I started getting a little involved in politics in the state of Florida around 2002, getting my toes wet both writing about things and participating in some events here and there. I volunteered for my first campaign in 2004 and in 2005 I helped found the Florida Progressive Coalition blog and turned to writing about Florida politics as my primary blogging outlet.
In my time participating in Florida politics, there has never been a better year for the progressive movement than 2011. On the heels of the horrific year that was 2010, particularly in the electoral sense, Florida progressives woke up like they haven’t done, maybe in decades. Before 2011, Florida progressives were mostly disjointed, very poorly organized, very poorly funded and had few victories that I can remember. But in 2011, all that changed and it changed mostly on the outside of the party and the campaigns. Activists were fed up with inaction or ineffectiveness by state and local parties and the fact that so few campaigns in the state are run well or run progressively. So they went elsewhere.
The first notable group that had success this year was the one that’s been around a while, Progress Florida. The group has been active since its inception and has had a good amount of success thanks to the work of Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Ray Seaman and the rest of the gang. Their success continued uninterrupted in 2011 and their influence continues to grow. Building on the success of Rootscamp Florida in late 2010, began a series of other camps organized by Edwin Enisco, Susan Smith, Ray Seaman, Susannah Randolph and a bunch of others, including the first Legicamp, the Progressive Platform Conference and others. These events served to bring together a wide variety of activist groups and individuals who had previously got them to sit down and get to know each other, laying the ground for a lot of good things.
Florida Watch Action was another group that got active in 2011 and was probably the most successful with actions like Pink Slip Rick and many others. Susannah Randolph, Amy Ritter and the gang succeeded in branding the governor (and others) in ways few had success with in the past and they acted frequently and creatively. Combining all of these groups and elements led to the Awake the State movement which has had multiple large and important rallies across the state and has done more to, well, awake, Floridians than anything else in years.
Coming out of a lot of the meetings earlier in the year was also the establishment of the new Florida Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, which not only has a significant membership, but also has a voice within the party that many of these other groups don’t have. In 2011, we’ll see them in action and see what they can accomplish.
Coming later in the year was the Occupy Movement, which had numerous major groupings throughout the state and a lot of smaller ones. They’ve maintained some momentum, had statewide meetings, and are rallying at the beginning of the legislative session at the same time as Awake the State.
This is more activism in the state in one year, than I’ve seen in all my years watching things going on combined. And this doesn’t even include many other groups that are still getting things done like Organize Now, the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, the labor movement, Planned Parenthood and numerous others. There are a lot of exciting things going on in the state these days and there’s no sign that any of this is slowing down.
There are some areas of concern, of course, and if these are addressed, a lot of good can be done.
1. Can the groups work together to grow a full-scale movement? They are working together more than I’ve ever seen, but there are some significant barriers to them growing closer together, most notably the Occupy people’s fear of ‘co-optation’ and unwillingness to take partisan or ideological sides. Both parties contribute to the major problems we face. Both ideologies don’t.
2. Can protests and rallies turn into electoral and policy victories? Policy victories are unlikely to be had at the state level any time soon, but they can work at the local level. And if elections don’t become more of a focus, will policy victories ever come?
3. Can sufficient funding be given to sustain these movements? In the past the answer has been no, but there are signs that could change.
4. Can these movements grow and expand without clear-cut victories? Victories will be hard to come by with Rick Scott in the governor’s mansion and the legislature dominated by Republicans. What happens to the borderline activists who don’t see enough action and don’t see enough success coming out of the movement? Do they stay?
5. Can the new blood in the movement revitalize and reform the structures in the state that aren’t working very well? It’d be hard for anyone to argue that the party (both state and local) or campaigns are having a lot of success in recent years, particularly 2010. Can that be changed?
I’m sure there are other important things to talk about in terms of activism in the state, but that’s what I’ve got for now. Let me know if I left anything else out. Two more posts will follow this one (not today), one on the state of Florida politics overall and another on the state of the progressive netroots in Florida. Stay tuned…