By Jerry Waxman
There’s something different happening in the State of Florida, something unique. After almost thirteen years of Republican rule (certainly not governance) ordinary Floridians, you know, the people that our governors and legislators refer to as “The taxpayers” that they claim to represent are beginning to awaken from their corporately induced stupor to the realization that something is very wrong in this state. After Rick Scott’s inauguration (for which he invested $73,000,000.00 in his election) groups like Progress Florida, Florida Watch Action and America votes (just to name a few) started up a Facebook page called Awake the State which quickly grew in large numbers to people across the state. If Rick Scott invested that kind of money in his election, it’s because as a CEO he expects a good return on his investment. He doesn’t give a damn about ordinary people-only what their tax money can do for him. Anyone want to bet that Scott leaves office at least $100,000,000.00 richer than the day he took the oath? That’s what CEOs care about.
A March 8 date was set for rallies throughout the state to protest Rick Scott’s and his veto proof majority’s budget cutting agenda. On their Facebook pages there were over 30 rallies scheduled and probably a few more that did not make the pages. Reports of large crowds started to filter in from across the state, not just in the major cities but in the outlying and rural districts as well. The message was clear: “Your actions are hurting all but the wealthiest Floridians. We deserve better”! Reports of 100 or 200 and more people came from counties not necessarily known for their progressive views. Osceola County reported a crowd of over 120 people which is a huge number. In perspective that’s like filling the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. The health care rallies of 2009 paled by comparison. In Orlando there was definitely a shift in the atmosphere. There was something real, something palpable and visceral about what was happening. It evoked memories from the first season of Miami Vice, with Don Johnson tearing through the Miami streets in his replica Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS with Phil Collins’s mysterioso hit In the Air Tonight playing as background music.
The Orlando rally was organized early on and a crowd of over 300 marchers started out at 4:30 PM from the IBEW hall and marched to the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, about a mile away. There was a crowd of at least 200 waiting for them when they arrived led by bagpipers to the tune of God Bless America. By the time the rally was in full swing there were well over 600 people taking part; ordinary people from all walks of life, not just public employees but small merchants, lawyers, doctors, regular working people, or, again, as our politicians like to call them, “The Taxpayers,” the people they claim to represent. The Orlando sentinel actually covered the event and gave it a small amount of front page space, which is more than they did for what is going on in Wisconsin. Sentinel political columnist Scott Maxwell (of Jeopardy fame) wrote favorably on the rally in his Wednesday column in section B.
Denise Diaz of Jobs With Justice acted as host for the event, introducing several speakers, including ex congressman from Orlando, Alan Grayson, who said that Florida is going to look more like Somalia than a state in our union. Grayson was well received with huge cheers by the crowd before, during and after his speech. Isabel Chipungu, a teacher at Ocoee Elementary school and an avowed conservative gave an impassioned speech defending teachers. Wayne Bernoska, an Orlando fire fighter/paramedic spoke solidly in favor of standing up to Republican politicians. Adding a little humor to the proceedings Bernoska added that the Tea Party rally in Tallahassee was rained on and they blamed all of the assembled for it. Gracie Fowler, a young single mother who is graduating college this year spoke up about the much needed public parks for her children to play in. Host Diaz agreed citing that the Chamber of Commerce, which pays no taxes, has a nice clean well maintained park next door, yet the neighborhoods where people do pay taxes have poorly maintained parks, some of which may close due to budget cuts. By far, the most dramatic speaker was Antonio Austin who is severely handicapped. This is not an easy video to watch, but it is extremely rewarding to hear Austin’s struggle to lead a normal life. Budget cuts would severely limit his ability to function.
The rally broke up around 6:30 PM and everyone left in an orderly fashion. Most of the union heads attending stated that this is only the first of many demonstrations throughout the state. The next big demonstration planned is for April 7. Several community activists in attendance said that there is a real charged energy in the air that they haven’t felt since the 2008 election. The key to success is to keep that energy going. After all, “The Taxpayers” deserve nothing less. On March 8 the people started to wake up. Let’s see what happens when they’re fully awake.