The saying goes: “if voting changed anything they would make it illegal.” Well, a new law in Tennessee could strip protesters of their right to vote. Last Thursday, Republican Governor Bill Lee signed bill HB 8005 which states that protesters who camp on state property can face felony charges, leaving them unable to vote in Tennessee. The Republican party’s intention is twofold: increasing repression and intimidation of demonstrators, in line with Trump classifying protest groups like Antifa as terrorists, as well as restricting voting rights leading into the presidential election. In discussing the bill, Republicans were clear that it would be used to stop protests and break up demonstrators’ “autonomous zones.” At the time of it’s signing, one such protest was camped outside Tennessee’s state capital.
This attack comes with an onslaught of other measures that have restricted democratic rights. We’ve seen the rounding up of people by federal agents in Portland, and threats to do the same in other cities. Deeming protesters as terrorists has essentially stripped them of all legal rights. Republicans have attacked democratic rights for years by increasing restrictions to voter registration. Recently they have added to this, attacks on the postal service to try to prevent people from voting by mail during a pandemic, as well as a plan proposed in May for a polling monitor force of 50,000 people who will keep an eye on “voters deemed suspicious.” And it’s not hard to guess who they will “deem suspicious”: people of color, students, and others likely not to vote for Republicans.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The saying above isn’t far from the truth. In times like we’d had up til this year, times when the majority accept the brutality of racism, inequality, and a gambit of social ills without much resistance, only in those times are we given access to democratic rights. When we are complacent, we can be given room to vote or even speak out against our problems. But when we come together and start to resist as people have done recently, those rights go out the window. During the Civil Rights Movement, every organization was infiltrated, monitored, and sabotaged by government forces. Protesters, like they are now, were beaten and shot at. This government is showing us once again: in this system we are allowed democracy as long as we don’t use it. In Tennessee they’ve shown us that the ONLY way we can have democratic control over society is if we organize it ourselves.