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In Nashville, An Effort To Strengthen Black Political Power

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When Georgia flipped blue, many Black political organizers across the South were reenergized. That is true in Nashville, where many hope to build Black political power in the city and in the state. And they're tapping into a legacy of people-driven movements to do so. From Nashville Public Radio, Ambriehl Crutchfield reports.

AMBRIEHL CRUTCHFIELD, BYLINE: Last summer, after residents pled for seven hours to decrease police funding, Nashville's majority Democratic council rejected the idea. Organizer Theeda Murphy says this is one reason why residents need to strengthen their political power.

THEEDA MURPHY: Every politician in Nashville is supposedly progressive, but yet we have a hard time getting our points of view even heard.

CRUTCHFIELD: Despite organizers' efforts, they weren't getting long-term engagement from Black people, so now they're canvassing and doing social media campaigns to draw them in. The Black Nashville Assembly wants to create an agenda that ensures the government doesn't create barriers for Black people's progress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Nashville Black Assembly, what's good? What's good?

CRUTCHFIELD: Back in October, the meeting was different than any political event I've been to.

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CRUTCHFIELD: It was vibrant with performances and discussions that reimagine democracy. The assembly is in the early stages but have already said public safety, housing and education are their top priorities. After that, they'll push for residents to play a larger role in the city's budget process. Although it was virtual, Nashville native and college senior Darrell Green says he still felt the vibes.

DARRELL GREEN: Everybody's just giving their opinions from different point of views. And, like, that was being respected 'cause we just all - we all Black, but we were all coming from different communities within Nashville.

CRUTCHFIELD: He's happy that the city is redeveloping but feels some Black residents don't always benefit.

GREEN: I want this place to be somewhere where Black people are heard, Black people are respected.

CRUTCHFIELD: He still trying to figure out how to be civically engaged, and that's exactly who the assembly wants. Assembly organizers tend to work like tour guides. While attendees share their frustrations, organizers like Murphy try to connect the dots about why radical changes are necessary to eradicate systemic racism.

MURPHY: So given that most of us who are doing this organizing have a level of privilege, if we're engaging people who don't, we can't speak for them.

CRUTCHFIELD: Black Nashville Assembly organizers and members agree on the core problems but have different opinions on solutions. For example, Murphy is an abolitionist and believes police departments and prisons should be abolished, while newer members aren't sold on the idea.

MURPHY: The thing we do agree on is that the way policing is being handled right now does not work, and it harms us.

CRUTCHFIELD: She knows social movements have had to navigate challenges from outside and within. Murphy and other organizers say electing a candidate with their agenda will get them closer to their goal. And they're looking to Jackson, Miss., People Assemblies (ph), which helped Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba get elected and pressured the city to resolve a sewage leak.

MURPHY: We see it can be done, and we're solidifying how it's done. We're coming up with systems. We're coming up with strategies.

CRUTCHFIELD: Their sights are also on organizers in Georgia, like Southerners on New Ground, who helped turn the Republican stronghold blue. Nashville assembly organizer Erica Perry says she's excited that the Georgia organizers are thinking of building power long-term.

ERICA PERRY: Let's invite people in the movement because, like, what we know is that the work doesn't stop after Election Day.

CRUTCHFIELD: Some scholars say people-driven movements like Black Nashville Assembly dates back to slavery. In 1830 in Philadelphia, free Black people got together for the National Negro Convention Movement to work on emancipation and civil rights issues. So then organizers have built on this model from the 1965 Voting Rights Act to flipping Georgia blue.

For NPR News, I'm Ambriehl Crutchfield in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER & BENH ZEITLIN'S "THE SMALLEST PIECE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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