Last summer, student activists in Florida known as the Dream Defenders held one of the longest sit-in demonstrations in recent Tallahassee history, as they attempted to get Rick Scott to call for a special session on the controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law. The sit-in began just days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Though Scott declined to convene such a session, the group received national attention for their actions, and they vowed that they would be back in 2014 to educate thousands of new voters in advance of the 2014 state elections.
That's now about to happen, as the group announced today that they will launch a large voter mobilization and education program in Hillsborough, Polk and seven other Florida counties, to run through Election Day. The campaign is called “The BLOC Is Ours”, and it's being billed as a "a civic engagement and education initiative" to activate the state’s emerging majority around issues impacting low-income communities and people of color.
In a press release, Dream Defenders say this voting "BLOC" will represent a diverse group of individuals and communities "whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by Florida’s political trajectory."
The announcement comes on the 50th anniversary of of the civil rights movement’s 1964 Freedom Summer, says Alekos Zambrano with the Dream Defenders in Hillsborough County. "We're going to talk about voting and we're going to talk about the issues. But we're also going to talk about community organizing."
And Zambrano says, his group will be present at the University Area Community Center on 22nd Street in Tampa for community events this summer, building towards the Hillsborough County "Freedom School," which will be held on July 19. That's when the group will host a four-hour discussion on the elections and certain issues, such as combating police brutality. Although the campaign is not about registering new voters, it is about educating them about the issues and candidates on the ballot, says Zambrano. He also says the group will be releasing its own voter guides later this summer.
“There’s a new voting BLOC emerging out of the ashes of a politically decrepit America,” says Phillip Agnew, Executive Director of Dream Defenders, in a press release. “People of color, the poor, the LGBTQ community, women, teachers, parents, working families, students — for too long, we’ve been kept divided by issue. It’s time to act on the power in our numbers and build an America that embodies the values it claims to promote: liberty, equality, and justice."
Whether such education efforts will gin up the vote for Democrats in November remains to be seen. Party officials are concerned about voter enthusiasm this fall, so any help by outside groups might be a boost for their efforts. After Barack Obama's victory in the Sunshine State in 2012, party activists talked about how they wanted to keep that formula — women, black and brown voters, gays and young people — in the mix in 2014, which is partly where the Dream Defenders aim to recruit from.
Other counties where the Dream Defenders will be educating new voters include Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval, Leon, Volusia, Orange, Hillsborough, Polk, and Alachua Counties.