Give them some credit...Tennessee Democratic Party Organizing and Outreach Director S. Prescott Harris II and Deputy Communications Director Kortney Toney came on their own accord.
A meeting to plan for a visit by national political activist Nina Turner, president of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign affiliated political group Our Revolution, morphed into a question and answer session about Tennessee Democratic Party support, or the lack thereof, for progressive politics and causes by the end.
I had primarily come to kill time before Feminist Trivia Night began at Lipstick Lounge. My morning had been spent watching friends of mine confront haters in Memphis and I was ready for less drama.
That didn’t happen…
A room full of progressives came to hear plans for establishing a local chapter of Our Revolution, “the next step for the Bernie Sanders’ movement,” according to the meeting’s Facebook post. The meeting was to cover the logistics of Ms. Turner’s February 23rd visit to Nashville and lay the groundwork for furthering local progressive politics and activism.
The presenters see this event doing for local progressive causes what the Reverend Billy Graham rally did for local protestant churches back in 2000. I would guess the majority of the attendees felt so too based on the reactions I witnessed.
“We need to push hard and recruit!” shouted the main speaker to the receptive audience. “We need the Berniecrats to push the Democratic Party...because they won’t move if we are not fully awake and pushing and speaking up for the working classes. We need to DO something for these people!”
After the applause died down...the representative for the Tennessee Activist Coalition stepped up and proved she did not need a microphone to be overheard by the back of the room.
“We’re looking at 2018 and this is a super-oppressive red state,” she said...loudly. “I have been a professional protester since the 1970’s and this has been the most hostile environment for us here in Tennessee that I have ever seen...but I have something to tell you people. Ready? LOOK AT WHAT THEY DID IN ALABAMA!!!”
And the crowd went wild.
She continued...loudly: “Don’t forget the South! Don’t count us out! We’re going to show you what we’re going to DO! How many of you were crying last year? (Many hands go up) Well, we made it for a year without the world blowing up. Now let’s go tell those who count the South out a simple message. LOOK AT ALABAMA! This is what we’re capable of...JUST WATCH US!”
The applause dies down and the regular speaker comes back...not as loudly. He says that the February event will not charge an admission fee but will take donations online and at the door, so feel free to invite friends and family.
I scan the phone for messages from my trivia partner as the speaker continues on with his speech about how they legally cannot endorse a particular candidate during the event and only sell a position.
What makes me stop looking for new hate mail from my editor is when he tells us a local college has offered to go all out to make sure their students come to the event, granting incentives to those who attend and potentially ensuring a packed house.
The speaker then asks if anyone has questions?
First one out of the box: What does the Tennessee Democratic Party feel about this effort?
The speaker points out that he does not know that answer, but there were people in attendance who might be able to answer that question in private. He points, all heads swivel...and Mr. Harris and Ms. Toney look as if they want to dive under their folding chairs.
(Yeah, I felt bad for them too. They were not expecting that. I think the speaker would ask for a do-over if he had the chance to do it again.)
After a bit of polite applause and feverish tail-wagging by the service dog seated in the row in front of me, Harris took the proffered microphone.
He said that he had come to the meeting as a fellow concerned citizen and not in an official capacity as a party representative. Harris felt that it did not matter where anyone was as a Democrat in that room or in the party “because at the end of the day we all want our kids to be better off than the parents are.”
“We’ve got to do better,” Harris explained. “We have got to stop letting people faction us into different groups. We are ALL Democrats so get involved somewhere. We are more inclusive everyday with representation across the board...and what we really need to do is to just stop all the negativity. I am asking everyone here to just find your place and let's go turn Tennessee blue.”
More polite applause and tail-wagging...a little louder this time.
Some members of the audience asked questions. I was not fully identified a member of the press to the attendees, so I will be tactful. The questions were mostly about prior presidential campaign and a perceived lack of support by the state party apparatus for Bernie Sanders and local progressive politics in general. They wanted to know where the state leadership stood?
Mr. Harris looked a little nervous, but he rose to the occasion. He said that he could only speak to this meeting as a private citizen but asked anyone present who harboured doubts about the state party or its leadership to take a hard look at the party’s website and its stances on the major issues.
They work with the moderates inside the party, Harris said. But he and many others in the leadership do support what the majority inside that room were trying to accomplish.
Ms. Courtney then stepped up next to tell the audience that they would be happy to entertain any questions or concerns in private (and to their credit, they did so for the rest of the meeting.)
I left soon after...my afternoon now shot with a real story to file, follow-ups to be made with party officials, no word from my trivia partner, and a discouraging feeling that I was about to enter the feminist lions den. My knowledge of feminist literature was scanty at best. Lipstick Lounge was about to become my Bleak House.
The aftermath: partner didn't show and I competed against a team named “Dyke, Dyke, Goose”...my pre-transition related ignorance in full display for all to see.
Bleak House indeed.
For more information about the upcoming visit to Nashville by Nina Turner, please visit the world’s longest hashtag #politicalrevolutioniscomingnashville
We haven't found anything under that tag yet, but hey!...it’s early.