By Jon Wolfe
NASHVILLE, TN — According to Joshua Graham Lynn, cofounder of the anticorruption organization RepresentUs, the group’s Unrig the System Summit in Nashville was a big-tent, non-partisan event.
Over two thousand came from across the U.S. to America’s largest democracy reform conference to learn, network and be inspired by numerous political activists, reform groups and concerned citizens gathering to fight what they say is the root-cause of political gridlock and injustice in America: big money and corruption.
Lynn says this political system serves corruption more than the American people who pay for it. The March 29-31 summit included over 85 workshops, 200-plus speakers, panels and entertainment to encourage participants to share solutions they learned here in their home states.
Nashville Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry welcomed attendees to Nashville at the opening event before introducing Mayor Briley. After welcoming everyone to Nashville, Briley got a laugh from the crowd when he joked about a city tax on beer to help fund schools. “Help education, drink more beer.”
Off stage, Gentry said he believes voter protection and reform initiatives at the summit could help African Americans; “When they talk about gerrymandering districts, that usually hurts people of color.” On restoring voting rights after people have repaid their debt to society, he said, “Unfortunately, we have the highest population in our jails and prisons. That’s a problem for our community and people of color… I also believe we need to be in the room when the discussion is taking place… Sometimes we just gotta jump in.”
Nashvillian Tequila Johnson spoke for a panel on corruption in Tennessee. She is the cofounder of Equity Alliance. “We believe in using our voting power in the fight for social justice and economic equity for communities of color.” With a background in project management and business development, she said her introduction to activism came through frustration. “I came into this work like everyone else who comes into this work; by sheer disappointment in the system and felt like I had to do something besides just being mad about it.”
She was excited to be at the conference. “As African Americans we’re always taught that issues are partisan. We’re never taught: how to leverage our power as a voting-bloc; how to achieve what we want to achieve; and get what we want out of the system. But everyone else does it… So to see a conference that’s talking about breaking down the political structure in a system, but doing it in a way that unites parties around issues, versus party politics as usual — I am all for it.”
Serving on the panel with Johnson was Nashville Council member Fabian Bedne who said, “Coming from Argentina, you citizens of this country have so much power, and they don’t want you to know you have it. If you don’t use it, then you’ve lost that power.”
Also at the three-day summit to “learn the issues, build skills and connect with peers” was RepresentUs cofounder Josh Silver.
He asked, “On whose behalf are these policies gonna be structured: on democracy’s side; questions of campaign finance; ethics and the revolving door between government service; and lobbying and disclosure laws? How are elections conducted? How are congressional districts drawn? These are all determined by policy. Are these policies going to be crafted in the public interest, or the interest of those in power? Unfortunately, in the history of our country, too often these policies are crafted by those in power at the expense of the public. So, we have to get the public engaged in the policy making… As Graham (cofounder Josh Graham Lynn) said in his remarks, ‘There have been more democratic reforms at state and local levels in 2018 than ever in the history of this country.’ There’s something powerful brewing and this Unrig Summit is at the nucleus of that fight.”
Silver noted major changes happen state by state in the U.S. The historic right to vote for women and marriage equity did not happen because of Washington, but because Americans created that change through education and citizen involvement.
Saturday evening, the conference presented Unrigged Live, with entertainment, speeches and presentation of The 2019 Courage Award to Stand Up Nashville Cochair Odessa Kelly. Stand Up Nashville is a coalition of community-based organizations and labor unions that represent the working people of Nashville.
Guest speakers included Emma Gonzalez of March for Our Lives, the student-led movement for stronger gun violence prevention. She says the NRA profits from every gun sold.
Why people attended took on a familiar tone, noted most by a woman who only identified herself as Lori. “I came because I want to save my country.”