By Jerry Waxman
Back on March 8, 2011 Awake the State rallied in many of Florida’s communities including Orlando. The Orlando rally attracted hundreds of people and many speakers who all were all on the same page: Hey, Governor Scott and the legislature, we can’t afford your budget cuts that affect the middle class in order to pay for more tax breaks for large corporations. Guess what happened? Neither Scott nor his Republican allies listened to the people. Their campaign promises about bringing jobs to the state never materialized and the entire legislative focus was on austere budget cuts that actually lost jobs in the state along with voter suppression bills, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, cutbacks in state employee pensions and anti-middle class measures that gave big corporations huge tax breaks at taxpayers’ expense.
Florida was by no means the only state to do this. At the same time that the Florida Lawmakers were having their way other states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Indiana were experiencing the same thing. Wisconsin did something about it as did Ohio. The results of the Wisconsin protests are that two Republican state senators lost their recall elections thereby almost restoring balance to the state. Governor Scott Walker is being recalled and the hope is that he will be defeated if he runs for re-election. The citizens of Ohio overturned anti-union laws in November. Democrats in Indiana are fighting anti-union legislation at the present time. The citizens of Florida are now gearing up to fight the repressive Republican initiatives and the movement is gaining strength.
At the same time last year as these radical measures were being tested in the US, resistance forces were awakening in the middle east and were successful in toppling governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, with major resistance still going on in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. Other countries in the region are experiencing ongoing civil protests and unrest. The name given the uprisings is the Arab Spring or the Arab Awakening and it shows no signs of abatement.
In Florida the people at Organize Now, Florida Watch Action and other like minded groups sprang into action. They organized rallies to “Pink Slip Rick”, a term to fire the current governor even though the Florida Constitution does not allow for recalls of state officials. Any time the governor speaks publicly within Central Florida there is always a crowd showing up with “Pink Slip Rick” signs, most notably at a donut shop in Tampa several months ago. “Pink Slip Rick” is catching on throughout the state and requests for t-shirts and bumper stickers are increasing every day. Susannah Randolph, wife of State Representative Scott Randolph has also drawn attention to the repression of women’s rights by mockingly announcing that she would incorporate her uterus because it has more rights as a corporation than she does as a woman. Her husband spoke about it on the house floor thereby arousing the ire of House Speaker Dean Cannon who attempted to ban the word in chambers. The incident drew national media exposure and MSNBC ran with it for a long time. It remains one of the funniest political inanities of the year yet it shows the house Republicans to be without humor, incredibly uptight and terribly sensitive to criticism.
At the same time on a national scale Tea Party influenced Republicans in Congress were doing whatever they could to tank the already fragile economy and restrict a robust recovery in any way possible strictly for political advantage. It was at this fateful moment in time that average people were beginning to realize that our system of government at all levels had been co-opted by powerful corporate interests who had the power to influence political outcomes detrimental to all save a powerful few. Thus, the Occupy Movement was born in this country. Occupy Wall Street led the way, and all of the Occupying movements are having their effect on their respective communities. The Occupations have shown that organizing and direct actions are having their effect.
According to the Press release issued Jan 10 all of these rallies coincided with the first day of the Florida legislative session where there were also major demonstrations taking place by concerned citizens who want legislators to focus on protecting and expanding Florida’s middle class. Florida’s taxing structure places a much higher burden on working families than on major corporations who barely pay any taxes at all. “That’s not fair” said Amy Ritter of Florida Watch Action. Sheena Rolle of Organize Now said “We will continue to fight extreme Tallahassee Republicans, led by Rick Scott, until we see these anti-middle class policies changed and the middle class and job creation is the focus in Florida once again. The fight for the future of Florida has begun. As a part of the protests these groups are handing out flyers with the names of the Republican legislators who have acted like Scott puppets and a list of “Dirty Dozen” businesses that financially supported Scott’s 2010 campaign. The flyers have been distributed around the state as part of the protests. More information can be found at www.pinksliprick.com/dirtythirty.
So, Awake the State was blessed with nineteen actions from around the state, and Orlando’s rally was a resounding success. It is not always easy to get a crowd of people downtown at 4:00 PM on a workday, but there was a crowd of over 100 people charged up and ready to demonstrate outside of the Progressive Center. Other cities reported similar crowds with similar agendas. This was not a crowd of fringe people. This was a crowd of working people, college students, recently laid off professionals looking to get back to work and political activists. There were many “Pink Slip Rick” shirts in attendance. Several candidates for local offices were there in support, most notably Jeff Ashton, who has announced that he will be running for State Attorney against his former boss, Lawson Lamar, and Mayoral hopeful Michael Cantone, who is looking to unseat current mayor Buddy Dyer. Before the actual rally there were a series of chants to warm up the crowd.
Sheena Rolle acted as emcee and welcomed the crowd. She introduced Steve Clelland, head of the Orlando Firefighters who pointed out the hypocrisy of his representative, Fred Costello, when he was mayor of Ormond Beach opted for a defined benefit plan, yet introduced an anti defined benefit plan as soon as he went to the legislature. He also spoke about Rep. Chris Dorworth who accepted union money and then filed legislation to restrict union dues from being deducted from their paychecks because they were giving money to politicians. He also blasted the Orlando Chamber of Commerce who pays a dollar a year rent for over 40 years on the property yet sponsored ads that blame public employees for the current crisis. Clelland intimates that public employees are going to be changing their registrations and start campaigning against these particular legislators.
Sisters Ana and Ida Eskimani are two pint sized powerhouses active in the College Democrats at UCF who complained about the voter suppression bills that have restricted registration by college students. Diana Moore with the Classroom Teachers of America spoke about the need for legislators and parents to be more accountable and responsible in order to bring education to the forefront again. She spoke about the need for proper funding of public education in order to achieve first rate goals.
Booker Perry, a retired firefighter who made headlines recently when he was evicted in a foreclosure action spoke about the trials of people who have to leave their homes. The new voter suppression laws have made it extremely difficult for people to reregister to vote. For many people this is a hardship that will prevent them from voting in the next election. Andy Dominguez, head of Latino Leadership is heavily invested in voter registration for minorities. He spoke against the repressive voter suppression laws.
Once the speakers were done it was time to march. Chanting and sign waving were the order of the day and based on the number of approving horn honks from rush hour traffic it was a very successful rally.