Marching down the historic streets of Memphis that so many have marched before, you can hear the familiar chanting of a crowd ranging in gender, age, and social classes. Up front, University of Tennessee at Martin graduate, Amber Sherman, leads the hundreds gathered in her favorite protest cheer. As she shouts, “What does Democracy look like?” the crowd echoes, “This is what Democracy looks like!” and make their way toward the famous Judge D’army Bailey Courthouse on Adams Avenue in downtown Memphis.
This moment from the Memphis Women’s March in January placed Sherman in the forefront. Although this was the largest protest she had organized, it was not her first, nor her first experience in Tennessee politics.
Sherman, an African-American Memphis native, shared in a recent interview with the Press, that politics piqued her interest in high school when she was first introduced to advocacy groups. This interest followed her all the way to Weakley County where she was shaped by the Political Science department at UT Martin while working towards her bachelors under Dr. David Barber. While helping to mobilize Joyce Washington’s 2014 campaign for Democratic candidate for District 76 Representative, she was introduced to the Organization for Action (OFA). Other local influences on Sherman’s political career included the Weakley County Democratic Party, whose members helped fund her trip to meet President Barak Obama in 2015 while she served as president of the UT Martin chapter of the College Democrats. Through her time and experience in Weakley County, many doors were opened for her in Memphis, where she now holds multiple political positions, including being the chair for the Young Democrats Women’s Caucus and the Young Democrats of America Women’s Caucus Secretary – all at the age of 24.
Through her hard work with the UTM Democrats and the OFA, Sherman encountered her first issue prompted her first protest activities. In 2016, UTM was planning on privatizing its entire maintenance staff, essentially eliminating one more employment opportunity for Weakley County citizens during a time of economic recovery. Sherman called upon her peers and those employees who were in fear of losing their jobs to take action and let their voices be heard. Once she formed an alliance with a message, she reached out to local news organizations, asking them to come cover the protest on the front lawn of the university’s administration building. The event gained regional newspaper, TV, and radio coverage and had a great impact on the final decision by the administration, which ended in a win for the maintenance staff.
This experience boosted Sherman’s confidence that she could not only pull off a protest rally, but also that she could make a real change in her community. This new-found belief in herself pushed her to transform what would have been a small Memphis Women’s Rally into a full-blown march, beginning at City Hall on Main Street, all the way up to the courthouse where speeches were held.
Sherman recounts her morning the day of the march. “I didn’t sleep the night before because I had too much adrenaline…and when I was leading the march, it felt like an out-of-body experience…I didn’t even know my picture was being taken [by local news outlets] until I saw them [photographs] online the next day!” she explained.
Some of the signs carried in the march that she enjoyed the most read: “Protect Black Women,” “She Said What She Said, Period,” and “Women Need More Sleep Because Fighting the Patriarchy is Exhausting.”
In discussing the dynamics of the march, she pointed out how impressed she was by the variety of people who showed up in alliance with the issues facing women today, especially attendees of color and vast socioeconomic differences. This was an important part of the March for her, personally. She even made sure all those whom she scheduled to speak in front of the courthouse steps reflected the diversity of cultures the ralliers encompassed.
Sherman’s focus in creating change is centered around what she calls “issue advocacy,” which does away with party politics, and, instead, treats issues that are affecting all types of people, no matter their political affiliations. This cooperative attitude proves to be a portion of why she has been such a success since graduating UTM and leaving Weakley County to return home to Memphis.
Since January, Sherman has been hard at work, as usual. She is writing for a new blog, The Law According to Amber, analyzing current events from her educated, experienced point-of-view. Her work takes on adversary issues and discusses bills that are being brought to the Tennessee Legislature, such as Healthcare Bill SB-0318, which lowers the quality of care for medical patients. She also has just launched her similarly titled podcast where she, sometimes in studio but also in her bedroom closet, discusses hot topics affecting millennials—especially those of color—tackling such issues as the lack of attention brought to depression and anxiety among their demographic and the bullying experienced by young people of color who do not speak in slang and want to pursue academia.
Sherman can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Her podcast, The Law According to Amber, is released every other Monday on SoundCloud, Apple Podcast, and Spotify.
Sherman made it clear that she would not have been able to accomplish the 2019 Memphis Women’s March if it had not been for her experience as a UTM student and an active member of the Weakley County community. Looking back, she exclaimed, “I miss everyone there and still keep in close contact with many of you!”
This is what Democracy looks like.