The COVID-19 pandemic caused long-simmering socio-economic problems to surface for Nashvillians, and activists are asking Metro’s upcoming budget to reflect much needed infrastructure.
On Friday, representatives from Workers Dignity, Black Nashville Assembly, Nashville People’s Budget Coalition and others offered grades on a wide variety of city services to show city officials what they want emphasized in Metro Nashville’s budget for the upcoming year.
The Metro “report card” was created last year in the midst of several crises brought on by the pandemic, but members of the groups believe the city is to blame for prioritizing tourism over the years instead of local residents and allowing issues to build up.
“What today is about is that we’re taking back our city as people who work here, to build this city, and to make sure our tax dollars work for us,” said Erica Perry, the co-director of Worker’s Dignity.
Local residents were given the opportunity to participate in the grades by attending the People’s Movement Assembly and through an email survey. Failing grades were given to nearly every subject, such as transportation, affordable housing, the Metro Nashville Police Department and the jails, and assembly speakers addressed issues in each subject.
Among the speakers were construction workers who said they had been unfairly treated during Nashville’s construction boom and were given limited abilities to seek legal counsel against their employers. One man, who only used his first name Marco, spoke from a wheelchair. He said he is currently fighting to receive workers compensation and medical aid after being injured in a construction-related incident. Nashville has been named one of the most dangerous cities in the South for construction workers.
Activists also reflect on police shootings in Nashville that resulted in one fatality this year.
“It’s only April and there have already been four police shootings this year,” said Jamel Campbell-Gooch, an organizer with the Black Nashville Assembly. “We demanded change last year, we were ignored, and our people keep being killed. We’re back and we expect something different this year. Defund cops and cages.”
Metro’s budget for the upcoming year will be finalized in June, and speakers want Metro Council to place emphasis on policing, education, transportation and affordable housing, which they say will fulfill many of the city’s needs. While Nashville may depend on tourism in order for the economy to recover post-COVID, activists say here’s a way to balance the money promoting tourism and improving local communities.
“When we look at the report card, we said we want innovation and imagination. We can have a city where developers and corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” said Perry. “We can have a city where tourism works for us.”