Protest and politics. That’s the philosophy of the Equity Alliance, one of the organizers of last weekend’s “I Will Breathe” Rally.
Tequila Johnson helped co-found the group in 2016 in part to increase voter registration and turnout in Tennessee, but she says their goals include much more. She spoke with WPLN News to explain how the group plans to move beyond outreach and demonstration to creating real change in Nashville’s policies.
She says the organization is focused on dismantling systems of oppression and educating the community.
“What the Equity Alliance wants to do is make sure that the community understands how those concerns and those frustrations get turned into actual policy,” Johnson says. “They can be part of those conversations and actually advocate for themselves.”
Since Saturday’s demonstrations, Johnson has been encouraged by the reaction of local officials including Mayor John Cooper. However, she’s eager to see if officials will follow up their vocal support with action.
“It’s not enough to just put out a statement and say you stand in solidarity or support a certain initiative or certain people without following up with actual, real policy changes,” Johnson says.
Mayor Cooper announced yesterday he’s reviewing the city’s use-of-force policies and will publish a public report on the findings. However, he stopped short creating a chief diversity officer for the city government, as was recommended by the Metro Council Minority Caucus. He also refrained from promising the rollout of body cameras for Metro police, citing major budget struggles in the wake of tornadoes and the coronavirus.
Making the black community a budget priority
At the same time that people are in the street protesting, state and city officials are deciding how to allocate money, both in the Metro Council’s budget and with federal coronavirus relief dollars. The Equity Alliance has released a comprehensive proposal for how it would like to see CARES Act money disbursed, prioritizing aid for non-profits, rent relief and small businesses.
The organization also released a list of action items for activists who want to advocate for policy change. The list includes registering to vote, contacting state legislators, and volunteering. It also included virtually attending and commenting during Tuesday night’s Metro Council meeting on the city’s budget, which lasted more than 10 hours. The Equity Alliance encouraged people to ask for reduced spending on police and increased funding for education. As many as 200 spoke during the public comment period, many driving home those points.
However, Johnson says the organization doesn’t want to point out the wrongs on issues like policing; the Equity Alliance has proposals for how to right them.
“This conversation has been framed as a fight against something,” Johnson says, “and the reality of it is black people are fighting for something. We’re fighting for our lives. We’re fighting for access, to be able to live, breathe work and just exist.”