Not-So-Silent Protest

When a Tennessee senator’s husband became physically aggressive towards peaceful protestors, their plan for a silent protest had to change.

Senator Mae Beavers, of Tennessee’s 17th district, is causing quite a stir. She has sponsored several harmful bills — including SB0771, Tennessee’s version of the bathroom bill; SB0272, which would require the DOS to print “ALIEN” on drivers licenses for people who are not permanent U.S. citizens; and SB0752, which would enact the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act” enforcing the policy that marriage is only between a man and a woman, regardless of any court decision to the contrary. She has also made statements falsely claiming that Muslims are infiltrating churches in the Bible Belt and planning a jihad, and announced that she believes all protesters should be imprisoned, incorrectly claiming that this belief is backed up by the constitution.

Instead of doing her job and speaking with the Tennessee citizens that she represents, Senator Mae Beavers has run away from press conferences when people began asking questions, blocked people who tweet at her to ask when she will hold a town hall, and demanded that the sergeant at arms and state troopers remove and arrest peaceful protesters from her office — to no avail, as they are clearly protected under the first amendment.

Laura and Rosa, Tennessee citizens, silently protesting outside Senator Mae Beavers’ office

On Tuesday, a small group of about a dozen concerned citizens — including two of the senator’s own constituents — went to the senator’s Nashville office in Legislative Plaza to attempt to schedule an appointment in person. The plan was to get the senator to give them at least a few minutes of her time, and if she refused, they would place tape over their mouths and hold a silent protest in her office. This plan didn’t fully come to fruition, as the senator’s receptionist was instantly on the defensive, being rude and unhelpful to the group. Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally then showed up and invited the group to his office to speak with him.

Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally meets with his constituents.

In the Lieutenant Governor’s office, there was a productive, polite discussion where the group asked him to make a statement saying that no peaceful protestors would be arrested, in alignment with the Tennessee State Constitution, as well as the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Lieutenant Governor did not commit to that, but did assure the group that he hoped everything would remain peaceful on both sides.

Four of the protesters, including three students from Fisk University, decided to go back to Mae Beavers’ office and wait to see if she would have some free time. They were hopeful, especially after the Lieutenant Governor had made space in his busy schedule to meet with them. After waiting patiently, the senator returned from her lunch, apparently having made her next appointment wait 20 minutes past when they were scheduled. A man who was later identified as Jerry Beavers, the senator’s husband, was with her and stayed in the outer office, where he began aggressively questioning the four protesters about who they were and why they thought they could be there, while leaning over them threateningly.

After the senator finished her meeting, Justin Jones stood up to try and ask the senator for a moment of her time, stating that other people had been able to come and go from the office, and he should be able to, as well. Mr. Beavers grabbed Justin roughly by the arm, and a state trooper instantly got between them. The group was visibly angered and shaken — all four were people of color, and told the trooper that they knew if one of them had grabbed someone like that, they would have been “knocked on their ass and removed.” The office door then opened again, and Justin grabbed his sign to show the senator. As he approached, Mr. Beavers grabbed the sign and attempted to rip it out of Justin’s hands. It read,

“@Senator Beavers! We are here because we love you, too! Bigotry hurts the oppressor AND the oppressed.”

Senator Beavers and her staff have been attempting to claim these protestors are hateful and violent — but it is becoming more and more clear that these claims are not only lies, but a projection of their own ways of operating. Luckily, this has not disheartened these brave Tennesseeans. As it became clear they were not going to make any headway with the senator that day, they left the office, cheerfully chanting, “We’ll be back!”

Three concerned Tennessee citizens — Rosa, Justin, and Dameneke — waiting for Senator Beavers.

On Tuesday the 7th of March, this group will return to try and make their voices heard again. If there are other concerned Tennesseans who are interested in showing up to add their voices to others, every Monday there are “We Are Watching” rallies during legislative session. For more information on these protests and others ways to get involved, like “We Are Watching — Tennessee” on Facebook.