A coalition of progressive advocacy groups, including the Florida NAACP, the Transformative Justice Coalition, and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, kicked off a five-day, 15-city rolling protest named “Stay Woke Florida!” on Monday. This protest tour is designed to challenge a slew of laws recently passed in Florida that are perceived as targeting people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and undermining democratic principles. The protest initiative coincides with Juneteenth commemorations, aiming to mobilize community change and inspire a more significant voter turnout for the 2024 elections.
The Cause Behind the Protest
In what they term an action call, the protest groups express discontent over new laws that emerged from Florida’s 2023 legislative assembly, which they believe to be antithetical to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The contentious laws, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, involve policies that limit the teaching of critical race theory in higher education, enforce bans on discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, and defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at state universities. Additionally, the legislation contains restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender adults and children and anti-immigration policies. Consequently, civil rights groups have implemented travel advisories, citing the state’s regressive approach toward academic freedom and social justice.
Community Impact and Response
The recent legislation is perceived as a significant setback for advocates of social justice and diversity. According to Tallahassee resident Louis Dilbert, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion helped me to get where I am. These culture wars are not helping anyone.” Others argue that the legislation demonstrates hostility towards women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, Republican representatives, who held sway in the midterms and currently dominate the legislature, defend the legislation. However, critics see these laws as a thinly veiled attack on democratic principles. Mutaqee Akbar, Tallahassee NAACP president, argued, “The active call is to get people registered– to get people engaged in the political process so we can fight against some of the legislation that’s been going on.”
Roadmap and Outreach
Organizers aim to raise awareness of these issues and mobilize action at the grassroots level. Along the protest route, community members are invited to participate in voter registration drives, abortion protection petitions, and community outreach events. The ‘Stay Woke Florida!’ tour began its journey in River City at the IBEW Union Hall, with participants enjoying breakfast and registration starting at 7 a.m., followed by a press conference at 9 a.m. The protest tour will visit Tampa, Ft. Myers, West Palm, and other locations, finally wrapping up in Jacksonville on June 23. The full tour schedule can be found here.
Hope for the Future
As the ‘Stay Woke Florida!’ tour continues to gain momentum, organizers express hope that the protest will serve as a catalyst for tangible change. Many activists involved in the tour view this movement as a crucial step towards fostering democracy and inspiring a sense of unity among Florida communities. The focus extends beyond merely raising awareness; it also calls for active involvement in the political process as an avenue for challenging legislation perceived as oppressive. “It’s necessary that we come out like this, as much as we can, although it’s raining. The purpose is much greater,” expressed one of the protest participants, Mahdee Qawwee. Many share this sentiment, indicating a willingness to weather both metaphorical and literal storms to safeguard democracy and uphold the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Voting Power and Community Education
An integral part of the ‘Stay Woke Florida!’ initiative is its emphasis on encouraging voter registration and highlighting the importance of participating in local elections. Community education has also emerged as a crucial component, with organizations like the Tallahassee NAACP, the Tallahassee League of Women Voters, and Power Up People facilitating discussions and providing information about the implications of recent legislation. According to Kathy Winn, chair of the statewide League of Women Voters healthcare action team, local elections often have a more substantial impact on communities than presidential elections. She stated, “People that you vote for your city commission, your county commission, they’re the people that make decisions that really strongly influence your life.”
The Importance of Civic Responsibility
A central theme resonating throughout the ‘Stay Woke Florida!’ protest is the critical role of civic responsibility in a democracy. Activists encourage community members to voice their views to their representatives, underscoring the necessity of engagement in the political process. As Trish Brown notes, “Everyone has to come together on this. All hands on deck.” Qawwee echoed this sentiment, stating, “We’ve been walking away from it too long. The only way that it’s going to blossom and be progressive is we’re going to have to come out and start the fire.”
While the ‘Stay Woke Florida!’ protest is a response to recent legislation, it is also a forward-looking initiative. As the tour makes its way across the state, organizers hope to ignite the collective resolve needed to challenge existing policies and shape a more inclusive and equitable future for all Florida residents.