V Interesting

Change the South, Change the Nation with Rep. Justin Jones, Patients Without Borders, Stay Outta Maui

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More and more Americans are traveling overseas to get medical procedures they can’t afford in their own country. Is that safe? Local Hawaiians are telling tourists to cancel plans to visit Maui while wildfire rescue and cleanup efforts continue. And V chats with Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones about his approach to progressive activism and winning reelection after being ousted by state GOP leaders.

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V Spehar, Justin Jones

V Spehar  00:00

Hey friends, it’s August 18, 2023 Welcome to V Interesting, where we break down the viral and very interesting news you may have missed. I’m V Spehar and today, why more and more Americans are traveling overseas for medical procedures and how to weigh the risks and benefits if you’re toying with that idea as well. Local Hawaiians are telling tourists to leave Maui and cancel any plans to come while the Fire Rescue and cleanup efforts continue. Are people listening? Then I’m joined by Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones, better known as 1/3 of the Tennessee three. We talked about his approach to progressive activism and what it feels like to win reelection after being ousted by state GOP leaders. All that and more on today’s be interesting from Lemonada Media. Let’s be smart together. And now for some headlines. If you’re like me, you’re trying to squeeze in those last summer trips before August’s and like this weekend. I’m headed out to NASCAR. It’s my first race. It’s down in Watkins Glen and who will I be rooting for? The prettiest car? Of course, I don’t know anything about NASCAR. That’s where I’m going. It’s fun to see stuff you don’t know anything about learn a little something. What about you? Are you trying to get one more roller coaster ride and before the fall, maybe tried to get a fast pass to a better hairline or a bigger booty? Well, you’re not alone. Medical Tourism is a growing trend worth keeping an eye on. You may remember the tragedy back in March when four Americans were kidnapped. Two of them were murdered while seeking Cosmetic Surgery in Mexico. Now violence to that degree is very uncommon, but it did draw attention to why people find it necessary to travel to other countries to get certain procedures done. Surprise, it’s because our healthcare system is woefully unaffordable. And for the 30 million Americans without health insurance, certain procedures may be out of their price range here in the States. And I’m not just talking about plastic surgery. I know that’s what you have in your mind right now. People travel abroad for dental care, hip replacements, fertility treatments, organ transplants, and gender affirming care. CBS reports that a root canal in Vietnam, for example, may be a quarter of the cost of the procedure in the United States. The same goes for an angioplasty in Malaysia, the Asian Pacific Region leads the medical tourism market with Thailand as the top location for medical tourism in 2019, according to STS research, now I’m no doctor and this podcast doesn’t give medical advice. Let me just get that out of the way first, but I will say I think it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks when it comes to traveling abroad for a cheaper procedure. Your medical records won’t necessarily be accessible to an overseas surgeon and vice versa when you come home and need say some follow ups. This actually happened to me in the States. I went to Florida to have my top surgery done. And when I came back to Rochester, New York, no surgeon here would help fix any of the incision when part of it got infected. They were like No, you have to like fly back to Florida and have your original surgeon do it. Because insurance is all wacky here. And if you go out of state, then your home state doesn’t want to take on the liability of fixing you if something goes wrong, very scary. And if you go abroad, an American doctor might not have a full understanding of what a patient got done while they were abroad. Plus, you may have less legal recourse if a medical team abroad makes an error during the surgery.

V Spehar  04:46

And surgery can put a patient at risk for blood clots. So sitting in a car or taking that long plane ride home afterwards does increase the risk. And like I just mentioned, people are traveling domestically, states that protect transgender health care like Minnesota, California and Vermont are experiencing long wait lists full of patients from other states. Children’s Minnesota hospital in the Twin Cities told the tri state herald that appointment requests are flooding in from teens all over the country, including Texas, Montana and Florida, which all have gender affirming care bans for trans youth. So V how is this affecting your doctor down in Florida? It is this is Dr. Gallagher, who we actually had on the show, you can go back and listen to that episode, we’ll link to it in the show notes. You can find it easily. She’s having to consider if she can continue practicing in Florida at all, and she works on adults. No matter where you go. The CDC has a number of guidelines for people considering outward Medical Travel, research the reputation and quality of the health facility, discuss the plan with your health providers at home, travel with a full set of your medical records and purchase travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation back to the United States just in case and we shouldn’t lose sight of why so many people feel the need to go abroad to find medical care in the first place. The cost of health care should not be a reason to pack your suitcase. Now while you’re looking for your next summer adventure, one place you shouldn’t travel to is Maui or really any part of Hawaii at this point. As fires continue to burn and first responders continue to lead rescue efforts. Locals are asking tourists to stay away. Aloha means goodbye to you know. In an emergency proclamation. Hawaii Governor Josh Green discouraged any non essential travel to West Maui. He says hotels and other accommodations are needed for displaced residents and emergency workers. actor Jason Momoa. posted on Instagram quote, do not travel to Maui. Do not convince yourself that your presence is needed on an island that is suffering so deeply. Even the why and Tourism Board is asking visitors to reconsider their trip. Many tourists are heeding the call. In the immediate aftermath of the fires. The BBC reports that some 46,000 people left the island. But surprise surprise not everyone canceled their plans. Some are still splashing in the waves amongst the ash and devastation completely oblivious to their selfish antics. I reposted a tic toc of a native woman talking about how hurtful it is to her and other natives to see tourists completely ignoring the fact that folks died in that water. Or at a minimum Hawaiians stood terrified for hours in that water while their town burned down. It’s giving doing the renegade dance on the beaches of Normandy like you just wouldn’t do that.

