Women’s March attendee Kristin Llamas speaks to children Crimson, Jazzi, Lily and Zailah about women’s history and the importance of taking part in democracy. Photos by Ashley Benkarski

By Ashley Benkarski

MURFREESBORO, TN — Organizers of the Tennessee Women’s March made a bold decision to move the annual event from Nashville’s Public Square Park to the streets of downtown Murfreesboro Sat., Jan. 18.

Though rainy weather derailed some planned activities people still attended planned training sessions with organizers and congregated at The Walnut House, 116 Walnut St., to move indoors while others marched to Murfreesboro’s Civic Plaza. 

The move is an attempt at rural voter outreach, a demographic that could be critical to Democrats’ plan to end the 12-year-long state power trifecta Republicans currently hold.

A march participant signs up to volunteer for voter outreach activities at the Walnut House.

Metropolitan districts such as Nashville are often safe zones for Democratic candidates, but organizers are seeking to turn the political tide in areas where their messages often aren’t heard. One way they’re doing that is educating attendees on strategies including social media posts, writing postcards to state legislators and relational organizing, which relies on person-to-person conversations with someone the participants already know to translate into political action.

The event, organized by Women’s March Tennessee – Power Together, featured partnerships with Black Voters Matter Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Nashville Peace and Justice Center, TN Anti-Racist Network and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others. Over 180 similar events took place across the nation to advocate for equality and women’s rights, an annual occurrence that began when President Donald Trump’s Inauguration took place in 2016.

Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment Jan. 15, an act that should have made it constitutional. But the Department of Justice recently denied its ratification, citing an expired deadline that was attached to the amendment’s preamble. Since the late 1970s, only two states–Nevada and Illinois, and both only within the last three years, have passed the ERA in their state legislatures. 

The last midterm election saw an historic influx of women in elected positions, which has largely contributed to the push for the ERA’s ratification.

If the DOJ ruling stands, the process of introducing the amendment would have to start anew. However, NPR has reported that supporters are challenging the ruling, arguing the deadline isn’t in the text of the amendment itself and therefore isn’t binding.  

After the day-long rally ended, Democrat Brandon Thomas announced his bid for the State House of Representatives, District 49 at a launch party nearby. Thomas ran for the same position in 2016, garnering 38 percent of the vote against Sparks that year.

(Full disclosure: This reporter volunteered for Thomas’s 2016 campaign as an MTSU student for class credit.)

Despite unlikely odds for a Democratic win in Rutherford County, Thomas said he is energized and optimistic since the party saw a nearly ten percent vote increase when candidate Chris Mayor made his bid for the district in 2018. If Thomas wins, he will be the first openly gay legislator in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Tennessee is among the worst states for voter turnout, ranking last in the nation in a 2014 PEW Research Center study. Additionally, the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office released data that shows half of registered voters cast ballots in the 2018 midterm elections. 

You can find more information on the voting process, polling locations, county election commissions and more by visiting the Secretary of State’s website at https://sos.tn.gov or by calling Secretary Tre Hargett’s office at the Capitol at 615-741-2819.