Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones speaks on a bullhorn as he stands on the congressional floor, flanked by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville (left), and former Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis
Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones calls on his colleagues to pass gun control legislation from the well of the House Chambers during the legislative session at the State Capitol Thursday, March 30, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: George Walker IV /The Tennessean via AP

Reading this headline, you’d be forgiven for assuming this article is all about the madness in Tennessee. That’s part of it, but “Three the Hard Way” is really about three states displaying straight up fascism in our faces … potential precursors for nationwide strategies to destroy whatever little bit of democracy this land has left.

And what’s crazy is, Florida isn’t even part of this article’s “fun,” which should tell you from jump just how dire the situation is for folk who believe in the concepts of “We the People” and “Liberty and justice for all.” Because Florida … man.

But, let’s get to it.

Ece Temelkuran, author of “How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship,” offered these words we’d do well to heed: “Democracy doesn’t disappear overnight. Right-wing populism (fascism; autocracy) doesn’t goose-step into power fully formed. It creeps.”

She then laid out seven steps or phases democracy goes through on the road to fascist rule, where the will and voices of the people are no more; replaced by a leader and his violent supporters who want to “Make (fill in the blank county) great again. You can check out those seven steps here.

But just know, in these not-so-United States, all seven steps are already in progress. Or as Professor Griff said back in the day, “Armageddon, it been in effect. Go get a late pass. Step!” And below are just a few examples of those various steps, broadcasting for all the world to see that what folk once thought impossible is taking place right before our eyes. Yes, America is on the semi-fast track, riding the small bus, toward becoming a former democracy. Yet, it feels as if no one notices. And FYI, a whole bunch of people notice and are screaming warnings daily. But one of the seven steps is to “disrupt rationale,” so fascism’s supporters and their dimwitted minions challenge, doubt, discredit and dismiss those cries.

But for those who care, here are what I’m calling “Three the Hard Way;” three states offering insane proof that goose-stepping isn’t far behind.

Texas alphabet soup

Participants protest the TEA takeover of HISD.
Participants protest the TEA takeover of HISD. Photo by Aswad Walker.

The Texas Education Agency takeover of the Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in the state and one of the largest in the nation, is a test case for what a political minority can get away with. That political minority being right-wing neo-conservative white nationalists attempting a “hostile takeover” of a school district in the very “blue” Harris County/Houston that’s over 90% Black and Brown.

If this militia of believers in the myth of white supremacy can get away with taking control of HISD and divorcing accountability of public school administrators to the electorate – meaning the takeover administrators don’t answer to “We the People” because they weren’t elected by us, but rather appointed by one of their own klan – then they can do it anywhere.

Most HISD parents and teachers, as well as H-town community members, are absolutely against TEA’s move. However, arguments supporting the takeover made by a slim few progressive Black leaders and state lawmakers like State Rep. Harold Dutton whose legislation opened the door to such takeovers, are hard to hear because they do make sense.

Dutton contends HISD sat back and allowed mainly Black and Brown schools to fail our children horribly, and that he never imagined the district would let such miseducation continue ad nauseam for years. So, I get his point; his call for accountability. We’ve got to do better by our kids.

But I contend Dutton’s argument is the Trojan Horse being used by those who give zero Fs about HISD students, democracy, voting rights, equal access to healthcare or doing anything about the savage inequalities that have existed for eons in our education system.

And it’s no coincidence that the majority of folk who are cool with the TEA takeover are also cool with voter disenfranchisement, radical gerrymandering, 21st-century redlining, ongoing medical apartheid, stripping women of agency and control over decisions concerning their own bodies, ending state Diversity, Equity and Inclusion standards, rampant and unchecked criminal justice system brutality against Blacks and the Fahrenheit 451/Nazi-level burning of books and attacks on teachers for teaching basically anything Black.

Jackson, Mississippi apartheid

Maati Jone Primm, owner of Marshall’s Music & Bookstore in downtown Jackson, Miss., speaks about how proposals by the majority-white Mississippi Legislature would affect governance of the state’s majority-Black capital city. “It’s a land grab. It’s a resource grab,” Primm said. “It’s a way to disempower Jackson and its citizens, for its citizens not to have a say.”
Maati Jone Primm, owner of Marshall’s Music & Bookstore in downtown Jackson, Miss., speaks about how proposals by the majority-white Mississippi Legislature would affect governance of the state’s majority-Black capital city. “It’s a land grab. It’s a resource grab,” Primm said. “It’s a way to disempower Jackson and its citizens, for its citizens not to have a say.” (AP Photo)

Then, there’s Jackson.