V Spehar  07:36

You know, one local celebrity is lending a hand or should I say a pocketbook? Oprah Winfrey owns about 1000 acres of land in Maui and is on the island meeting with survivors and an Instagram post she pledged to make a major donation to residents in areas affected by the fires. And we love that from her. But some Hawaiians are asking that she just you know, give them their land back instead. Hawaiian born President Barack Obama is also helping out and encouraging you to as well. He recommends donating to local organizations providing direct support on the ground, like the Hawaii Community Foundation and Maui rapid response and the Maui Humane Society. Now, we don’t know yet exactly how the fires in Maui started, but we do know what helped them spread. It has something to do with Hawaii’s sugarcane industry. Sugar cane plantations were once among the state’s largest employers but the industry began declining at the end of the 20th century. The last sugarcane plantation shut down in Maui in 2016, and that vacant land became fertile ground for invasive species to take over. The New York Times reports that many defunct plantations are now overgrown with non native grasses like Guinea grass, molasses, grass and buffalo grass. And guess what? Those grasses are super flammable. They grow fast when it rains, they dry out quickly and they’re fueling the wildfires across Hawaii. The grasses are a clear reminder that even tropical areas are becoming more prone to wildfires. Wildfire experts have been warning for years that Maui is becoming more and more vulnerable. A hazard mitigation plan prepared for Maui in 2020 and found that West Maui had the highest probability for wildfires of all the communities on the island a 90% chance of wildfires every year. non native grasses aren’t the only environmental issue exacerbating fires. Drought conditions in Hawaii have resulted in competing demands for water and firefighters say they just don’t have enough to fight the fires. Officials are pointing the finger at a recent court filing that required more water be kept in streams so less water is readily available for firefighters to use, and the vicious cycle of climate change continues. Soon rains will likely wash fire debris into the ocean and could smother coral and ruin sea water quality and allow the wild grasses to grow out and dry once more creating yet another fire hazard. You see how this just keeps going and keeps going. Experts say wildfires could become more frequent in Hawaii in the future as drought conditions become more frequent and more intense with climate change. Just one more reason to transition away from dirty energy and build more resilient communities. As Joe would say, we have to build back better. Speaking of climate activism, let’s celebrate a major win in Montana. You may remember back in 2020, when a group of young environmentalists took to their state court for its role in global warming. They argued that their state violated their constitutional right to clean and healthful environments by failing to take greenhouse gas emissions into account when approving fossil fuel permits. The trial was held in June and this week, the young activists won. A district court judge ruled that the policy the state uses to evaluate permit requests is indeed unconstitutional. Judge Kathy Seeley said the state must consider potential climate damage when approving projects. Harvard Law School professor Richard Lazarus told The Associated Press that this ruling marks the first time a US court has ruled against a government for violating a constitutional right. Based on climate change. It adds to a handful of other rulings around the world that put the onus on the government to protect its citizens from climate change. Now, like most rulings, we still have to see whether or not it sticks. State officials say that they are already planning to appeal the decision, and it is unlikely that Montana’s Republican field State House will move quickly to create more climate friendly legislation. But besides that the kids persevere. youth activists around the country are keeping the pressure on politicians by suing their governments, including Juliana first the United States now vahini V. Hawaii Department of Transportation, and Layla H V Commonwealth of Virginia. The plaintiffs in all of these cases are being represented by our Children’s Trust, and not for profit law firm that focuses on young people and their legal right to a safe climate. You can learn more about the lawsuits at ourchildren’strust.org.

V Spehar  12:11

Speaking of climate activism and fighting for what’s right, I cannot wait to welcome today’s guest. We’ve got Tennessee State Representative brother Justin Jones on the show, known as part of the Tennessee three he burst onto the national stage earlier this year with his own expression of activism. And he does not seem to be slowing down. Stick around, we will be right back.

V Spehar  14:34

All right, we’re back and I’m so excited to announce our guest, Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones became a nationally recognized name earlier this year when he got expelled from the statehouse. The expulsion came after Jones joined a protest for gun control reform alongside his colleagues Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson. The protests followed a mass shooting at a Nashville school where three students and three staff members were killed. You will remember them as being accused by the GOP leader as lacking decorum and disrupting house proceedings. Known as the Tennessee three, the trio burst onto the national stage as democratic heroes standing up for what they believe in. And now Jones is back in the people’s house after getting reinstated in April and winning a special general election earlier this month. Jones is an activist, graduate student and community organizer representing parts of Nashville. He’s been arrested over a dozen times for nonviolent protests and sees himself as part of the modern Civil Rights Movement. I got to meet Brother Jones at the White House Correspondents dinner this year. And I’m going to tell you he is every bit as lovely and energetic in person as you would hope it was right up there with meeting President Obama energy wise for me. Here is my conversation with Representative Jones. Rep. Justin Jones. Welcome to the show. How are you doing?

Justin Jones  16:01

Thank you. I’m doing well. It’s so good to see you virtually again. I think it’s been it’s been a couple of months. So it’s good to be on and it’s good to be connected.

V Spehar  16:09

Yes. We saw each other at the White House Correspondents Dinner where it was like for me it was like seeing Superman in person like some people have celebrities they want to see I saw you and I was like, oh my god Beeline across the room. And then I’m like, I hope I didn’t embarrass myself fan girling over Justin Jones.

Justin Jones  16:24

It was so good to see you. I’m just grateful for all your work. So it was just excited and excited to see you again. So

V Spehar  16:30

Yeah, congrats also you just won reelection? How does that feel?

Justin Jones  16:35

It feels a little bit of relief. You know. The my Republican colleagues spent a lot of money trying to keep me out they’re still trying to get me out of here but we won overwhelmingly over performance 14 points my district and send a clear mandate that people want bold progressive voices and that we represent a new you know, type of energy in our in our political system here in Tennessee. So I’m excited.

V Spehar  16:56

Now you represent a good portion of Nashville. And folks, when they think of Nashville, they might be like me, and they might think of like the neon lights on Broadway or maybe the grand old Opry or something like that. What is Nashville mean to you?

