Don’t Boycott Tennessee — Support the Communities Under Attack

There are amazing people here fighting for justice. Come visit, connect with them, and make a difference

Tim Wise
ZORA
Published in
5 min readApr 8, 2023

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Image: public domain, Picryl.com

First, let me say: I get it.

The impulse of many progressive-minded folks to “Boycott Tennessee” is understandable, given the vicious assaults on democracy and dignity that have become the hallmarks of the state’s GOP-dominated legislature.

From their bigoted efforts against drag performance and gender-affirming care to their short-lived attempt to rename part of John Lewis Way for Donald Trump to the latest outrage — expelling two Black lawmakers for vocally supporting a youth-led gun reform protest after a horrific school shooting in Nashville — reactionaries are undoubtedly worthy of the vitriol aimed their way.

But a boycott, especially by potential tourists or conventioneers, would not only fail to help the fight against these far-right forces. It would make that fight infinitely more difficult.

Those (mostly) exurban and rural GOP reps who voted to expel Justin Jones and Justin Pearson for demonstrating solidarity with the students calling for new gun laws won’t be moved by a boycott. Nobody comes to Tennessee to visit the places they’re from anyway. Boycotting a walking tour of a grain silo, bail of hay, or Earl’s General Store and Tackle Shop won’t do much.

Refusing to eat at one of the many Sonics or Olive Gardens that dot their suburban commercial strips won’t cause them much concern either. Mega-churches are always letting out, the faithful are hungry, and Never-Ending-Pasta-and-Breadsticks are the Lord’s work, so withholding your personal commerce is unlikely to be the deal breaker you might hope it to be.

By contrast, the areas that tourists do come to — and which could, as a result, be boycotted by individual vacationers or large conventions — are Nashville and Memphis: the cities represented, in part, by Jones and Pearson.

They are the very cities those Republican autocrats are already trying to starve of revenue in budgetary decisions every day they sit in session.

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Tim Wise
ZORA
Writer for

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)