Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville stirred up anti-mask outrage that led to threats to blockade schools—then after SCHOOLS CLOSED he tried to strike a more reasonable tone.

TOO LATE, Jason. This isn’t leadership.



Despite skyrocketing COVID-19 hospitalizations – including the deaths of children – this week at a press conference Tennessee Speaker Cameron Sexton warned school districts that if they dared to take measures to protect their kids by instituting mandates, separating unvaccinated kids, or closing schools if needed, he would ask Governor Lee to call a special session to punish them for it.

So much for “small government” or “local control”, right?

Well it didn’t take long for one Tennessee county to defy Sexton’s threats. And it wasn’t the county you might expect, either.

It wasn’t Davidson, or Shelby, or Hamilton, or even Knox – all of which are bigger cities and generally more prone to Democratic leadership.

Yesterday, after seeing a spike in cases among students, HANCOCK COUNTY, under the leadership of Dr. Charlotte Mullins, became the first county in East TN (Shelby is keeping theirs) to decide to implement a mask mandate anyway, despite Speaker Sexton’s threats.

We called Dr. Mullins up there in the Northeast part of the state to ask her about her decision to blaze this trail. She says she was just trying to keep kids safe and keep the schools open, and that politics did not factor into her decision. Imagine that! That’s what leadership should sound like.

What follows is a transcript of that conversation.

HOLLER: This decision was made when?

DR. MULLINS: It was made late yesterday afternoon (Tuesday). We started school on Monday thinking we could start without masks and hoping for a safe, positive school year – but we had several children test positive yesterday, and several more that had been in contact who were pending test results. So we felt like we had to make a decision quickly.

HOLLER: And were you aware of the press conference Speaker Sexton had prior, essentially threatening to call a special session if school districts did that?

DR. MULLINS: I am aware of that, but at this time I had to try to take care of our students here in Hancock County. No disrespect toward any state official. I feel like it was necessary for our county.

HOLLER: What did you think of them taking the position that no school district should be able to do that if they felt it was right for their students?

DR. MULLINS: I can’t comment on why they felt the way they do about it. At this time I want us to be able to have school. I want our students to be safe. I want our teachers to be safe. And our regional health department made the announcement that if our students wear a mask inside the classroom we wouldn’t have to quarantine them. And for the most part we aren’t having pushback in our county.

HOLLER: Were you aware you were the first county in East Tennessee to do that? To issue a mask mandate? (Shelby County is keeping theirs in Memphis)

DR. MULLINS: Not until it was on the news.

HOLLER: It seems like this wasn’t political at all. You were just trying to keep kids safe. Is that right?

DR. MULLINS: Not a bit. I realize the statements that were made, and I knew those were in place, but this was just more important. This is so important that we try to keep our kids safe so we can have school.

HOLLER: You blazed a trail here, and did something pretty brave. Some might even say heroic. Other districts may follow suit, and when they do people may look back at what Hancock County did and appreciate it.

Hancock County’s Official Statement:

Hancock County students returned to in-person instruction Monday, August 2, without a mask protocol, hopeful of a safe, positive school year.  By Tuesday afternoon, significant changes in local covid data prompted our system to consider additional measures to protect the health and wellbeing of our students.  Based on guidance from the CDC and the regional health department, and with respect to all local and state leaders, Hancock County Schools issued a mask directive effective Wednesday, August 4.  This measure was taken to protect the health of our students, teachers and staff, while continuing to provide high quality in-person instruction.  We would like to thank students, parents, and community members, as well as, Tennesseans from across the state for the tremendous outpouring of support for our decision. We will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation and adjust procedures as necessary to ensure the safest learning environment possible for our students.


Many other (bigger) districts have meetings in the coming days about their own mask rules. It will be interesting to see how their decisions end up after Dr. Mullins and Hancock County blazed this trail, wittingly or unwittingly. They deserve a lot of credit for taking politics out of it and focusing on the health of the children, even in the face of threats from Speaker Sexton and the legislature.



Watch the FULL INTERVIEW with Rep. Gloria Johnson about Speaker Sexton’s “unhinged” presser threatening to call a special session to punish school districts that take measures to keep their students safe.





Ali Pensky
As the nation hones in on the United States Capitol riot hearings and the ongoing and increasing threat of the Delta variant, the city of Knoxville is having its own crisis.
On the night of July 27th, a small group of protesters marched to Knoxville’s City Council Building. Walking down the middle of Gay Street, young protesters could be seen with Black Lives Matter flags and heard chanting “Anthony Thompson Junior.” This protest comes four months after Anthony was killed by a police officer in the Austin East high schools’ bathroom.
Constance Every, local advocate and Chairwoman of Knoxville’s Sleeves4Needs nonprofit, posted to social media earlier that morning that she will “never” forget what happened to Anthony. Additionally, last night’s protest comes just days after Tyler Whetstone of the Knoxville News Sentinel broke a series of stories about a “deep-seated problem at the Knoxville Police Department.”
The problem is racism. The Knoxville News Sentinel interviewed six KPD officers about their experiences at the department with racism, exposing that racist behavior in the department is not just common – it’s also covered up.
Amelia Parker, a Councilperson, created her own bill in an effort to enforce a zero tolerance policy for racism within the city’s government. On the night of July 27th at the City Council Building, her bill was voted on. Instead of the zero tolerance bill, however, a substitute bill was passed. Speaking with the group of protesters after the meeting, Councilwoman Parker says:
“Tonight was frustrating… the substitute motion was sent to me by email about an hour before the City Council Meeting… I knew this was an attempt to circumvent my efforts, but that’s okay. At least we had a conversation. It’s rough being a minority voice in a space.”
Though the language in the substitute bill was similar to the original, it lacked the “zero tolerance” component. Also on the night of the 27th, a task force was named with the goal of creating economic equality for Black people in Knoxville. The task force is called the “African American Equity Restoration Task Force.” The poverty rate among Black people in Knoxville is roughly 40%. Outside of the City Council building, protesters expressed their anger over the fact that a task force created to support Black residents is comprised of mostly white residents.
Reverend Calvin Taylor Skinner was among the protesters on Tuesday. Skinner ran for mayor in 2019, though he lost to current Mayor Indya Kincannon. Skinner, along with Every and five others, was arrested at the City Council Building months earlier and charged with disrupting the meeting. Reverend Skinner uses his faith to support, uplift and change the city of Knoxville.
Towards the end of the night, Reverend Skinner took the bull horn and made compelling remarks about Knoxville’s current state of emergency, and Knoxville’s potential. Keep in mind that last week the 27th deadly shooting of 2021 occurred within city limits.

