Justin Jones

By Stephen Elliott

Local activist and divinity student Justin Jones has been mostly quiet since filing paperwork last week to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) in the Democratic primary next year. 

That changed Monday when Jones and supporters gathered at Fisk University for a press conference with local media. Jones, though rarely mentioning his opponent’s name, criticized Cooper and other Nashville leaders as out-of-touch beneficiaries of family wealth and status. 

“We’re going to the places that they have refused to touch,” Jones said. “We’re going to campaign at the bus station. We’re going to campaign in communities where they will not go. We’re not going down to the chamber, because that’s not our people. We’re not going down to these dinners where you have to pay $200. We’re going to where people are and that is in communities like this, North Nashville.”

Jones’ campaign platform, detailed on a newly launched website, includes support for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, eliminating student debt, offering higher wages and ending mass incarceration. 

Jones, who turns the constitutionally mandated age of 25 next year, was born more than a decade after Cooper was first elected to Congress. Since news broke last week that Jones planned to run against Cooper, people “who are afraid of changing the status quo” have called to discourage him, Jones said, though he declined to name any of them. 

“We’re not going to the same gatekeepers in the community who’ve tried to keep us out of this system for so long,” Jones said. “We’re going to the people who are directly impacted by the issues.”

Before Jones took the microphone, supporters including civil rights leader Rip Patton, Medicare for All activist Carol Paris, divinity student and DACA recipient Brenda Perez and Fisk student organizer Jonelle Christopher publicly backed his candidacy.

“I’ve got your back,” said Patton, a Freedom Rider. “Regardless of what happens, you’ve got to start sometime.”

A Vanderbilt University School of Divinity student, Jones said he has already started receiving donations and that he will not build a traditional campaign hierarchy. One of the contacts listed on his FEC filing, Green New Deal activist Eli Motycka, is among the group of younger organizers helping Jones with the campaign. 

“We have a lot of leaders with a lot of book experience: They know the statistics, they have degrees, but they don’t know the experience of what its like for average working class people in this district,” Jones said. “They don’t know what it’s like to have student loan debt, because they inherited millions. They don’t know what it’s like to catch the bus to work. … They don’t know what that’s like, so we need leaders who know, not just about what their donors want but about what the people they represent want.”