Justin Jones  17:10

Yeah, Nashville is this this this very sacred soul almost when we look at the movements here, you know, this is where people like John Lewis and Diane Nash, you know, got their start in the civil rights movement as students at Fisk University. This is where when the Civil Rights Bill was going on, and the buses were bombed and Aniston that students they were going to continue the Freedom Rides, and challenged Jim Crow, this is where, you know, I’m at the capitol where, you know, women’s suffrage was passed, you know, barely, and you know, just such an important space, but also culturally, we I think we have some of the best food in Nashville. I’m biased, but we have amazing food here. Amazing music, not just country music, even though you know, people like country music, we’d like that too. But there’s all types of music and just I think it’s just so amazing to see the culture here and the richness and the beauty of Nashville in the Middle Tennessee, and miss all the craziness happening, you know, in place. I’m at the legislature right now.

V Spehar  18:07

So yeah, not as great what are some of your favorite spots in Nashville? I’ve done the Nashville food tour a couple of times and like otaku ramen, I think is some of the best ramen in the whole country but you got like atomic chicken what are some of your go to spots?

Justin Jones  18:20

Well people if you want hot chicken you got to try the original Princess hot chicken misprints she that that is the that’s the place to go. If you want hot chicken. We have husk, we have chow on which is a southern slash Indian restaurant. We have Korea House which is my comfort food. There’s just so much and my district is one of the most diverse districts in Tennessee. And so there’s food from all around the world and it’s just you know, I love that just you know, having Korean food and having some you know, some of our Egyptian restaurants here. Amazing Thai food. That’s my healing place is eating good food.

V Spehar  18:57

I gotta tell you, I had one of the best nights out of my whole life in Nashville. I was at Chow Han restaurant, which is mini Chow Han from Food Network and all that restaurant. And we went out with another chef friend Elizabeth Faulkner to Tuesday night Honky Tonk at the American Legion, which I did not see myself ever going to an American Legion, but apparently it’s like a whole thing there. And it was the most fun night I’ve ever had out. It was just people from all different walks of life gathered for live music and honky Tonkin and like $2 Miller lights. There was some woman who stars in Hallmark movies that was there like you never know who you’re going to run into a Nashville right? It could be literally anyone country music stars, tourists folks on their bachelorette party. And then of course, some of the most important legislators in the country right now. We have a huge spotlight on them, much like yourself. So you were just reelected after having been expelled by Republicans in April for protesting supporting gun safety. For those who might not know exactly what happened back in April. Can you just give a quick summary?

Justin Jones  20:03

Yeah. April 6, I mean, my colleagues took the unprecedented step of expelling the two youngest black lawmakers because they’re mad that we sit with our constituents calling for common sense gun laws. So seven, we had a mass shooting at a elementary school here, three, nine year olds and three adults lost their lives. And my colleagues only response was a moment of silence. They wouldn’t let us talk about that legislation, they wouldn’t let us talk about the policy decisions that are proliferating weapons of war in our community. And so we spoke from the House floor with a megaphone, I put a microphone on my pocket when they cut off our microphone. And we were expelled. within 98 hours later, I was back, you know, my city council unanimously reappointed me, and I just want my election against the vice chairman, the Republican Party here in Nashville, they spent so much money, but we won with 77% of the vote. So we have a clear mandate that the people are with us, um, you know, I’m honored to represent a district that I call the district of resistance. And it just really, you know, grateful that on April 6, that what they did, was really put a spotlight for the nation to see that when they expelled us that they neglected to expel my colleague, my dear sister, Gloria Johnson, who was white, but they did expel the tunes black lawmakers. So the racism was so over their bigotry was over in that hearing, you saw how arrogant and and the meaning they were to us. And so I think the nation saw that and we still have these people here, you know, you know, leading our government, but I think that we’re on a point of precipice of transformation being led by young people. So I’m excited.

V Spehar  21:32

And it was a quick rise to the national spotlight. Folks, we’re comparing you and Justin Pearson, the other representative that was expelled to a young Martin Luther King, a young Malcolm X, this is our civil rights movement. You know, 3.0? How did you handle the pressure of that moment?

Justin Jones  21:51

Yeah, I think I mean, we’re still processing and I know I am. It’s, it is humbling, but also, there is a cost to that, like, you know, I don’t think people the other side of it, like I’m in my office right now where my assistant, you know, gets so many hateful and, and also threatening phone calls, you know, we’ve had to send a lot of threats to the TBI people who message me, you know, very hateful, death threats, things like that. I mean, it’s, we, it also puts you a target on you. And I think that’s the other side of it. Because we’re here, and there’s people are mad that we’re here, you know, there are people mad, I mean, they obviously voted to expel us, and then we came back, they were even more, you know, angry. And so it’s not a it’s not a welcoming environment here. But what gives me hope, are the people like and walking around Nashville, so many people, you know, across national, I would say across Tennessee, as I’m traveling, are just like, energized by what happened and so many people who have never been involved before, even students who can’t even vote yet who feel like, you know, this is not a moment, it is a movement. And so, I’ve traveled a lot around this nation a lot about what happened, you’re talking about the crisis of democracy, the crisis of gun violence, and the crisis of white supremacy that we’re facing in a state like mine, these triple threats that we’re facing. And so, you know, it’s so it was so important that the nation in the world really stood with us, because what was Speaker Sexton, who was the biggest who runs the Tennessee House, thought, what’s gonna happen was, he’s going to kick us out, and no one would care. But instead, people paid attention, the vice president came down the next day, you know, and took an emergency trip, and the nation stood with us. And that was really important, because that’s the only way we fight bullies is we have to stand up to them. And there’s just, you know, so many people have reached out when we were expelled, and I have just, you know, have so many mentors, and people stood with us, and who have helped me to even see like, what do you do when overnight your life changes, you know, like, you know, in terms of multiple things, you know, in terms of, you know, safety in terms of just like navigating this, and, and, you know, being a good steward of this platform, because it’s an honor, you know, to be able to speak, and to and to, to lift up the issues of our community, but not only in Tennessee issues, but these are national issues, like what’s happening here, is, you know, impacting the nation, because if you want to change America, if you want change his nation, you have to change the South, and we cannot neglect the south. And that’s been my message of problem across this nation, like don’t give up on the south, these extremist white supremacist do not control the South, but like, there’s such a concentration of black people in the south of working class people have people who have been at the frontlines of democracy from abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement to today, this third reconstruction that we’re in, so shout out to the south and the soulful south, a place that is so fertile and ripe for resistance, and that is resisting.

