Community rallies for transparency and transit

Members of the Metro Council pose for a picture with the group ‘Stand Up Nashville’ at the Metro Council meeting. (photo by Marcus Jones)

A group of protesters, along with other community groups, rallied at a Nashville hall to address the need for better public transportation and to call on the mayor and other city leaders to find solutions for addressing the transportation issue and providing community benefits on December 19.

The rally, organized by People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing, and Employment (PATHE), was held on the steps of the Metropolitan Nashville City Hall where the Metro Nashville City Council came together to address the proposed $5.4 billion transit plan by Mayor Megan Barry. The plan, if approved, would call for the construction of passenger trains and tunnels. The PATHE Coalition said they were against the plan because it would increase gentrification and did not include community benefits, such as bus service expansion along with living wage jobs and the construction of 31,000 affordable homes along with the ability for future public transit employees to be represented by Amalgamated Transit Union. One of the protesters, Angelique Johnson, said she attended the Metro Council meeting on behalf of Music City Riders United because she wanted the Metro Council to understand their demands about community benefits. Johnson said the council’s response to PATHE’S demands had been unanswered.

“It’s not a clear response. It’s like they’re trying to figure out ways of saying ‘no’ instead of giving us a clear ‘No, we’re not doing it,’” said Johnson. “So I feel like the response is slow. We haven’t gotten a clear ‘yes.’”

Lauren Plummer, organizer for ‘Homes for All,’ said she attended the meeting because she wanted to represent people in Nashville who have fallen victim to the housing crisis and are experiencing homelessness and living in poverty. Plummer said the housing crisis, transit issues, and employment issues were connected. She would like to see the city create living-wage jobs and build new affordable homes to prevent residents from displacement along with bus service expansion to transit desert areas in Nashville.

Plummer was not surprised by the details of the transit plan, but said she was disappointed that the transit plan did not address issues such as gentrification and affordable housing for middle class residents.

Another bill that Metro Council discussed was the ‘Do Better Bill,’ an ordinance that would provide more transparency when it comes to the process of businesses looking to relocate to Nashville. Plummer said the bill could bring jobs and companies to Nashville and investment into Nashville communities.

Odessa Kelly, co-chair of the group ‘Stand Up Nashville,’ said the ‘Do Better Bill’ would be important for the city of Nashville because it would let the taxpayers know where their tax dollars are going and give Nashville residents a chance to see if a particular business had a history of violating any laws. The bill would require companies and businesses to show residents the companies that are hiring and if they meet the rules and regulations set by the Metro Council.

“The most important thing I want people to understand about the ‘Do Better Bill’ is to create the culture that we have an expectation and we expect all those to meet it,” said Kelly. “You don’t have to take what people have been given. You have the right to be involved, to be engaged, and have a decision on how Nashville spends its public dollars.”

Stand Up Nashville co-chair Anne Barnett said that she was very pleased with the passage of the bill on its second reading.

Barnett said there was broad support for the bill and said it was designed to provide more transparency on what type of community benefits are going to provide for the Nashville community.

When it came to community benefits, Barnett said Stand Up Nashville was looking for companies that utilize apprentice programs where people can learn skilled trades that would lift them out of poverty into the middle class and companies that have good safety records or have a record of not committing wage theft.