ideo of Georgia Rep. Park Cannon being dragged from the state Capitol spread quickly across social media last week. The sight of the young queer Black woman, a duly elected member of the state legislature, violently arrested for knocking on the governor’s office door shocked many.
In a recent interview, Cannon told Don Lemon she was terrified and afraid at the time of the arrest. But she felt transparency was important given the rushed nature of the bill.
Cannon shared that as the House Democratic caucus secretary, “it has always been my job to take minutes and to be present to witness bill signings.” Gov. Brian Kemp instead chose to quickly sign the bill, behind closed doors, in the presence of six white male legislators under a picture of a notorious slave plantation.
The arrest bore a striking resemblance to the arrest of then state Sen. Nikema Williams at the Capitol during a special session in December 2018. Williams now represents the 5th Congressional District, a seat previously held by the late John Lewis.
Two years ago, Cannon’s House colleague Rep. Renitta Shannon went viral after an impassioned speech against an unconstitutional six-week abortion ban. Shannon refused to yield the House well after her time ran out. Georgia does not have the filibuster, and Shannon felt it was the only thing she could do at that moment. Shannon recently told Roland Martin that it’s not uncommon for elected officials to witness bill signings.
Elected in February 2016, Cannon succeeded former state Rep. Simone Bell. Bell said watching Cannon’s arrest was traumatizing.
“When they grabbed her, I don’t even have a word for it,” recalled Bell. “[But] I knew immediately, this is wrong. This should not be happening.”
Bell said she thought back to the history of Black legislators from the Georgia Capitol after the civil war. And then thought about the history of Black and queer organizers.
“I saw myself at Park’s age standing up for things that I believed were right,” said Bell.
Like Cannon, young Black legislators are the vanguard against some of the worst legislation in the country. Not burdened by respectability politics and rules of decorum, these legislators center equity injustice and are fighting to protect democracy.
In Florida, a new trifecta is making its voice heard in the statehouse. Reps. Angie Nixon, Travaris McCurdy, and Michele K. Rayner-Goolsby left it all on the House floor last week during the debate on H.B. 1
The Florida House debated H.B. 1, an anti-protest bill backed by Governor Ron DeSantis, for close to five hours before its passage. All newly elected representatives, the “trifecta” did not mince words on the harmful impact on communities traditionally seeking justice.
“Some of our greatest moments in this nation are rooted in protest,” Nixon exclaimed. “This bill is designed to keep us fearful. To keep us in check.”
“Let’s be honest, y’all know this bill is bad,” Rayner-Goolsby said, pointing to her colleagues in the chamber. “But deep down, we know that this bill will only increase the number of people in prison.” She called out the bill’s unfunded mandate that would shift the financial burden to local governments and constituents.
Rayner-Goolsby continued her floor remarks to highlight the importance of protest for marginalized communities. “There’s something I gotta let you understand today, as that when it comes to Black lives, Brown lives and LGBTQ lives, in many cases, protesting has been the only tool at our disposal to bring injustices to light,” Rayner Goolsby said.
McCurdy said the bill reeked of a new Jim Crow. “Words did not free slaves,” McCurdy began. “Words did not give women the right to vote. Words did not end Jim crow. And in order for this country to attempt to live up to its full potential, it took protests, civil disobedience, generation after generation.”
Similar to the wave of anti-voting rights bills popping up in statehouses across the country, anti-protest bills increased as well. Republicans like those in Florida used the Jan. 6 insurrection as a pretense to further criminalize Black and Brown organizers’ actions.
“I’ve seen a surge and what we’re calling anti-protest legislation, which for the record, is voter suppression,” said Jamecia Decree, the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project’s manager of political partnerships. “They want to suppress our vote, and then they want to criminalize how we respond.”
Nixon told NewsOne that it’s important to keep speaking up so that hopefully, the next generation will not have to fight so hard. She said the bills fast-tracked in Florida and across the country put Black lives at risk.
“From the attack on our first amendment rights, raiding trust funds that assist communities with affordable housing, attempts to make school boards less diverse and more elitist and continually allowing tax breaks and corporate welfare for big businesses, it’s clear these policies are designed to keep the working class and Black and Brown people hopeless, disenfranchised and afraid to use their voices to fight for equality,” Nixon explained.
She wants to end the cycle so that Black, Brown, and other impacted communities aren’t just surviving but thriving. “We deserve to flourish,” said Nixon. “We deserve to rest. It’s what our ancestors always wanted.”