During the early 1900s, coal miners often carried canaries with them as they went into the depths of the caves and mountains to do their work. The reason? If the canaries began to keel over and die (from invisible, poisonous gasses such as carbon monoxide), the miners knew conditions were too dangerous to stay underground, and they needed to get the hell outta dodge. The canaries served as their warning signal that life-threatening danger was close at hand.

Mississippi, and more specifically, Jackson, is our modern-day canary in this coal mine known as the U.S.

Mississippi is where a white super-majority in the heavily gerrymandered state house voted to create a white-appointed court system for the Blackest city in America, Jackson, where Blacks make up 83% of the population. What does this mean? It means that citizens of Jackson, Mississippi are being subjected to an entirely different court system than the rest of the state; one centered in the lily-whitest part of Jackson.

It’s separate, and for damn sure, unequal.

This gerrymandered (i.e. voter suppression-produced) white super-majority in the Mississippi state legislature also created an expanded police force that would be appointed completely by white state house officials.

So, just to make sure you’re keeping up: 1) whitefolk rigged the election system to give themselves political power far beyond their numbers; 2) they used that ill-gotten power to create a white-led court system in nearly all-Black Jackson; 3) this means, bottom line, that the voters of Jackson, which again is 83% Black, have no legal right in their city to elect the judges or prosecutors who will hold sway over their lives; 4) creating a political reality which is unlike what happens in every other part of the entire state.

The white-appointed Capitol Court almost guarantees that some of Mississippi’s historic fun facts will remain in place. What “fun” facts, you ask? The fact that white officials currently hold all four statewide positions that would do the actual appointing of the judges and prosecutors of this Capitol Court. The fact that despite Mississippi having the nation’s largest proportion of Black residents at 38%, no Black official has ever held any of those four positions.

The fact that no Black Mississippian has held any statewide elected office since the brief period of Reconstruction after the Civil War — a Reconstruction which ended in 1877. And the fact that even with Mississippi’s Black citizens accounting for well over 1/3 of the state, the state has been gerrymandered so severely that there’s only one Black congressman—US Rep. Bennie Thompson (chair of the Jan 6 Committee Hearings).

The Republican that introduced this “ain’t-this-some-BS” bill (for the separate court system for Jackson, which was approved by Mississippi lawmakers), said his reasoning was because of the high crime and backlog of court cases in Hinds County, the county that contains Jackson.

So, even though Jackson brings in the lion’s share of the state’s corporate and government dollars, like darn nearly every major urban city in every state, Republicans use Jackson as their “go-to” excuse for any problems impacting the state. Even though the state couldn’t survive without the economic engine that Jackson is. And even though many of Jackson’s issues (hello jacked up water system) are most often the result of purposeful underfunding and under-resourcing by — you guessed it — those lily-white Republicans who take Jackson’s money and the money from the federal government earmarked for Jackson, and they keep it for themselves, Brett Favre-style; Mississippi lawmakers still blame all their problems on Jackson.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba labeled the bill which is now Mississippi law “colonialist and racist” and that it reminds him of South African apartheid. And for good reason. This special court system and special district in Jackson means that the Black majority will be, by power of law, ruled over by the white minority, while Mississippi’s anti-democratic system is guarded by the police force and judges hand-picked by the white legislators.

“This particular law is fraught with constitutional violations (of) equal protection,” said Lumumba, during a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “The ReidOut with Joy-Ann Reid.” “It is seeking to create a district which is the most densely white populated area in the city of Jackson, in addition to a militarized (police) force that does not have direct accountability to the residents. Within the district that already exists, there have been numerous claims of issues of police misconduct that are not being challenged, that are not being followed up on. So, there’s a multitude of concerns here.”

Again, if that sounds like 1980-era apartheid Pretoria, South Africa, that’s because it’s the same set-up. It’s the same game plan. Secure political power by any means necessary. Pack the judiciary with apartheid-loving judges. Pay for a militarized police force that is incentivized to protect the unfair, unequal and unjust system because their salary, raises, careers and way of life depend upon its maintenance. Control all policies and purse strings. Yet, blame all problems on the Blacks.

