Tuesday, March 8, marked the opening day for the state legislature in Florida and the opening salvos in the fight to save our state from extreme tea baggerism. Rick Scott, our governor and crook/tea bagger extraordinaire has promised to turn our state government on its ear. His initial budget proposal contains draconian cuts for state employees and teachers while giving tax cuts to large corporations.
Awake the State is a concerted effort to inform citizens of how the governor's proposals and policies will detrimentally affect them and to mobilize activism to effect positive change. Awake the State held rallies in various Florida cities to coincide with the opening of the legislature.
In Tallahassee, Awake the State held two rallies, one in mid-morning and a second at five in the afternoon. I attended both rallies. This diary is both a photo diary and a personal account of these rallies.
The first of the two Awake the State rallies in Tallahassee was held at 10:30 am in front of the Leon County Courthouse, across Monroe Street from the Old Capitol building. This location allowed for high visibility because Monroe Street is a major north/south arterial in Tallahassee. This was the very first of many signs that I saw. It was very appropriate because our newly elected Governor, Rick Scott is a member of the Tea Party as is the Republican majority of the Florida legislature. The Tea Party held a competing rally on the steps of the Old Capitol.
A view of the crowd assembling at the Leon County Courthouse. I estimated this crowd to be in excess of 600 people as it appeared to be more than double the size of the 250 person crowd for the Save the Dream (in support of Wisconsin) a week and a half earlier. Among the speakers were Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda and Rep. Allan Williams, both of whom are Democrats from the area. Rep. Vasilinda emphasized that these budget cuts threaten not only state employees and our schools, but also threaten small businesses. She stated that the real issue is not deficits, but lack of revenue due to past tax cuts and the tax cuts being proposed by Governor Scott will only benefit large corporations. Unfortunately, Democrats in the Florida legislature are greatly outnumbered by Republicans (mostly Teabaggers) due to gerrymandered districts.
I did not bring a sign of my own to the morning rally. When I walked up to the crowd, someone offered me a sign to hold. It read "We are Now Living Under a Plutocracy, NOT a Democracy." While the speakers were presenting to the majority of the crowd in attendance, a large number of us stood along the edge of Monroe Street shouting and waving to people passing by in thei automobiles. Once the people in their cars realized who we were, they began honking their horns and giving us the thumbs up. At least half of the cars driving by honked. It was very gratifying to know that the people here supported Awake the State efforts.
This sign below speaks to the real facts of Florida government. Florida already has the most cost efficient per capita and least number of employees per population of all fifty states. The current cost of Florida government per capita and employees per population is about half the average of all state governments and yet Rick Scott is proposing draconian cuts to state government employees and over $700 per pupil cuts to schools within Florida.
These next two signs were held by a wife and husband. His sign addresses the absurdity of Rick Scott's budget cuts.
During the morning rally, I was interviewed by two television stations, one from Fort Myers and the second from Orlando. The reporter from Ft. Myers asked the usual questions about my name, town, and was I a teacher or state employee (which I am/was neither). Then she asked me an open ended question that allowed me to speak freely about why these rallies were so important. I was grateful for the chance to put real facts out there, but do not know if it made their news. I was also interviewed by a photographer/reporter from the St. Pete Times and by a reporter from NPR. The NPR reporter was wonderful. He told me that he overheard me talking to another attendee and wanted to interview me because of it. Even after the recorded interview, the reporter continued to talk with me for some time. Although I have not heard the NPR interview myself, a friend told me that he heard it.
After the morning rally, I stopped on my way home and bought some posterboard and markers to make my own poster to take to the afternoon rally.
The photo below is of the crowd gathering at the 5 pm rally at Kleman Plaza behind City Hall. The primary speakers at this rally were Loranne Ausley (former state representative) and City Commissioner Andrew Gillum both of whom introduced other speakers and rallied the crowd.
I estimated the afternoon crowd to be about 300 to 400 people, which was disappointing. I expected to see more state employees there, but think they are very afraid to show up as there have been rumors that they are being threatened with losing their jobs if they participate.
Kleman Plaza is located on the west side of Duval Street, a major north/south road that runs in front of the New Capitol. As with the morning rally, we sign people lined up along Duval Street waving to passing cars. At the evening rush, the traffic was heavy and ofter stopped in front of us giving the people in the cars a great view of our signs.
As with the morning traffic, the people in the cars began honking as they drove by and giving us the thumbs up. Sometimes every car in a group of cars would be honking. Working the road was so energizing. Every time someone honked, I felt an adrenaline rush. We were smiling and even talking to the people in the cars and the support was even greater than with the morning traffic.
These next photos are of some of the signs at the afternoon rally. Many of these people were also in attendance at the morning rally.
This sign reminds us that the price of democracy is ever vigilance. The Tea Party people wrap themselves in the flag, but want to suppress dissent. This sign sums up exactly why I felt so strongly about participating in the Awake the State rallies.
Here I am in the picture below with my own homemade sign at the afternoon rally. The weather was beautiful and the energy was contagious. Tallahassee is a government town with the state, city, country, two universities (FSU and FAMU), and the community college being major employers. Rick Scott's budget cuts will have a very heavy impact on Tallahassee. Talking with some of the other people in attendance at the rallies, we acknowledged that there probably is little we can do to stop Rick Scott's gutting of the state government and public schools this session. However, if our efforts result in energizing people and educating them on what happens when the Tea Party takes over, then we have accomplished something.
Update: This is the obligatory thank you for making this diary reach the Wreck List. Thank you to everyone who read and recommended this diary.