By Ryan Ray
As our Capitol slowly devolves into an open-air slaughterhouse for good ideas and majoritarian rule, lousy with graft and openly hostile to the public trust like no time since the regime of the Pork Choppers, a loose-knit group of lefties the state over is standing athwart Florida history yelling “Enough already!” In 23 cities and towns earlier tonight, including at historic Lykes Gaslight Park in Tampa, activists marched, local electeds spoke and a general solidarity was felt at a series of rallies organized by progressive policy advocacy group Awake the State.
“We cannot forget what the Legislature did to us last year — and how well it worked,” inveighed Sierra Club regional director Phil Compton in referring to HB1355, which along with Governor Scott’s dragnet effort to purge the voter rolls of illegal immigrants, represented a brazen attempt to keep likely Democratic voters at home on Election Day. A crowd of around 200 also heard a short talk by Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer (his own mire somewhat scandalized relating to some possibly coerced campaign contributions), the rather lettered analysis of Central Florida ACLU head Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry and a joyous, time limit-surpassing salvo from Rev. Charles McKenzie, who drew sharp parallels between the conservative antagonists of the struggle for Civil Rights and today’s Florida G.O.P. legislators:
“There was no democracy in the South until 1965,” McKenzie reminded the assembled, “and we aren’t going to let Rick Scott undermine it an inch more than he already has. We aren’t going to stop at just reversing these voter suppression bills: we won’t stop until every historically disadvantaged group has full access to the vote and to the polls.”
Among the issues addressed explicitly during the rally:
- same-day registration and opening up the primaries,
- the need for granting greater flexibility to local Supervisors of Elections, so that small counties do not go broke while providing access to Early Voting, while sites in big counties are allowed to stay open the entire two weeks before E-Day,
- reinstatement of voting rights for felons, which typically takes at least five years,
- the current judicial assault from the Right on key points of the Voting Rights Act, as well as its allies in our current Attorney General’s office,
- the statutory loophole which holds the descriptions of citizen-generated ballot initiatives to 75 words while allowing amendments from the Legislature to run for several paragraphs, and
- the general urgency of the situation in Tallahassee, which is perilously close to a one-party system even after Democratic gains in 2012.
Veteran Tampa activist Tim Heberlein says the event was a major success for Awake the State, an entity founded only in 2011 that despite a lack of wealthy donors or a formal membership structure, managed to get thousands of voters from Pensacola to Miami to get together to talk substantively about why and how Floridians need to demand electoral reform during this legislative session, which commenced Monday. The secret, he told me, was collaboration: the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers procured the event permit from the City, for instance; groups like his Florida Consumer Action Network recruited marchers and volunteers; and CAIR, the notorious Council on American-Islamic Relations, distributed bottles of water to the thirsty. All told about a dozen organizations pitched in to plan the Tampa event.
Although if asked about Awake’s political identity its leaders will say they are bipartisan, there was no mistaking the decidedly liberal spirit to the atmosphere tonight. An organized, statewide, left-leaning group that is actually uniting people around political reform on a county-by-county basis? A healthy sign ahead of 2014 to be sure.
Ryan Ray is new contributor to the Florida Squeeze. This is his first piece for the site.