V Spehar  24:30

Now, one of the issues that you’ve worked on nationally and that you’ve gotten a lot of support for is common sense gun law reform and protecting children. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you?

Justin Jones  24:44

Definitely. So I think, you know, one thing that we’ve seen in Tennessee and in a state like Tennessee, where we have an NRA endorse, Governor that Tennessee Farmers Association has such a hold in the legislature. You’re seeing every poll shows that over 70% of Tennesseans Republicans into pennants Democrats support these common sense measures that we’re demanding. These are things like safe storage, universal background checks, a ban on high capacity magazines and assault weapons, red flag laws. These are things that the majority of common sense people support. But we have a fringe group of extremists who hijacked the legislature who are obstructing them. But you know, we ended session early three weeks early back in April, because my colleagues were so afraid of the pressure that we had Republican mothers down here saying we want common sense gun laws, we want red flag laws like this covenant Elementary, that was where the mass shooting occurred, it was a private Christian school, many of those parents were Republican. And it shows that this is not a partisan issue of left or right, but a moral issue of right and wrong. And so when we look at these common sense, gun laws, like it’s really to say that we want a community where our children don’t have to go through active shooter drills and live in this anxiety that they’re in school, and they’ll be targeted. We just had a shooting a couple of days ago at the Nashville of Bordeaux library. I mean, where will our children be saved? If not in library, not in schools, you know, not in the grocery store, as we saw in Buffalo, New York, community members, you know, gunned down, not, you know, I mean, it’s just this, this trauma that we’re living under, we don’t have to live this way. And it is a uniquely American problem because of this worship of gun culture. And which is a combination of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, this this very distorted idea of what is freedom, because why is freedom and include our freedom to not live in terror for our lives, every single day, we’re walking out just because so someone can have an AR 15. That is not for hunting, that is not for self defense, but it’s about murdering a large number of people in a short amount of time. That’s what these weapons do. And they’re very, I mean, just the images of what these weapons do to the human body and do to people. We don’t have to live this way.

V Spehar  26:48

I was watching a tic toc recently, where a mother was thinking you specifically for fighting for common sense gun reform. And you were at an art installation where they had hung 30 strips of orange fabric representing or 30,000 strips of orange fabric representing the 30,000 children that have been killed by gun violence since Sandy Hook. I had an idea that we were in a gun violence crisis here in this country, but I had no idea it was that many people, how do you carry the weight of a mother’s grief who is coming to you and saying like, Justin, thank you. And please keep fighting with for us.

Justin Jones  27:24

I mean, this is a heavy, heavy thing. And I think I said that when I was at that exhibit, I mean, it was very emotional. I mean, once you see this, you know, these 30 pieces of orange fabric that represent lives, you know, that represent lives taken. Ultimately, because of a policy decision, because of you know, this proliferation of weapons of war in our community and of gun violence, it just it it’s hard to, you know, it’s still something that then many of us I know, including myself are learning how to hold this grief, there’s trauma. But I think it’s important for us to remember the emotion and to, and to not become desensitized to this, like, you know, to, to to be with those who are grieving or mourning. And to use that to fuel our action, like, talking to these mothers talking to the mothers who came into my office who live in Tennessee, is what led me into that, well, you know, like, protesting, because we have to do something out of the ordinary, we have to be bold, and and and when necessary, disrupt you know, because this is business, as usual, is the murder of children and loved ones like that, isn’t we we’re not going to accept that. And so just recognizing that, that is the severity of what this isn’t, is literally an issue of life or death. And like, if you talk to these mothers, you’ll do anything, these mothers, these grandmothers, these teachers, these students, I mean, I have kids drawing me pictures of guns with axes that are in my office or in the front of my office here. Every, you know, story that is told, like I hold that in my heart like it’s, you know, it’s not just like an abstract policy or numbers like their names are there people have talked to people like Chantel Brooks, who lives here in Antioch, who her son was killed in the Waffle House mass shooting, you know, people like Manny Oliver, who, whose son was killed in Parkland hockey, Joaquin, who was just here on a bus that he’s taken around the nation. You know, these mothers, like revere Mohammed, whose son was killed in her, you know, in her backyard. I mean, these are things that are happening, and that we have to remember that this is about real people and real lives.

V Spehar  29:29

They have to be going to Republicans offices to, you know, they have to be in districts that are represented by gun toting NRA endorsed Republicans at what do you think it’s going to take to break that that hardened heart that some politicians seem to have and this ease that they have to dismiss things like a grieving mother? What will it take?

