By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Justin Jones, 26, has joined the District 52 State House of Representatives race.
The office represents East and Southeast Nashville, which for the first time is a majority minority area.
Media sensationalism has, in many ways, cast Jones as an activist; some have branded him a troublemaker.
But Jones is quick to point out that he’s more than the youthful agitator he’s been typecast to be. “I’m a whole person,” he stated, noting his ministry service and community work with Nashville Civil Rights legends Diane Nash and the late Rip Patton, among others.
“I get portrayed as angry … but I’m doing it out of love, not anger,” he said. “We must root all we do in love and justice.”
Jones is concerned the Republican supermajority’s grip on Tennessee is doing irreparable harm with their support of legislation aimed at silencing the voice of dissent.
Specifically, Jones said, examples include the increase of arrest penalties on protestors to include a felony charge and a bill that would decriminalize the running over of protesters with vehicles; Jones was part of the effort that defeated the bill before it could become law.
“A small minority has hijacked our government,” he remarked. “They control every branch, but how has your life improved?”
He noted Tennessee’s nearly 70 percent approval rating for Medicare expansion, high poverty rate and rural hospital closure rate; the Volunteer State has the highest percentage per capita of rural hospital closures.
He also lamented lawmakers who “take luxuries while denying the rights” of workers, aided by distraction with the goal of class division.
Jones said he’s sought to directly challenge those divisions, walking 273 miles from Bell Haven, North Carolina to Nashville to bring awareness to the spate of rural hospital closures felt more deeply in light of the pandemic. Jones also lent his support to Insure Tennessee during Monroe County’s hospital strikes and walked with Mayor Mike Bell in solidarity.
Jones said he respected the work of Rep. Stewart and hopes to expand on the issues facing the 52nd District, including transportation, gentrification, communication and environmental justice. If elected, he plans to hold what he calls “D52 Day on the Hill” to help constituents exercise their right to be heard. “It’s the People’s House,” he stated.
“Nashville has been changed by young people before, and it’s our time again,” Jones said, referencing the elders who came before him, themselves part of the iconic Student Movement of the 1960s.
“The false power is collapsing.”