News on the Ground

News on the Ground

by | Apr 22, 2024 | From the Campaign Trail

“Tennessee is just so red. It feels hopeless.”

I’ve been canvassing for several weeks now and hearing that a lot, just as I did when I was running for State House in 2022. Then as now, I’d reply that Tennessee isn’t a red state—it’s a nonvoting state. As if to prove me right, Tennessee was last for voter turnout that year.

But in 2022 I never had a single person at the doorstep ask, “What can I do to help?” This year, I’ll bet I’ve been asked ten times already.

Everything feels different on the ground this year. That’s what I tell people who are looking at Tennessee from ten thousand feet.

I ran into one of them last weekend. He stopped me because he liked my T-shirt (“Want democracy? Vote for it.”) and we got to talking. He mentioned that he was born in Chattanooga and went to Vanderbilt but now lives in Connecticut. Then he shook his head and said, “What happened to Tennessee?” 

CNN just ran a primetime special with that title. The AtlanticBloomberg, and AP News have documented our state government’s steep antidemocratic slide. In the year since the Covenant School shootings, the whole country is paying attention to what’s happening in Tennessee.  

And so, finally, are Tennesseans. 

They’ve watched on social media as the Republican supermajority in our state legislature pushes deeply unpopular laws and stifles the voices of their friends and neighbors. The more outrageous the behavior—requiring a “guest pass” to sit in the public viewing gallery of the State House, dispatching state troopers to remove peaceful protestors—the more Tennesseans are paying attention. 

That trickle-down effect takes a while. 

I was running for State House the first time when Tennessee’s total abortion ban became law. I was sure women would be up in arms. But when I knocked doors, it was clear that most voters—even women—didn’t understand the law or how extreme it is. 

It’s clear now that the voters understand a lot of things. That’s why so many of them are asking, “What can I do to help?”  

All across Tennessee, people are stepping up and pushing back. They’re volunteering for a campaign for the first time, or even running for office themselves. Democrats haven’t had this many State House candidates since 2004. This year all four Republican state reps in Hamilton County have a Democratic challenger. In 2022 I was the only one.

People power never looks powerful until, “suddenly,” it is.

Take last week’s historic vote at Chattanooga’s VW plant. After trying and failing to unionize in 2014 and 2019, and despite intense political intimidation by Republican state and county officials, hourly workers there voted to join the UAW. It was the first successful union election at a southern auto plant since 1940. And it was a landslide.

It can be tough work on the ground. But that’s where you’ll feel the earth moving beneath your feet.

If you’ve been wondering “What can I do to help?” please join my campaign. You can volunteer, donate, or request a yard sign.