Justin Jones  29:50

I think it’s gonna take moving them out of office, like we had, like, there comes there’s two ways that change happens and I learned this from my honor Presley that either folks see the law Are they feel the fire, and they’re not seeing the light. So they have to feel the fire people have to do what they did in Tennessee, people by the 1000s took over our state capitol non violently. It wasn’t like the insurrection. But they took over our State Capitol. And they, and they shut it down through protests and it and it scared my colleagues so much that they ended session three weeks early, like we have to, you know, to remind them that, you know, number one power concedes nothing without a demand, and that we have to agitate. And we have to say that, you know, either you’re going to move on these gun laws are going to move on over you. And now it’s June, I think that they’re so afraid of Gen Z, because I mean, Gen Z is bringing this fire. You know, this is the find out era, as I’ve been saying, like, you know, they messed around now they gotta find out. You know, like, this is, this is what we’re dealing with. And I think we have to keep reminding them, like, you know, this is, it’s time to find out and I think they’re seeing that, like when they saw my election, they spent all this money. They send mailers out to my district saying he’s a law breaker and pictures of me being arrested. All these my colleagues spent, like Max contributions, and we beat them. And it shows that like you are, the tide is shifting, that we can change a place like Tennessee that we can change a nation like Tennessee was a place that many people have given up on, but we’re showing like we on the ground, do not give up on our state, and we’re fighting back. And we’re moving our state forward. And so I think that should be a cause of hope. What are some of the things you were arrested for? protesting a kk k statue in our state capitol, that we finally got removed in 2021, you know, leading to a 62 day sit in occupation outside the capitol and 2020 around police brutality. You know, sitting in the governor’s office with mothers who had lost their children who they didn’t have health care for, for Medicaid expansion. So I’ve been arrested 18 times. And I’m not ashamed of that, because I knew that what we were doing was needed and then we’re on the right side of history, and that the real criminals are those who are allowing people to die needlessly. I mean, they’re selling the the lives of our children to get some money from the NRA and the Tennessee farms association that is immoral, and that is criminal.

V Spehar  32:04

Are you worried when you come back to session that the Republican leadership will have a new set of rules to try and silence you? Have you heard anything?

Justin Jones  32:12

I mean, they try that when I got reinstated, they like enacted this rule where they will just rule those out of order even if we don’t like they had a bill about pronouns where teachers can call students by their own wrong pronoun, I said this is bullying and represent a mani fridge rose up and said, you know, he’s he’s mischaracterizing the bill. He’s, he’s attacking the bill. I mean, I’m like this bill is attacking a marginalized community like what else we’re gonna do this is bullying. That’s a fact like you are legalizing bullying. And you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re an adult and you’re trying to make some teachers can instigate bullying in students like is this really the priority in a state where one in five children live in poverty? You know, like, you know, where we are hospitals are closing, is this really what we’re focused on? So it’s just, it’s ridiculous.

V Spehar  34:15

Where did this passion for justice come from?

Justin Jones  34:45

I think you know, really, my grandmother’s raised me they’re the ones who taught me about love and justice and about caring for community. You know, I started organizing really heavily when Trayvon Martin was killed. I was 17 he was 17. And now was really a defining point in my life. That’s when I also came to college at Fisk University in Nashville, Historically Black College, sort of organizing, and it was just a pivotal moment. You know, it was it was a reminder that our civil rights movement is now and that, despite the struggle that we’re in is not just in the history books that they’re trying to ban, but they’re happening, you know, right now. And yeah, you know, I’ve been grateful to have so many great mentors, people like Diane Nash was the rights leader who you don’t know about, or, you know, there’s a name that we should all know, in America, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, and when the women leaders here, who does not get enough credit, people, I remember Reverend William Barber, who leads the Poor People’s Campaign, you know, and just grateful for a group because it’s not just any one of us. But you know, I’m grateful for the friendship and, you know, set Evans for years, we’ve been organizing together sister Gloria Johnson, who was, you know, also threatened with expulsion, but who was nice Baba, who is a dear, you know, fighter in this movement. And just the students. I mean, when I was a student, I went to a college where they had passed, the Tennessee legislature changed the law to make it so we couldn’t use our student ID cards to vote anymore. And so in Tennessee, you can use a gun permit to vote, but you can’t use a student ID card to vote. And so they’re going after us really? Students, it’s, I mean, it’s just so blatant, you know, what they’re doing. And so we started organizing as college students. And, you know, it was my first time testifying here 10 years ago, at the legislature saying like, why are we making it easier to get guns, but taking away nonviolent means of change, like like voting, like nonviolent protests were criminalizing protests in Tennessee. So you know, just just all these moments together, have been, you know, formative in my in my journey of advocacy, and now being the youngest black lawmaker in Tennessee, and when the first expelled to come back.

V Spehar  36:55

And a lot of folks, when you hit that national stage wanted you to run for higher office, they were like, Why doesn’t he run for Senate or Congress? Or why doesn’t he run for something else? Can you talk about the importance to you have being a state representative right now.

Justin Jones  37:09

I mean, it is a great honor to be here, the state legislature, this is where I’ve been at, you know, for 10 years, and I’ve kind of grew up in this building. And I know that the state legislators, particularly in a state, like Tennessee are the frontlines of challenging authoritarianism, like this is where they test out all their crazy legislation, Tennessee was the first state to pass a drag show ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by a Trump appointed judge, we are a state with the most restrictive voter ID law. We are a state that, you know, they just, you know, targeted transgender youth affirming care, you know, when the first to do that we are a state that has the most one of the most restrictive anti abortion laws, and these are all being passed at the state level. So we have to fight at the state level. Because what happens is they try it here, then they try and nationalize it. And so like, and here, like, we are so close to the people, like, you know, like I, I’m 15 minutes from my district, and people can come to the state capitol is hard for a lot of people to get down to Washington all the time, if you don’t live close by. But if you live in Tennessee, you know, you can get to the state capitol, and your members, you know, they should be, you know, we’re a part time legislature. So right now, we should be at you know, we’re in our districts and we’re in our communities. You know, and so you know, you have access to them, the ones who don’t run away and try and hide from the people like speaker Cameron Sexton, who never shows up who doesn’t even live in his district.

V Spehar  38:28

The tea that came out about the people who were rude to you, Justin Jones. It was like we were hearing about people’s mistresses we were hearing about if they pay taxes or not that they don’t live in their districts that it was incredible.

