Not Afraid: Nashville, Chattanooga Progressives March Against Fear

Marching by the Frist CenterAs David Letterman used to say, I’m tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.

I was one of about 100 men, women, and children who turned up the heat for justice and love in today’s March Against Fear at the Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville.

The marchers, who came from Nashville, Chattanooga, and other Tennessee towns, united in the steamy temperatures to walk two miles to the state legislature building to call for an end to hate and violence. Initially, the march and rally were set to honor those fallen in last month’s Charleston, SC massacre, but a tribute to the five military members lost in the July 16 mass shooting in Chattanooga was incorporated into the event.

Bethel AME plaqueA nondenominational prayer service at the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on South Street in Music City energizeed us for the day’s task.  Speakers included the Rev. Samuel L. Green, Bethel’s pastor and the Rev. Brian Merritt of the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga. Both were impressive, as they spoke movingly of the need for unity and love in the fight against hatred and intolerance.

AT bameOne of the most stirring portions of the prayer service was when Drost Kokoye, a young Muslim woman from Nashville, came to the front of the church and spoke of being blamed by some because the suspect in the Chattanooga killings happens to be Muslim.

“I and my community bear this burden and we have to walk around with a target on our heads and constantly play the role of  ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It wasn’t us. This isn’t us, this isn’t what we believe,’” she said earnestly. “I left my house this morning to come here and the first thing my dad said to me was, ‘Who do we call when you don’t come home?’

“Because that’s a reality.”

When Drost finished speaking, I made a beeline to her. After thanking her for her heartfelt words, we embraced and shared a few minutes sharing stories about being progressive activists often cast in the exhausting, often frightening role as “other.” What a privilege it was to be with her; I hope to work with Drost in the future.

petition2Finally, it was time to take to the streets. First, as we assembled outside under the scorching sun (kudos to the people of Bethel AME, who implored us to hydrate and provided plenty of water) to sign a petition going to Gov. Bill Haslam and other state leaders and calling for the removal of racist Confederate iconography from government and public-funded spaces. Then we took off for the two-mile walk through Nashville’s streets.

As we pounded the pavement, we chanted and sang about love, about democracy, about freedom. Officers from the Metro Nashville Police Department were out in force — respectful, professional, kind.

Marching by the Frist CenterWhen we reached the federal building on Broadway, march organizer Justin Jones, a most impressive young man studying political science at Fisk University, stopped us. Then and there, employing Occupy Wall Street mic checking, he led us in calling for an independent investigation into the death of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman who was treated brutally by a Texas State trooper during a traffic stop (the officer is now on desk duty for violating department policy).  Days after being arrested and jailed, Bland was found dead in what police called a suicide. In a nation where Michael Browns, Freddie Grays, and Tamir Rices appear with alarming frequency, it’s no wonder that many don’t believe that story. Justin noted that Bland was a day away from starting a brand new job, making her, he said, unlikely to want to kill herself.

Hecklers showed up at this time. Rude comments poured out of an SUV driven by a frowning man.

“We love you,” we shouted back. “God bless you! ” A couple of us flashed him peace signs.

I love progressives.

Increasingly tired from the heat, we moved forward, and before long, the spire atop the State Capitol was in sight. The chants began again with a new energy:

“The new Jim Crow has got to go.”

The littlest activist knocks for justice.“This is what democracy looks like.” We pointed to the marchers, striding proudly under the scorching sun.

“This is what hypocrisy looks like.” We turned our pointing fingers toward the home of the Tennessee legislature.

In a nod to historic progressive protest, we marched to the door of the Capitol, and each of us knocked on the door seven times. One young mother lifted her young baby to knock. (Good work, Mom.)

We Shall OvercomeThen, we assembled in the square in front of the stately building, clasped hands, and sang “We Shall Overcome.” We again remembered Charleston’s Emanuel Nine and the soldiers whose lives were taken in Chattanooga. We reveled in our diverse progressive community. We hung on to every word spoken by passionate clergy persons and activists, including Justin and Drost, as they talked of justice and perseverance and unity, of the need to drown hatred with love, of our commitment to fight until victory comes.

And we shouted into the steaming air: “I believe that love will win.”

We shall overcome someday.

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