If you’re reading this, by now you’ve probably heard about the bill that was signed into law last month in Mississippi, one called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” or more casually, the ‘religious freedom’ bill. It’s a complicated law, well-meaning in some ways but terribly damaging in many others, and undoubtedly you’ll have seen some of the reactions, protests, and challenges that have emerged since its signing.
I love my state, and count it an act of singular grace and pride to be able to call myself a native Mississippian. I love our people, our natural beauty, and our culture, and love the instinctive spirit of warmth, welcome, and hospitality that defines us, even amid the great challenges that have faced us over the years. Regardless of your political leanings, what is undeniable is that this law, HB 1523, once again enshrines the protection of discrimination into law, and given the tragedies of our history, Mississippians of all peoples have a special responsibility to fight that. Thanks to the incredible efforts of the novelist Katy Simpson Smith, a petition went out last month with nearly 100 signatures of writers from the state who opposed the bill, which brought new attention to the issue and hopefully put much-needed pressure on the legislature. As a signer of that petition, starting next week, I’m going to add to that pressure.
To ensure Governor Bryant received the petition, I’m going to cycle across Mississippi to personally deliver it to him, along with my own letter of protest. Leaving New Orleans on May 9, I’ll be on the road starting May 10, cycling around 40-50 miles per day, from Memphis to Gulfport, from the north end of the state to the south. Conditions permitting, the journey should take about three weeks. I hope through this effort both to call attention to the dangers of the bill, and to add my voice to the growing chorus of efforts calling for the repeal of this bill and the restoration of our dignity as Mississippians who continually seek to break the shackles of their past.
Thanks to this growing chorus, this protest is a public effort, and if anyone out there would like to join me, I’d love your company—nothing would bring more joy than to have company on the road and solidarity in the pursuit, no matter whether you come for a full leg of the trip or just for a shared dinner at night. The trip will be long, yes, and tiring, but ultimately worth it. Or: if you can’t take part yourself but know someone who would like to come, that’s great too—please do spread the word. The more the better, the more the merrier, and the more the safer. I’ll broadcast occasional updates on this platform and others, and will be working with the ACLU in Jackson to coordinate meet-ups, so please do drop them or me a line if you’d like to get involved.
In sum: I love my state, so much so that I’m willing to travel the fullness of its length to stand up for the place that I know, deep down, values the dignity and worth of every human being. I mourn the fact that this law fails to reflect that belief, and I regret that Mississippi has once again become the punchline of a joke, but I also believe that there is still time for us to show the world that this is neither who we are nor who we wish to be. We’re better than that, in every way.
Hope to see you out there on the road.