Justin Jones  38:40

I mean, it’s like, Y’all live in glass houses and you’re throwing stones. Let’s start there. The speaker doesn’t live in his district was taking per diem. When his children go to school in Nashville, he represents a district an hour and a half away crossbow apparently represents and then you had the vice chairman of the Republican caucus happened to resign because he was sexually harassing an intern, the same guy who voted to expel us they covered up his his his actions, and you state money to relocate the intern rather than hold him accountable. I mean, this building is two things. It is a fraternity to house and it’s a retirement home. And we have to change that like that. We need more young people, particularly young people of color people, you know, who are of different faiths and different sexualities people who are directly impacted by what’s happening here to run for office in states like Tennessee. When I ran many people said, you know, you’re too young had been arrested. They’re like, you know, maybe run for council city council and then you know, pay your dues and wait your turn. I’m like, we cannot wait like we’re facing a crisis. And And who says we should there’s a line you know, to serve like, this is the people’s house. It’s not a palace. And people like Cameron Sexton are on notice that you know, we are you know, more young people more progressive, more people who feel urgency and boldness and moral clarity are running, and it shows that their time is up, which is why they’re trying To cheat to win, they’re gerrymandering our districts making them you know, like gerrymandering people of color stacking the votes or cracking the votes or diluting their votes. There. You know, in Tennessee one in five black men cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement. So if people get out of jail, we’ve made it the most difficult process to be able to vote here, we have the most restrictive voter ID laws, you know, there’s so many taxes they’re using, because they’re afraid that they’re the minority there, and they have to cheat to hold power. And that should show us that we’re winning. And that gives us hope that should give us hope that you know, we that change is coming and we just have to keep pushing for it, and keep holding them accountable and showing up and challenging them in Tennessee 70% of the seats last election, no one ran against any they were unchallenged. You know, no one ran against them. This time is my personal goal just to change that. And I’ve been talking to young people want to run I’m like, How can we help? Let’s start training people. Let’s start make sure people have resources to run. And that’s what we’re working on.

V Spehar  40:57

Because you don’t need to be afraid to run. In fact, someone is about to take on a very scary longtime politician. Representative Gloria Johnson is expected to challenge the longtime Republican senator Marsha Blackburn. Marsha Blackburn represents everything that is stereotypical to a white older Republican official. She was very big Trump supporter. She is an NRA member. She supports moms for liberty, there is just a laundry list of things that she supports, while at the same time remaining widely, in my opinion, quite ignorant to the issues that face Tennessee, in particular as it as it comes to things like welfare, childcare, infant infant and maternal death, mortality rates, which are astronomical in Tennessee. And women’s issues if she wants to be so concerned with what biological women do use her word are going through the rate of infant and maternal mortality in Tennessee is astronomical. And the rate of folks who just don’t have enough to feed their children is astronomical, and she’s continued to ignore those issues. And now we’ve got Gloria Johnson coming in to challenge her someone who has the big national spotlight recently was one of the three the Tennessee three, how do you think Gloria Johnson’s gonna do against Marsha Blackburn and how can we support her?

Justin Jones  42:17

I think sister glow is gonna do awesome. I mean, Gloria is a teacher, she is someone who has been inspired for a long time we met through Medicaid expansion work trying to protect, you know, health care in hospitals in rural areas from closing, something that impacts Republicans as well, their rural hospitals are closing. And so I think Gloria is someone who’s gonna really be energizing. We just had dinner last night, and we went to the installation about nonviolence together yesterday. And Gloria is a dear fighter, and I know, is a progressive voice. And I think it’s important for us to run as unapologetic progressives. And that’s what Laurie is doing. It kind of has been doing, as a teacher who experienced, you know, school shootings, when she was a teacher was a teacher who fought for students with special needs is someone who was connected to her community, who ran in Republican district and Knoxville and one. And then they this past election, the speaker was so petty that he tried to draw her out her district, so she moved a block, they they drew her out a block out her district, she moved and she still beat them. I mean, so I think it’s going to be exciting. And I think it represents this new movement and a sea where, you know, we have nothing to lose, people should be bold, they should step forward. Because we have nothing to lose politically, but we have everything to lose. And in terms of what’s happening in our state, we are losing our rights, we’re losing our environment, we’re losing our democracy. But if you run like, people, a lot of people I talk to, they’re like, Well, you know, I don’t I’m not a lawyer, I don’t have this. I’m like, come sit in committee with me and hear the foolishness like these people are not the brightest people, half of them don’t read the bills, not even their own bills. And so, like, I remember first coming, I was like, I have a little bit of impostor syndrome, then I sat in committee, I’m like, these people are racist, ignorant and overly compensating. And they’re surrounded by people who don’t challenge them. So when someone does want to challenge them, they don’t know how to handle it. Like I’m in committee. And there’s on the floor, there’s a man who is like, how to build to not something about climate, he’s like, we’re not going to agree by the UN, because climate change is a hoax by the United Nations to take away wealth. I’m like, sir, thank you for proving why we need to invest in public education. Because we need people like this running our government or polisher or other representative, who said we should bring back lynching. I mean, that was one of his proposals and criminal justice committee was like, let’s bring back hanging by a tree. I was like, sir, like, this is this is what we’re dealing with. This is the best that they can give out of the 1000s of people, the 7 million people in our state. This is who’s representing us. I mean, we can do better. And so I hope more young people run because I think young people bring this long term perspective to what’s needed in our state, not the short sighted view of like, what is just beneficial to them as individuals, but what’s going to be beneficial to our future interview Two generations. That’s what we need to start talking about.

V Spehar  45:03

So, and we’re not just talking about the city kids, right? I mean, there’s so many folks who are in legislation right now. And this happens all across the country. But to take Tennessee for today as an example, who will complain about urban areas and how dangerous the cities are. And then they live in the city. Marsha Blackburn lives in Brentwood. Cameron Sexton sends his children to school in Nashville. If it’s not there, it’s Memphis. If it’s not there, it’s Knoxville. They claim to represent these deeply rural areas. And then they don’t spend time in those areas because they think that they’ve gotten out somehow. And now they’re a part of this, like governing authority, and they’re better than or they’re or they’ve moved on from. If you’re out there, and you’re listening right now. And you’re one of these kids who’s living in a farm rural town, raise up for yourself, represent your actual community, figure out how you can how you can get yourself back in there because it’s exactly that they that the academic elite will try to make you feel like, you’re not included, you’re not going to get it it’s going to be too hard. You won’t fit in you won’t have the suit you won’t have whatever you will, you will if I have to buy the suit myself, I will. You heard it here first. Okay, this is the under the desk, news vSphere suit Foundation, if you need a suit to feel confident to run for office in a rural community in Tennessee, I will buy you one I will buy you do because that is how important it is you will fit in you are smart enough. And like Brother Jones here said if you sat in committee, you would be shocked. Common sense is not that common.

