The Untold Story of Tuesday's Election in Tennessee

Just a few months ago we launched TIRRC Votes, a sister organization to the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), in order to create a powerful political voice for the immigrant rights movement in our state. We had an incredible first year together and have so much to celebrate. Many of you invested in this new movement, helping stand up a historic, six-figure, grassroots Get Out the Vote campaign. Thank you!

We registered more than 1,000 new voters who were ready to go to the polls in this year's critical election. Through all of our efforts, we reached nearly 170,000 voters in Tennessee. We had a team of 62 canvassers and 93 volunteers from more than 17 countries knock on almost 20,000 doors  and make almost 17,000 phone calls. And the turnout in Tennessee was astounding. Immigrant families and their allies showed up to the polls in record numbers. Check out this story about our efforts on NPR's All Things Considered.

A historic number of Tennessee voters went to the polls and the majority cast their ballot for Marsha Blackburn, one of the most extreme, anti-immigrant candidates to be elected on Tuesday night. She used Trump's racist campaign blueprint, fanning the flames of fear and hate, of racial division and xenophobia, in order to score cheap political points. Despite her vicious attacks on asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants throughout the campaign, Marsha Blackburn was elected to the U.S. Senate with nearly 55% of the vote. 

While these results are painful and reveal much about our state at this moment, they are not surprising. For the past 15 years, we have been working to counter politicians and nativist organizations who try to convince Tennesseans that immigration and changing demographics are something to be feared, who appeal to voters' worst instincts. This work is long-term and it is difficult; we cannot be deterred by the results of a single election. Moving forward, we have to double down on our work to resist Trump and Blackburn's cruelty, to protect immigrant families, and to defend our values. But with TIRRC Votes, we now have a political strategy and infrastructure to help us transform this state from the ground up.

Nearly all of the coverage about Tuesday night has been focused on the top of the ticket. But the real story - and the future story - is what happened at the local level, where the changing demographics of Tennessee come into more clear focus, and where we see how pro-immigrant voters and inspiring candidates can turn the tide in the state. 

WHERE WE ARE WINNING

Rep. Eddie Smith Voted to Keep Dreamers Out of College. We voted him out. 

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For the past two years, Knoxville Representative Eddie Smith has been the deciding vote to defeat our Tuition Equality bill - a bipartisan measure that would allow undocumented Tennessee graduates to pay in-state tuition rates at our public colleges and universities. 

Immigrant youth organized an incredible campaign to reach thousands of voters in Knoxville to unseat Eddie Smith and elect Gloria Johnson, a retired teacher who was unapologetic in her support for undocumented youth and the in-state tuition bill. Gloria won a stunning victory and was elected to the house by 11 points. Read our full statement on this incredible win.

Despite the relentless anti-immigrant rhetoric and campaigning at the top of the ticket by Marsha Blackburn and Donald Trump, Knoxville voters still chose to elect a progressive woman and to punish an anti-immigrant candidate for turning his back on students in his district.

This sends a powerful message to other state legislators who have refused to support popular, pro-immigrant legislation because they fear an organized bloc of anti-immigrant voters: that when it comes to local issues and policies, voters want what's best for their neighbors, and that immigrants and their allies are coming together to form an organized, political voice to defend their values amidst unprecedented levels of attacks.

Gabby Salinas Defied Expectations in Senate District 31

TIRRC Votes was proud to give our very first endorsement to Gabby Salinas, a young, and fiercely progressive Bolivian immigrant in her race for state Senate District 31. This suburban district has twice elected Brian Kelsey, one of the most conservative legislators in the state. 

Kelsey and his supporters followed the lead of Donald Trump and Marsha Blackburn and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to scare voters out of voting for Gabby, attacking her immigrant heritage and support of undocumented immigrants. But she is only 1,520 votes short of defeating the Republican incumbent in a historically red, suburban district. As of the writing of this email, she has yet to concede the race while waiting for all of the provisional ballots to be counted. 

No one would have thought a progressive Democrat would come so close. Just like we saw in Knoxville, despite the absolute deluge of anti-immigrant messaging at the top of the ticket, voters who were engaged by their immigrant neighbors on local issues turned out for an unapologetically progressive, pro-immigrant candidate who pledged to fight for policies that would benefit the whole district, including immigrant families.

Victory for Police Accountability

There was historic turnout in Nashville/Davidson County, where TIRRC Votes, the Equity Alliance, Community Oversight Now, NOAH, and many other organizations launched a massive, non-partisan get out the vote campaign within communities of color. Nashville nearly reached presidential level voter turnout during this year's midterm elections and one of the key drivers of turnout was support and excitement about Amendment One, a ballot measure to create a community oversight board for the Metro Nashville Police Department. The referendum overwhelmingly passed with 60% of the vote, demonstrating the power and potential of organized voters of color in local elections.

This campaign was led by the visionary organizers of the Community Oversight Nashville coalition. We were proud to support their efforts and thank them for their brilliance and tenacity. Read more about this historic victory. 

Tennessee will never be the same.

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Despite Blackburn's election this year, we know that Tennessee is changing. We launched TIRRC Votes this year not to impact any one race, but because we have a bold vision for Tennessee and believe we can turn the tide. 

Beyond the headlines of the U.S. Senate election, there are important lessons in the local races we worked on for how candidates can win in Tennessee, how demographics are shifting, and how immigrant voters and their allies will be a key part of transforming the state.   

We won't stop fighting to resist the politics of hate in Tennessee, to identify and support inspiring candidates, and to build an unstoppable political coalition of immigrant and refugee voters, their U.S.-born children, and their pro-immigrant allies. 

Rebecca Hall