NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Protesters have been busy preparing for what could be history Thursday. The Tennessee House will consider whether to expel three Democrats who interrupted last week’s session with a megaphone to talk about gun reform.
Since that moment, one of those Democrats has called what happened afterward, a “clear danger to democracy,” while House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R—Crossville) has called the interruption an “insurrection.”
With two protests in one day, thousands are expected to be at the Capitol. Ahead of Thursday’s protests, on Wednesday, a song summoning action was sung inside.
“It is unconstitutional. They are actually protected by the First Amendment. They have freedom of speech, and they are speaking on behalf of their constituents. Elected officials are elected to be the voice of the people,” said Reverend Bryan Moore, with the Greater Bethel AME Church.
Reverand Moore, along with other members of the clergy, stood outside the chamber door in song and prayer. The group spoke on gun reform and the possible expulsion of three Democratic representatives after they took to the House floor with a blowhorn, protesting for gun reform.
For the first time since the 1800s, a possibly non-bipartisan vote to expel three Democrats — Reps. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) — will take place.
“This is a moment of Tennessee history where we need to stand up because these three Democratically elected representatives that represent a total of 200,000, almost a quarter of a million people in the State of Tennessee, could be expelled,” said Aftyn Behn.
Behn created the Tennessee Three website to serve as a one-stop shop for those looking to learn more about the three Democrats.
“They were trying to support them and be vocal for them as they are advocates for everyone and support them from their positions or power, which are on the House floor,” said Behn, who has worked and campaigned for Rep. Gloria Johnson.
However, Republicans have given a clear message.
“They’re trying to say their voices weren’t heard. You listen to them speak in committees all the time. Justin Pearson talks about almost every bill on the House floor. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns,” said Speaker Sexton.
At the time, Johnson acknowledged she knew she was breaking House rules by speaking out of turn. It’s a point Sexton has stressed in his argument to move forward with the expulsion.
“That wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to commandeer the House floor and take it over to lead a protest. That goes against all House rules,” Sexton said.
At the same time on Thursday, teachers across the state are staging a “sick out” exactly one week after chants for gun reform could be heard through the chamber door.
“I’m thinking tactically, almost as I’m going to war instead of just focusing on my job which is teaching academics, ” said Lucy Grunkemyer, a first-grade teacher in Nashville. “I’m a teacher, I wasn’t trained to be a police officer, and so I don’t feel comfortable carrying a firearm.”
Both protests are planned to start on Capitol Hill at 8 a.m. ahead of the legislative session.