Justin Jones  46:23

I’m glad you said that too, because they try and create this schism. You know, I remember we were on the House floor. And they had a group of youth from rural areas called Future Farmers of America, I think it was FFS and we It wasn’t there the drag show Bill and I went in on them about, like, you know, they’re saying we want to protect youth. And I said, if you really are sued about protecting youth, you don’t need a bill, you need a mirror, because this place is where we have youth being you know, harassed by lawmakers, you know, interns, this is a place where we had, you know, admitted child molesters and David Byrd as a representative. So stop trying to project and target a community and like attack constitutional rights and freedom of expression, and manufacture crisis to deflect from the failures of the majority party. And I remember I walked out the chamber, and some of those students from these rural counties said, Thank you for fighting for us, because they feel so isolated in their rural county, they feel like, you know, that it’s just this very harmful environment, a lot of you know, harmful theology, harmful political rhetoric, like all these things. And so like, if anybody is listening from a rural area, um, know that you are loved and affirming and supportive, like, I’m getting ready to go to a drag show, in Murfreesboro, that there have the show called HBOs. We’re here. And so and so they’re going to be, they’re going to be there. So I’m about to go there. And these are young people from rural counties. And it just it just talking to some of these people, rural counties, and these young people particular who feel so targeted isolated, it just it just, it makes me so angry. I’m I call it because like they’re using the platform of Tennessee State Government to beat up on young people. And it’s just, it’s so immoral. And here’s something things they saying Committee. It just it makes you angry, it fills you with this indignation. So you know, but also just remembering this, this feeling that, you know, I hope that anyone’s listening knows that we are in solidarity that we’re fighting. And I’ve had so many young people come to office crying, and just that I remember these things, because it’s just shows that like, the thing, the policies that are here, the language that use it, it is it has consequences. And I think sometimes people you know, these lawmakers, maybe they don’t forget, I mean, they know it, but they just, they are not good stewards of these platforms. And they use it to beat people down, as opposed to like UPS, you know, fulfilling our oath which says, We will not pass anything injurious to the people. This is the oath that we take as Tennessee lawmakers that we will not assent to, or vote for legislation that is injurious to the people. And all I saw this session, to be honest, was injurious to the people. And like it just, I don’t know, I’m just I’ve been thinking a lot about that.

V Spehar  48:49

I mean, a lot of people don’t know this about me, but I lived in Pigeon Forge for a period of time I spent city in Lake City, Tennessee, I know about the Koch bottling factories there. I spent a lot of time with rural folks, I worked at Dollywood for a period of time, and I got to know everybody in that whole area. And one of the things that I hope that we’re able to achieve with this new generation of lawmakers is addressing the things that are affecting children and young people. Even when I lived in Tennessee, the rate of teenage pregnancy was higher than other cities, states. And some of that has to do with lack of access to contraception and sex education. That is a way to protect children. Child labor laws were not great. They’re not great across the nation, and we’re seeing them be further deteriorated. Let’s reinforce child labor laws, make sure kids can stay in school and their families can appropriately use their labor when it comes to farm and family business as needed, but that their education and their trajectory in life is protected. Let’s make sure that food security is dealt with that is something that affects children. Let’s end child marriage in the state, which is something that I know they very recently did not want to do. What’s up with that?

Justin Jones  49:51

Ridiculous I mean, this is a house. It’s a circus. I mean, we just got all our reports and the number one cause of death. Have children Tennessee as firearms like this is a crisis in our state. And like, let’s address the real threats to children. I remember when we got expelled it, you know, and even though these lawmakers who hate me who expelled me, like I said, you know, on the floor, I said, I’m fighting for your children to like, we don’t want the children or anybody shown to live in this constant fear of gun violence, or in climate catastrophe, or, you know, in in, you know, this this anxiety that they, you know, whether it’s student debt, or, you know, poverty, wages like these, all these things affect our generation. And so I think we have to fight with the vigor to say that we’re fighting for our opponents children to, and that we’re in this together and that we’re trying to build a world that we can, you know, that we can say that we were proud of what we did on our watch, like, I think, I love what I honor process that when she was just here recently, she says like policy is a love letter to future generations like this is what we’re showing, like, this is the vision that we have the world that we’re building, and that’s why you know, we take this this role seriously. I never thought that would be sitting here, you know, as a lawmaker in a building that I was banned from for a year, you know, like in a building where I pass troopers every day who took me to jail. And some of these troopers lied on me in court. And now I pass them they say, Hey, Representative Jones, you know, like, it’s just it is so surreal to still be in here. To be locked out of the Capitol. Now I have an ID badge where, you know, I can get in your home whenever I want, and anytime of the day and bring people I mean, it’s just I see my role now is like, How do I open this door and hold it open, and bring people in and like say like, this is the people’s house, this is our house, to the young people of like this belongs to you. This is a place that we should feel welcome and not just obvious in suits who are selling our future away, you know, so I’m hopeful because more people are showing up. And so many people showed up after the expulsion and amidst the expulsion, who had never even been to the Capitol didn’t even know Cameron was. And I everyone knows who Cameron Sexton is and knows that he doesn’t live in his district, and that he is corrupt and and that his time is, is up. He thinks he’s gonna run for governor. But again, we’ll find out.

