Tallahassee in transition

There is something wonderful about not knowing what’s ahead until you’re there. More than any other species on this planet, humans are in a unique position as we only tend to see one portion of our lives at a time. It’s anyone’s guess how things can and will unfold. We usually have no perspective of how significant our present is until we look on with hindsight. No profound understanding of how our choices and chance meetings will bring about change. The old chestnut, “Everything happens for a reason,” is something you are likely to hear even in passing every week of your life, it’s almost tailormade to infuriate the human ear with its frustrating fortune cookie wisdom. Yet, it is still painfully earnest, we are all interwoven in each other’s stories, and we all have a stake in each other’s successes.

In the realm of politics, this is usually multiplied to an outrageous extent. Movements, candidates, and historic happenings are often greeted by the general public as sudden revelations. When the reality is that they are merely fixed points in time. Events and individuals that have long been germinating under the surface are finally able to strike out and excite the imaginations of the voting public. What is transpiring in Tallahassee is such a fixed point, it is a set point in time just waiting for the right people with the right timing and the right message to strike and change the landscape of the community for a generation.

More than any other moment in its modern history, Tallahassee’s fate is in a purely fluid state. As a member of this potential movement’s Greek chorus, its birth pains playing out alongside the establishment’s death rattle has been a truly engrossing experience to witness. As the primary date has inched closer to us, the urgency among both camps has been quite revealing. Incumbents that rode into office with impressive mandates just a few years ago now seem trapped in a period of transition, lost in their abandonment of fading political fortunes. The once comfortable political reserve of this city, long known for its stagnating nature now appears to be changing at a cosmic speed. A mayor that has waited patiently for his position only to be engulfed in this moment’s wake, his grip on power slipping with each passing instant.

Likewise, the constant passage of time has left most of the city’s former power brokers in an equally painful place, their old habits have come back to defeat them. The prospect of an entirely new generation of officials entering public life who have limited or no association with them has left them closed out of the process. It’s caused the strange oddity of a once well-placed lobbyist having to pay for their own anti-Matlow ads on Facebook now that their past connections have made them un-hirable. Where a developer-financed organization that claims to be in existence to promote Tallahassee spends its days calling donors of progressive candidates “Trolls”, listing the small donors by name on their posts.

Speaking with old party hands they just slyly smile at the “growing pains” some of these dimming stars of Tallahassee’s past are having with the new political reality of the moment. Their refusal to take a step back and let the next batch pick up the fight. “It’s not the 2000s anymore!” says one downtown regular at a recent event, “You don’t spend ten grand on Tallahassee Democrat ads and a few more on negative commercials and win. It’s all playing out in real time on our phones and the streets. It’s moving too fast from them.”

Recently the before mentioned newspaper, now in declining health like so many great dailies of the past, made waves when it sent out a mass email to all candidates, stating that it wouldn’t be selling ad space for their campaigns. Instead, candidates could essentially “buy” exposure when they purchase one of the newspaper’s new media packages. Ranging from $1,000 for minor party inclusion to their “Front Runner” package that starts at nearly $7,000. While this writer sympathizes with his beloved hometown paper and its financial woes, it could potentially cause terrible hardships for many underdog candidates that can’t easily hand over a check and become a frontrunner. That is if it wasn’t for the fact that it probably won’t matter. The community is no longer interested or swayed by ads or commercials, far too many of them have already unplugged and unsubscribed. Voters now want face time with candidates and it’s in this realm of communal engagement that the progressives are proving most effective.

Just last week, on the same busy block of stores, one establishment candidate who had purchased a pricey package was shopping with girlfriends, while on the other side of the street her challenger was campaigning. He was campaigning all that day, and all that week. Every day of every week, walking with the same group of organizers, met with voters, made postcards, and shared insights between his campaign and the rest of the progressive organizers.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between these two political camps in Tallahassee is in their organization. Each establishment candidate is mostly an incumbent, their donors are maxed out, they started campaigning late, and their social media presence is limited, if not clearly outstripped by their challengers. By comparison, each progressive challenger is mostly volunteer-driven, funded by a sea of small donations that are able to double down in a runoff if necessary, and headed by candidates that trust their own political instincts over those of consultants. But, what’s even more interesting is the fact that nearly every member of the progressive movement in Tallahassee is involved in one way or the other with one or numerous races. No one is sitting this year out.

At a Matlow event the other week, City Commissioner Jack Porter not only spoke at the event but also helped organize it. Promoting it on her Facebook page and also refilled the water pitchers. One of the rising stars of Florida politics not acting like a semi-celebrity, just trying to help in any way she could. Each weekday the two commissioners met supporters at a Gaines street BBQ and phone bank. Both can be seen in joint campaign events with other progressive candidates, each encouraging the other, supporting them on their platforms, and hosting virtual events. Each Adner Marcelin commercial features Jack Porter and Jeromy Matlow. Each Matlow post features a supportive comment from Josh Johnson. Will Crowley and Josh Johnson are often seen campaigning together at events. Organizers will canvass for Adner or Jeremy in the morning, attend events for Damon Victor in the afternoon, have coffee with David O’Keefe afterward, and phone bank for any candidate of their choice in the evening.

It’s a movement and one built on policy and principles, not on personalities. No leaders or stars in this movement, only partners in change. This is a time and place where established progressives are focusing their energies to promote and champion this new slate of candidates.

Tallahassee is still a small enough place that it is hard not to bump into people, even rivals, or opponents, depending on how negative the race is becoming. But, it does seem that the citizens are now picking up on the vibes and are filling each community board or thread with their own insights. Like never before the local political scene here in Tallahassee has been electrified, and even the most uninterested observer, is tempted to pick sides. The viewing totals of each virtual commission meeting now seem to be reaching totals that would make a CSPAN controller rub their eyes. Yes, in this fixed moment in time, Tallahassee only seems to be growing smaller and smaller for embattled incumbents, there just aren’t many places left to hide, and even there it appears the group Our Tallahassee is waiting with a camera in the back.

Yes, this isn’t the Tallahassee of the 2000s, for every establishment figure who refuses to act when a developer displaces a group of families from their homes, there is now an army of organizers and community activists there to greet their gaze. For every thousand dollars’ worth of headlines purchased, these same organizers will counter with days of phone banking and canvassing.

“But, Bobby you charming wordsmith!” you might say, “surely it is not that simple or uplifting. It is just a time of transition! What if these promising candidates don’t rise to the top? What if this isn’t the time when everything comes together?”

Well, dear reader, I think it’s a little late for a reversal of fortune. Remember this isn’t about them, it’s about us. These candidates are preaching what you’ve been thinking for years now. Their potential will pale in comparison to the potential of this living and fluid movement they have helped create. These candidates are not running to win comfortable new seats of power, their supporters are not putting in the hours to earn coveted positions in new administrations. They are running because these seats are what are needed to bring about change. Because taking seats from this current establishment will lead to change.

It’s a fixed moment, a period of transition populated by public events, conversations at doorsteps, organizing on the weekends, incumbents sweating, and commissioners that pour the water, not wait for it to be served to them in country club luncheons.

After all it’s as they say, everything happens for a reason.

%d bloggers like this: