OP-ED: GOP REP. MIKE SPARKS Distorts MLK’s Words to Justify A Racist, Oppressive Agenda

Mike Sparks is facing an extremely difficult election this cycle.  Brandon Thomas is a young, black man with a progressive platform and widespread support, particularly among young people. He’s energetic and has put in the work to make personal connections with a huge swath of the district’s electorate.

Sparks, by contrast, has spent much of his time defending the bust of KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forest in the state’s capital and claiming to the Tennessee Holler that he doesn’t know why the civil war was fought.

He even took some time out of this busy schedule to pen an Op-Ed for the Murfreesboro Voice in defense of Trump loving Ex-Democrat John DeBerry.

In it, he claims that DeBerry is some kind of victim for having been ousted from the Democratic ticket over his litany of absurd statements and positions. This is, of course, absurd, as the Democratic Party is a political organization with every right to decide not to lend its apparatus to a candidate who does not fit with their values. Unlike Sparks’ Republican Party, which seems to jump frantically from one ideology to another in pursuit of power, the Democrats seem to have at least some standards.

I don’t find myself overly disturbed by Sparks’ defense of DeBerry, however. This is run-of-the-mill culture war nonsense that Republicans always gin up a month or so before an election to drive out their base. It’s ridiculous, but it comes with the territory. I do take issue with Sparks’ appropriation of the language of resistance, which he does so brazenly that I can only assume that he is as ignorant of its context as he is of our own state’s Confederate history.

The absurdity begins as he mentions the iconic anti-fascist poem by German pastor Martin Niemoller, “First They Came…” Sparks doesn’t actually quote any lines from the poem, likely because the very first line of the poem’s most famous form is “first they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a socialist.”

This isn’t a poem about a wealthy, longtime state representative being removed from his party for supporting a fascist president. It’s about the ways in which authoritarian governments divide their population and attack those in the political, religious, and racial minorities while assuring all others that they’re safe as part of the majority.

It’s a critique of the “Us versus Them” mentality.

Does this sound familiar? One example might be an authoritarian president building a campaign on the claim that a large portion of Mexican immigrants are dangerous criminals, or banning a religious minority from entering the country.

Another example could be a clownish Governor and entrenched supermajority passing laws that target protestors and strip them of their voting rights for the crime of daring to speak up in defense of black life. I wonder what Mike Sparks would have to say about events like that?

It’s the excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is the most egregious, however. Unlike the poem, of which one could give Sparks the benefit of assuming ignorance, he adamantly claims to have read this document, and yet his understanding of it seems to be on the level of someone who skimmed Dr. King’s work for quotes that could be construed to agree with him.

He goes with the oft-quoted warning that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is a remarkably convenient line for Sparks, and is so removed from its context as to be nearly meaningless. However, to find this line, he was forced to sift through a mountain of criticism for laws that look identical to the anti-protest bill that he just voted for!

For an obvious example, Dr. King says that “there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

This speaks to a greater tendency among the right to quote Dr. King while categorically refusing his key claim that all actions must be viewed within the context which has given rise to them. This is what Dr. King meant when he said that “riots are the language of the unheard,” and it is absolutely central to his brilliant understanding of opposition to hierarchy and oppression.

While Brandon Thomas travels the district meeting constituents and accepting endorsements from workers unions and activist groups, Mike Sparks spends his time defending the racist authoritarians of the past like Nathan Bedford Forest, and the racist authoritarians of today like Donald Trump.

He is a voice for the powerful against the powerless, an advocate for order at the expense of justice.

He is what Dr. King would call “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”

No man who votes to protect a bust honoring a KKK Grand Wizard or strip voting rights from peaceful protestors for “camping” should be using the words of Dr. King or Pastor Niemoller. We cannot allow the defenders of power and authoritarianism to co-opt the language of true, profound resistance to such horrors.

We should learn from our history, so that men like Mike Sparks aren’t able to distort it for their own agenda.

 

Brendon Donoho is a student at MTSU, president of MTSU Young Democratic Socialists of America, and a resident of Rutherford County

Bradshaw on The Injustice of Breonna Taylor’s Case

“This is not a headline. This is about one of our daughters not being here anymore and leaving too soon.”
Tennessee’s groundbreaking progressive Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw joins The Tennessee Holler Podcast and shares her thoughts on the injustice of Breonna Taylor’s case.

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

The Cash Bail System

Rev. Davie Tucker, Board Member of The Nashville Community Bail Fund, joins Pastor Kevin Riggs and Kevin Sage for a discussion on the current cash bail system and mass incarceration.

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

The Racism of 9/11

Pratik Dash from Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition joins the girls this week to discuss his experience as a “brown kid” living in Tennessee following the September 11th attacks. #NeverForget the post 9/11 racism and Islamophobia and our country’s intervention in the Middle East which led to the region’s destabilization.

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

Justin Jones joins #HollerHour

Fresh off the heels off of leading the charge to occupy the plaza outside Tennessee’s State Capitol for over 60 days, activist Justin Jones joins the show to talk about his experience and where to go from here.
“The people are so powerful that it makes Gov. Bill Lee who’s the highest authority in our state so afraid that he won’t even come out of the office.”

“We know who Gov. Bill Lee is, he dressed up in a Confederate uniform as a student. Today he doesn’t have that uniform on, but he still has that mentality.”

 

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

Tune in to #HollerHour Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 pm CT every week on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Poverty Is The Pandemic

The Equity Alliance Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Tequila Johnson and Charlane Oliver are back for the third episode of the real, raw, and unapologetic podcast, Porch Politics. Tune in for the Porch Pop-up segment with guests Robert “Black Rob” Higgins, a culture catalyst and owner of Minerva Avenue and The WKND Lounge, and Curtis “C Shorty” Story, the CEO of BeYou, a lifestyle brand and clothing line.
Be sure to fill out The Equity Alliance’s Our Fair Share survey if you or your small business has been affected by COVID19.
Porch Politics is recorded LIVE from our porch every other Thursday at 6 pm CT. You can stream it on The Tennessee Holler or wait for it to drop as a podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever else you like to listen.

Be Better Belmont

Aftyn and Anna interview Claire and Safara, organizers with the Be Better Belmont campaign, which is pushing Belmont’s college administration to divest from the private prison system. #CancelCoreCivic.
FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts, and wherever else you like to listen.
Links:

Bill Lee to sign Protest Criminalization Bill

Governor Bill Lee announced that he will be signing a draconian anti-protest bill which includes making it a felony punishable by up to six years in prison to pitch a tent outside the Capitol overnight. This flies in the face of his claims of wanting to pass meaningful criminal justice reform, a term that House Majority Leader William Lamberth had the gall to use when referring to this bill.

Not only will this legislation have severe implications for protesters, but it will have far-reaching ramifications on the people in Tennessee who are experiencing homelessness.

Republican Legislators drafted this bill with the protesters who have been occupying the plaza outside the State Capitol in mind in an effort to silence them and their demands. We are left wondering if any members of the Tennessee Republican Party have learned from the late great John Lewis, or if they have considered that perhaps they are participating in government overreach, which they are so quick to decry when Democrats propose regulations.

Tennessee’s Criminalization of Protest with Senator Jeff Yarbro

Justin Kanew talks with State Senator Jeff Yarbro about the Tennessee State Legislature’s new draconian anti-protest laws that specifically target the protesters who have been occupying the plaza outside of the State Capital, and the far-reaching implications these laws will have on the citizens of Tennessee.

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