V Spehar  52:00

And we had so many folks even on the show, we had a former Miss Tennessee tally, Bevis was on the show talking about how she as a former Miss Tennessee when she was watching what was happening with you guys was like, I gotta get down to the Capitol. And she was there. It was everyone. It was a really unifying moment. I think it was an important moment for democracy in this nation to see that many young people come together. And even older generations come together and say this is wrong. This is anti democratic. And at that exact same time, the entire major media had their cameras solely focused on Donald Trump’s plane that was awaiting takeoff for his one of numerous indictments or arrests for that day. But you guys really changed the narrative and thought what was the biggest media story of the day? And I really think that Tiktok had a big part of that, because it was the youth organizing, sharing information and saying, We don’t care about the plane on the tarmac. Have you seen the Tennessee three like what’s going on? I remember following Chandler who I believe is on your team now. And he was inside the the State House and like giving us live footage, it was incredible. And so while in the past maybe financial barriers or access to information held a lot of folks back from from running for office, those are things you can beat now like Brother Jones just said the Republicans put hundreds of 1000s of dollars up against trying to get him out and you won by over 70% 77% If you have a good message and you have a good heart, you have a very good chance. And so we’ve talked a bunch about gun violence and different things that we want to see happen in the state houses to bring back democracy to in to franchise people who have been disenfranchised. What are some other issues you’re prioritizing and your legislative agenda?

Justin Jones  53:38

um, a lot of people forgot. But earlier this year, we had, it was all over the national news, Terry Nichols was beat by the Memphis Police Department. And so a lot of my legislation, as someone who came from organized around police violence was centered around, you know, stopping unmarked police vehicles from making traffic stop looking at ways to protect First Amendment rights of protesters. Also, I filed a bill to put the right to clean air and clean water in our state constitution, like our Constitution, they add all this craziness to attack reproductive justice and attack unions. I was like, but let’s as they put me in agriculture committee, that’s that was part of the reason why I filed this as well. They put me in agriculture committee, thinking that I wouldn’t know what to do because I represent urban area, but it was like the best committee to be on the fight for environmental justice. And so oftentimes, when the only no votes, but at least I was able to challenge some of these bills that were making it easier for polluters, and we actually were able to stop or were able to pass a good bill and stop abet development where they’re trying to build a landfill on the duck River, which is in a rural area in Colombia, the most biodiverse River in North America, and the source of drinking water for 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of people and we’re able to protect it amidst the chairman trying to side with industry so we’ve been able to do some good things and really the job of our of a minority party where there’s 24 Democrats in the House, there’s 75, Republicans were super minority. So our job is basically to be a speed bump to try and slow down and stop bad legislation. And to disrupt to be a voice of dissent. I love in England they call it like, we are not the minority party in England like we are the opposition government. I like love that idea. Like that’s what we are. We’re the opposition government. And our job is to to be a voice to challenge power, and to be the voice of the people, including their constituents, most of their constituents. They say I get so many calls from these people like Mani Fritz, and when a colleague down the hall, he never responses constituents. And so they call here and we’re able to help them and show that like we are fighting for alternate scenes, no matter where you live, no matter if you’re in district 50 to the district of resistance or not, we’re going to fight for you. And that’s what our job should be.

V Spehar  55:35

Love it, Justin. tell folks where they can find you to keep up with your work.

Justin Jones  55:39

Feel free to connect on socials. I know we’re connected on socials but at Brother Jones underscore or you can email my office rep. Dot justin.jones@capitol.tn.gov Our campaign emails info at vote Justin jones.com. Always Welcome to Tennessee. We’re here. I’m at the cap at the Capitol. And just thank you so much for all that you’re doing my friend. It’s good to see you. Thank you for lifting up what’s happening in a state like ours. And when you come back to Tennessee, let’s go to some of these restaurants we talked about because that’s how I like stay sane is like eating good food going hiking. I have the best dog named Denali. So like just I love to be out and and I think that joy is also a resistance so we have to hold on to in community so.

V Spehar  56:24

You know what I’m going to take you to when I come to Tennessee because I will come back. I’m going to take you to a Nashville Dolly’s baseball game. Have you? Have you heard of the dollies? I have not heard of that. They’re my favorite. They’re a sandlot baseball team. They’re just a group of guys who are so sweet. They play baseball and they raise money for the Imagination Library that sends books to children in Tennessee and beyond. Yeah, they’re just great dudes.

Justin Jones  56:49

Let’s let me know. Also, I wanted to send your podcast that I want to endorse Dolly Parton to replace the governor. Bill Lee. Yes. Just saying that on here.

V Spehar  56:58

When I worked for her, she it was during the 22,008 election and we used to have t shirts that said Dolly 2008 Like Dolly for President 2008 I think it’s time I think it’s time to bring back the vintage tees. I know everybody would vote for her. Karl Dean could be he’d make for a lovely first gentleman. Thanks for being here, Justin. Thanks. Wow, I wish all politicians were as passionate about serving their constituents as brother Justin Jones says I especially love what he said about if you want to change America, you have to change the South. Because we all know how easy it is for history to repeat itself. If we don’t speak up for what’s right and what’s wrong. Be sure to tune into next week’s episode where we dig into the headlines you may have missed, please leave us a five star rating on whatever platform you’re listening on. It really does help people find the show. Follow me at under the best news on tick tock, Instagram and YouTube and now we’ve got a Patreon patreon.com/under the desk news it’s free to join you get to come to the live q&a is have a lot of fun. If you’ve got a couple bucks, you can kick in for one of the paid tiers. And guess what friends? There’s more be interesting with limonada premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like New York Times bestselling science author Mary Roach telling me if there are any topics that are on approachable and what she’s working on next. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts.

V Spehar  58:25

V Interesting is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Kryssy Pease, Kathryn Barnes and Martin Macias. Our VP of weekly programming is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mix and scoring is by James Farber. Music by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by reading and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar, @underthedesknews and @LemonadaMedia. If you want more V Interesting. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium only on Apple podcasts and follow the show where ever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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