Oh yeah, another Mississippi fun fact: In 1890, Mississippi, the Magnolia State – also the poorest of all 50 states – enacted a racist constitution to strip African Americans of any rights gained during Reconstruction; rights Blacks used to vote like crazy and elect folk at the local and state level who looked like them and had Blackfolk’s interests at heart. Just one generation removed from enslavement proper, these sisters and brothers were changing their reality via the power of the vote. And then changes in the state Constitution ended all that.

And I’ll be damned if Mississippi ain’t doing the same thing right now — in a state with the highest percentage of Black residents.

Lumumba explained this madness further and shared the reasoning given by the white officials for stealing Black voting power and Black voices — in a supposed democracy.

“Along with that history was a narrative that said that it was in Black people’s interest not to be ‘burdened’ with the heavy weight of having to select electoral leadership, much in the same way that they created this district that they set to appoint,” Lumumba summarized.

So, you see, just like those whites who defended the institution of slavery, these modern-day Mississippi overseers used the same logic — “We just want what’s best for our ni**ers. That’s all.”

But they didn’t stop there. They then took the “caucasity” up a notch.

Lumumba said the state legislator who introduced this legislation suggested that the reason he thought these judges tasked with ruling over Jackson should be appointed rather than elected by Black Jackson residents is because the white lawmakers who gerrymandered the state’s districts to steal political power away from Blacks really just wanted “the best of the best,” which is to suggest that Jackson residents aren’t smart or savvy enough to choose their own representatives.

And all this in the same state where Lowndes County exists; the county that was on the front lines fighting to win Black people the right to vote during the 1960s (and the same county that gave us that Black Panther image later adopted by Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and crew out in Oakland, California).

So, what does all this have to do with canaries in a coal mine?

Mississippi (or more specifically, Jackson) is the canary. It’s the warning to Blackfolk (and any other folk who give a damn about justice, equality, democracy, etc.). Why? Because Jackson is a microcosm of America and has become demographically what America is fast becoming—a place where whites are in the minority. And the Mississippi apartheid lawmakers are laying out the playbook, the gameplan, the SOP (standard operating procedure) for how the entire majority Black/Brown nation can remain under minority white rule. It’s enough to make Nina Simone scream, “Mississippi Goddamn!”

We’ve already seen moves in that direction. The overturning of the teeth of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 via the Shelby Co. vs. Holder decision. The Jan. 6 insurrection to discount, throw out and/or totally ignore Black votes that swung four key states to Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Voter ID laws to protect against the almost nonexistent voter fraud and thereby minimize Black votes. State GOP pushback against programs that increase voter turnout — Souls to the Polls, mail-in ballots, 24-hour voting, drive-thru voting, etc.

We’ve seen this white nationalist snowball growing steadily into an avalanche of oppression. The Jackson apartheid court system is but an early example of what GOP members seek to make a growing trend that eventually becomes the norm.

And these insidious minions believe that if they can steal Blackfolk’s political power in broad daylight, in the Blackest city in the Blackest state in the nation, and get away with it, they can do it anywhere, any time.

The canary is keeling over. And Blackfolk, we better act fast. Because our ability to fight back will be insanely diminished under an apartheid system. Hell, it took an entire global movement of multiple decades to semi-end apartheid in South Africa. And that was only because Blackfolk forced the US to stand against it. But what happens when it’s the US that’s the biggest apartheid bully on the block?

Mississippi Goddamn!

Tennessee travesties

Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones calls on his colleagues to pass gun control legislation from the well of the House Chambers during the legislative session at the State Capitol Thursday, March 30, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones calls on his colleagues to pass gun control legislation from the well of the House Chambers during the legislative session at the State Capitol Thursday, March 30, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. (George Walker IV /The Tennessean via AP)

Yo Blackfolk, we need some allies, some no limit soldiers, some volunteers. But we may be outta luck looking for any from the Volunteer State.

In Tennessee, a state lawmaker called for reinstituting death by firing squad as a death penalty method. One of his colleagues then gleefully added an amendment to that bill to revive hanging folk from trees (also known as lynching) as a legal way to execute folk.

