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The People's Plaza by Justin Jones

2022, Vanderbilt University Press


This book is a witness and a guide to non-violent resistance against racism and injustice.


Justin Jones is one of two Black members of the Tennessee House of Representatives temporarily expelled after participating in a protest for more gun control after a mass-shooting at a school in Nashville in March 2023. (Read an update on that story here.)


Jones' book The People's Plaza recounts the racial justice protest he organized in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, a 62-day sit-in of non-violent resistance outside the Tennessee State Capitol.


Suppression


The protest was met with unjustified arrests, deceitful tactics and violent suppression, but the protesters, while exhausted by the intense heat and dwindling in number as the risks increased, maintained a presence for two months.


Solidarity


Before that, though, a rare moment of unexpected solidarity at a pre-rally at the Capitol gave a glimpse of what is possible if we could all resist together. The Capitol, meant to be the people's House, was lined on one side by National Guard, helmets flipped down over their eyes, shields in front, and state troopers, with their sticks. On the other side were protesters and supporters. Justin addressed the crowd saying,

"We are nonviolent, we are peaceful...my question to these National Guards and troopers is; Will you lay your swords and shields down? Will you lay your burdens down? Will you lay your weapons down?"

Much to his and everyone's total shock, members of the National Guard flipped up the face barriers on their helmets and dropped their shields. (p 29)


Good Old Boys


But according to Justin's lawyer Nick Leonardo, Justin was seen as a "threat...to the good ol' boys network and the way of doing things." (p 154)


At the end of the protest Justin realized that "it is impossible to beat them at a game in which they control the rules and determine who wins and who loses," (155) but that's why resistance is vital and must continue.


Activist Diane Nash said, "Remember what we are doing is important. We are doing this for generations yet unborn." (p 157)



 

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