Nearly 50 New Florida Majority staff and volunteers from Miami and Jacksonville descended on Tallahassee last week to advocate for laws that would decriminalize communities, and provide sufficient beyond law enforcement and gun control.
Volunteers bused up Tuesday after work and woke up early Wednesday morning to briefings by Karen Woodall of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, Phillip Singleton of Singleton Consulting, Senate Democratic Office Legislative Analyst- Carlos Nathan, Ron Bilbao of the Florida Education Association, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) and Rep. Tracie Davis.
The early morning also included a formal recognition of the group in the Senate Gallery by Senate Minority Leader Oscar Brayon, Senate Minority Leader-Elect Sen. Audrey Gibson, Sen. Annette Taddeo, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Sen. Randolph Bracy and Sen. Daphne Campbell.
INSPIRED ENERGY FROM TELLING THEIR STORIES TO LEGISLATORS
After watching some of the legislative debate in the Senate, residents split to visit legislators, attend committee hearings and participate in a rally for greater gun control. Advocates were given the flexibility to choose where they wanted to go, resulting in visits to the offices of Rep. Shevrin Jones, Rep. Richard Stark, Rep. Kionee McGhee, Rep. Roy Hardemon, Sen. Daphne Campbell, Sen. Gary Farmer and Sen. Perry Thurston. Others stopped by meetings of the House’s Health and Human Services Committee, Judiciary and Education Committees.
Members both young and old energized each, fast becoming friends around a desire to improve the lives of those in their neighborhoods through political education and empowerment. Many thanked organizers and staff for inspiring them to get involved and to use their voice to passionately express their issues to legislative aides and elected officials.
“I watched many of you fight for what you are passionate about that it brought me to a point where I had to speak on something that I felt had to be said to someone who was powerful and can do something about it,” said Sabii Eustache about her conversation with State Rep. Roberto Ascencio. “I am just so grateful to be here and to watch people speak on something that not a lot people have courage to speak up about.”
Sandra Nunez, a veteran teacher from Broward, said that she was left speechless by the experience.
“You guys did such an amazing job orchestrating this. It was so well put together,” said Nunez. “I come to Tallahasee many times and I have to say this was the best trip to Tallahassee for me…there really was a nice vibe. It was amazing.”
For all the accolades, NewFM Political Director Dwight Bullard thanked the volunteers for their willingness to journey to the Capitol to represent the voices of those who couldn’t be there.
“It’s so critically important that we were in this space today and that we continue to do the work on the ground that is necessary,” said Bullard. “Thank you for getting on the bus and on the road with us and join us on this spectacular mission.”
North Florida Regional Director Mone Holder agreed.
“Feeling the energy from everyone has been truly inspiring. I have done work with the legislature for many, many years but I have never had an advocacy experience quote like this,” said Holder afterwards. “I can’t say enough how special it was to see people step out of their comfort zones to speak to legislators about their experiences and share their personal stories. It was a feel of power that is really indescribable.”
The group ended the day with a trip to the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum on the campus of Florida A&M University (FAMU). The historically black college hosts the largest collection of African American items in the Southeast.
“As a multiracial organization, we [at NewFM] understand that the history of racism and genocide deeply impacts all of our structures today. It’s that history and the history of [unchecked] capitalism that has brought us to this place. Every generation has fought to change and to shift,” said Mercado. “As we fight to expand democracy and move the country towards racial equity, we believe that it’s really bringing together black communities, indigenous communities, progressive women and a few good men that’s going to enable us to create the kind of radical transformation that we need.”