More recently, three Tennessee lawmakers (Reps. Gloria Johnson, Knoxville; Justin Jones, Nashville; and Justin Pearson, Memphis), who were standing with their constituents during a demonstration calling for gun control to stop the nation’s epidemic of mass shootings, were 1) declared by their legislative peers as “insurrectionists,” 2) kicked off their legislative committees, 3) had their mics cut off so they couldn’t speak before the legislature, 4) had their legislative voting machines disabled so they and their 80,000-plus constituents had not voice, 5) suffered the indignity of having their ID badges deactivated so they couldn’t get back in the Capitol Building and 6) were facing a vote in the Tennessee House by their GOP colleagues who sought to expel them from the state legislature altogether.

But just in case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past few hours, spoiler alert, the Tennessee House that is entertaining legalizing lynching expelled two of the three Democrtac lawmakers. And you already known which two – the bruhs. So, even in the process of destroying democracy and displaying their slavish devotion to the gun lobby and its money, those racist-ass crackers in the Tennessee House still managed to send the message that maintaining their adherence to the myth of white supremacy by sparing the white lady state rep (who did all the same things they booted the bruhs for) was top priority.

Tennessee, the state that birthed the KKK, never expelled a state legislator that was a member of that white domestic terrorism organization; never expelled the known pedophile members… and I could go on with degenerate Tennessee lawmakers who were never kicked out of that state house. But these two brothers were expelled because they 1) spoke when they weren’t “supposed” to, 2) spoke loudly (with a bullhorn) and 3) spoke up and spoke out with and for the people they represented against gun violence.

These brothers (Jones and Pearson) have been harassed by their lawmaker peers every day they’ve been in those supposedly hallowed halls. Jones shared that he was called a “f*cking disgrace” by a fellow lawmaker while. He also shared another white nationalist Tennessee elected official told him he should assimilate and become “one of us.” And yet another told him he should be thankful that he’s in the House.

Well, because Jones and Pearson didn’t shuffle and buckdance and prove how “grateful” they were for being “allowed” in the big house, they were deemed “uppity,” one of the most dangerous “crimes” trhat can be committed by Blackfolk – to recognize your own humanity, value and worth, and walk in that unashamedly, using your voice as you see fit and refusing to laugh when nothing’s funny, refusing to scratch when nothing itches and refusing to dance when the tune being played is the maintenance of the myth of white supremacy.

Tennessee GOP lawmakers, who enjoy a super-majority, charged the three lawmakers with insurrection, surely a purposeful twist as most of them believe the J6 real insurrectionists were guilty of nothing but being aryan patriots. One GOPer said the three Dems conducted a “mutiny.” But please believe, those words were really directed at the Black men, because Black men doing anything deemed distasteful by the whyts are viewed as criminal … and treated accordingly.

What in the name of “world’s greatest democracy” are “We the People” allowing to transpire right in front of our eyes?

And there isn’t enough room on them “innernets” to even begin to include in this article the madness that is Florida… as in DeSantis’ hostile takeover of a progressive college, creation of its Election Crimes and Security Act or the GOP lawmaker-authored bill seeking to eradicate Florida’s Democratic Party and force more than four million voters to register with a different party or be unaffiliated. Just to name a few.

Why aren’t more people outraged?

Getty Images

You’d think justice and equality-loving folk across the country would be screaming holy hell that democracy is not only under attack, its bleeding out! The crazy thing is, they are screaming. But no one dare take seriously the implications. Not even the screamers.

Not the activists and concerned citizens who are sounding the alarm. Not the politicians who call out the madness from their cushioned, front row seats. Not the scholars who make connections between our current reality and historical horrors past. And not the media, not even the most “progressive” or “liberal” among them, who report on the things causing the catastrophe as if they are normal issues, when they are not… or even abnormal issues, but with an underlying tone that assumes everything’s “gonna be aight.”

And certainly not those millions who align themselves with the grifters and shysters who out of the side of their neck claim to be law-loving patriots, yet, whose actions show them to be the of the same cloth as those in the past who greased the wheels of fascism’s arrival in their respective lands.

Any one of the examples provided above from any one of the states listed would be enough to cause a national panic just a few years ago. But the GOP and their state media arm have done such an incredibly efficient job of destroying the already very shaky pillars upon which any level of “normalcy” rested, that this very serious, very dangerous, very real madness is viewed with a nonchalance reminiscent of that one character who’s in every horror movie ever made.

You know, the one who swears up and down there’s zero danger, and that folk who are worried are just trippin’. That is, until dude gets got. Then, it’s too late.

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Aswad WalkerAssociate Editor

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...