Skinner yelled, “I hope this spreads all around the world. Ya’ll have to know what’s happening in Knoxville. They are erasing a whole people. While we stand here now, a whole people is being put out and erased. Enough is enough.” He ended by saying, “Knoxville can be the model city. The nation is looking for a model community that will stand firm for justice— that will stand firm for revolution, that will stand firm for healing. Can you hear the call?”


The primaries are nearing. August 11th is the first day of Knoxville’s early voting period, August 24th is the final day to request an absentee ballot, August 26th is the final day of the early voting period, and August 31st is Election Day.
Ali Pensky is a resident of Knoxville, and a sophomore in College at Appalachian State University.


After a wildly bigoted local lady went viral for harassing two gay teens in ALCOA, the community rallied around them to repaint the bridge. Watch our INTERVIEW.

UPDATE: Sullivan Co. Teacher Got Termination Letter Hours After TN House Passed School Censorship Bill

Coach Hawn

Coach Hawn

We recently posted a link from March about Sullivan County Central High School social studies teacher Matthew Hawn, who was reprimanded officially for having his social studies class read “The First White President” – an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.

The Board of Education voted 6-0 to uphold the written reprimand of the 16-year tenured teacher & assistant baseball coach.

The article also says Hawn was verbally warned last fall about a video he made about white privilege, the existence of which conservatives generally hate to acknowledge, especially in a school that’s almost entirely white.

We’ve now spoken with a source who tells us the story does not end there, and that in fact Hawn has been hit with a letter recommending his termination in the wake of another incident brought to the attention of school brass by the same student and their parent, who took exception to a lesson taught by Hawn involving a female poet Kyla Janae Lacey who used language the source says was almost entirely censored.

The source says Hawn received the letter within hours of Tennessee Republicans passing their bill to censor what Tennessee teachers can teach about race and systemic racism – because if anyone should be deciding what can and can’t be said about those topics, it’s the group of almost entirely white legislators who refuse to remove the KKK GRAND WIZARD bust from our capitol, and the Governor who was found to have dressed up in a Confederate solider outfit in college.

Republicans love to complain about “Censorship!” and “Overreach!”, yet here they are over-reaching into our classrooms to censor our teachers, paying lip service to banning Critical Race Theory when very few of them can even describe what exactly it is. (Definitely don’t ask Justin Lafferty of Knoxville, who made national news painting the 3/5ths compromise as some sort of heroism during discussion of this very bill)

The letter Hawn received was a recommendation for termination, which means the final decision once again lands with the Sullivan County School Board, which meets June 8th. They should expect company, as Coach Hawn clearly has supporters.

If you believe this sort of censorship and overreach in our classrooms has gone too far, show up at the school board meeting to support him, and HOLLER AT the board HERE. 


Highlights from our first ever TENNESSEE HOLLER FEST, featuring inspiring voices from across the state lifting up the issues we face – including STELLA PARTON, JUSTIN JONES, REP. JIM COOPER, REP. STEVE COHEN, THE EQUITY ALLIANCE and much more.

Here’s a quick highlight reel.


NYT’s “THE DAILY” Podcast On GREENEVILLE, TN’s Vaccine Hesitancy

Today’s episode of the New York Times “The Daily” podcast is called “Rural Tennessee’s Vaccine Hesitators”, and it’s all about vaccine hesitancy in GREENEVILLE, Tennessee – a community hard-hit by COVID where vaccine intake is exceptionally low compared to nationwide standards.

In general, Tennessee is at the bottom when it comes to vaccine intake, in large part thanks to a lack of leadership by Governor Lee, who made little fanfare of getting the vaccine himself, and has promised a marketing campaign to encourage folks to get the vaccine that has never materialized.

The Daily episode talks to doctor Daniel Lewis, a much-respected Greeneville doctor who nearly died of COVID, and has been doing his best to encourage folks in the area to get the shots.

These GOP Senators Don’t Seem to Understand the Right to Protest

“Are you worried BLACK PLAYERS won’t come to Tennessee? Why didn’t you go talk to the players about WHY they were kneeling?”

We asked Senators Rusty Crowe & Jon Lundberg about Coach Shay being forced out of ETSU (by boosters & TNGOP) for standing with his players.


A Tale of Two Governors

State Representative Gloria Johnson talks with Christina Henry, a teacher in Anderson County, Tennessee whose husband is in critical care for COVID in Kentucky, and whose brother-in-law recently passed away from COVID, also both teachers. Tennessee is now the worst place in the world to be for COVID19 under the poor leadership of Governor Bill Lee. Christina and Representative Johnson talk about how the different responses between Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky and our own Governor Lee have affected the health outcomes of the residents of each respective state.

Kentucky is the only state where ICU occupancy is lower now than three months ago

FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts, and wherever else you like to listen.