On Monday, March 27, a shooter opened fire at Nashville’s Covenant School, killing six, including three 9-year-olds. Most people have by now seen the heartbreaking coverage. As the country’s 15th mass school shooting, the horrific massacre at Covenant felt all too familiar to Tennesseans, if closer to home than before.

Here’s what felt new: Tennesseans who had managed to ignore state lawmakers’ impact on their lives, or who had checked out of a process that seemed built to ignore them, were suddenly able to draw a direct line between the shooting and the legislature—literally. On April 18, more than 6,000 of us formed a human chain between the capitol and the hospital where the victims of the shooting were taken.

More Tennesseans are dialed in now. That means many of us were watching when the legislature voted to expel two Black Democratic lawmakers who took part in a protest to agitate for meaningful gun control. Newly engaged residents of the Volunteer State asked themselves, Can they really do that? And embattled supporters of social progress in our state again braced ourselves for the bewildered lamentation from out-of-state friends and family members: What’s the matter with Tennessee?

Read More in The Nation

With many state legislative sessions now in full swing, voting rights advocates are spending a lot of time in their state capital buildings. In red states like Tennessee, where I live, these activists probably feel like they’re banging their heads against the walls. Most of the time, they are. 

Many of the states that make it hardest to vote are home to the legislatures that are the least likely to make improvements. The harsh realities of gerrymandering mean that Republican legislators in those states likely carried their districts by double-digit margins, often as part of campaigns that trumpeted the “Big Lie.”

Voters who prioritize democracy often feel as if they don’t have a voice in red states. And while they might once have looked to Congress for national solutions to protect voting rights, many of those options now appear to be off the table. 

Read More On Democracy Docket