashville understand their options before making decisions about their damaged homes and properties, “said TEA Co-Founder and Executive Director Charlane Oliver. “We have already witnessed first-hand elderly residents and others getting quick offers on the street by individuals looking to make a profit from their misfortune. We are asking for the professionals in relevant fields to offer their time pro-bono to these citizens to help them make the best decisions about their property.”

WHAT: North Nashville community clean up and canvass followed by homeowner’s meetings

WHEN:

  • Cleanup and Canvass – Sunday, March 8, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Homeowner’s Meetings – Monday, March 9, 12 p.m. and 6 p.m.

WHERE: Lee Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1200 Dr DB Todd Jr Blvd, Nashville, TN 37208

WHO:

  • Councilwoman Kyonzte Toombs, District 2 (Homeowner’s Meetings)
  • Councilwoman At-Large Zulfat Suara (Homeowner’s Meetings)
  • Gene Burse, AICP, Metro Planning Department
  • Kelly Bonadies, DeLisa Guerrier, and Lee Mollette – real estate developers
  • Miranda Christy, Christopher Cotton, Jennifer Horne, Marcus Shute – attorneys
  • Jeff McGruder, Pinnacle Financial Partners
  • Jason Egly, Farmers Insurance Agency

Childcare, language interpretation services, and food will be provided.

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About The Equity Alliance:

Founded in November 2016 by six black women, the mission of The Equity Alliance is to proactively advocate for African Americans and other communities of color to have a fair and just opportunity at realizing the American dream. We are a Nashville-based 501(c)3 nonpartisan non-profit organization that seeks to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. Learn more at www.theequityalliance.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

We’re Hiring!

Our TEAm is growing! We’re looking for dynamic, bold leaders to fill the following positions: Administrative Assistant, Statewide Organizer, Advocacy Campaign Manager, and Communications Intern. Check out our Jobs & Internships page for full descriptions.

Interested applicants are encouraged to apply by January 27, 2020 and submit a resume and cover letter to jobs@theequityalliance.org.

Voting Rights Advocate Desmond Meade to Share Experience from Florida’s Historic Ballot Initiative

Coalition Gearing Up for Voting Rights Restoration Push in Tennessee

Let my people vote: Desmond Meade, Time magazine’s 100 most influential Americans in 2018, led the effort in Florida to end voting discrimination against returning voters.

NASHVILLE — A diverse coalition that’s urging lawmakers to end voting discrimination against people with felony convictions will hear from a national voting rights advocate on the issue Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at The Lab at 624-A Jefferson Street. 

Desmond Meade — a formerly homeless returning citizen who overcame many obstacles to eventually become the President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law — will share lessons from his successful advocacy in Florida. Meade led the charge to pass Amendment 4 in Florida last year, which laid the foundation to restore voting rights for 1.4 million Floridians.

The nonpartisan coalition meeting with Meade includes a wide variety of power players, such as The Equity Alliance, ACLU of Tennessee, and Americans for Prosperity. The coalition seeks to reform Tennessee’s laws to enhance successful reentry, reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

“There’s a lot of work being done to end voting discrimination against people with felony convictions who have served their time,” said Tequila Johnson, co-founder of The Equity Alliance. “We’re closer than ever before to restoring voting rights to men and women who’ve turned their lives around and been contributing members of their community.”

The Equity Alliance event, casually titled “Cocktails and Conversations,” will also feature a panel of advocates, legislators and activists. The panel will include State Rep. Harold Love, Jr.; Shanna Singh Hughey, executive director of Think Tennessee; Larry Turnley, formerly incarcerated person and violence interruptor with Gideon’s Army; and moderated by Charlane Oliver, co-founder and executive director of The Equity Alliance. The event will be hosted by Fox 17 journalist Harriet Wallace.