Moral Mondays Florida vote for a better tomorrow

With just a week left to vote in the midterm election, Moral Mondays Florida is encouraging people to vote. Their platform is nonpartisan,“Right versus wrong, not right versus left.” They encourage voters from all sides to communicate with one another. For them, communication is the key to educating Floridians, and a way to ensure that residents assert their rights as voters. In support of this movement, members of Progress Florida, Awake Pinellas, Sierra Club, Equality Florida, Florida Democratic Environmental Caucus, and Progressive Democrats of Florida attended their rally Monday evening in St. Petersburg's Williams Park.

Long time union worker and union advocate, Steve Sarnoff, also a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives District 67 House seat, began his speech by defining oligarchy and plutocracy, which he feels is happening to our democracy. “What are the possible solutions? What path should we take?” he asks. He tells the audience a joke in order to convey what he feels is happening to our democracy. “A baker made a dozen cookies for three guests. One guest was an oligarch, one guest was a tea party follower, and the other guest was a union guy. After the cookies were brought out, the billionaire oligarch grabbed eleven cookies, leaned over to the tea party guy and whispered in his ear, watch out, that union guy is gonna steal your cookie.”

Sarnoff is hopeful. He says there are still 125,000 mail-in ballots to be submitted. “A rising tide lifts up everyone,” he says. “A community is only democratic when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess,” quoting labor leader and social activist A. Philip Randolph from 1921.

Each of the speakers mentioned the labor movement of the twentieth century. In particular, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911 when 146 garment workers, men, women and children were killed because they were locked inside to ensure they fulfilled their twelve hour work day. Many of those workers were immigrants that came to this country seeking a better life. For two years they protested for better wages and working conditions. Sarnoff believes that while the violence inflicted on those who displayed civil disobedience within that labor movement was “seared into our minds,” the dignity of the laborers must be embraced today. He says that more than ever, everyone must work together to build a larger movement, because, he said, we are witnessing living proof that elections have consequences.

Sarnoff said the great American agenda set in motion by the Koch Brothers, the Walton Walmart family and the founders of corporations like Home Depot, wasn't an accident. He went to list the ways those conservatives are denying rights; immigration rights, education rights, unemployment rights, LGBT rights, housing rights, women’s rights and rights of ex-offenders that have paid their debt to society. It’s not 100 fights, it’s one, and our adversary, as he describes it, is united and "we must be as well."  Sarnoff believes that Florida is undergoing the worst voter suppression since Jim Crow and that as long as the tax rates of the wealthy are cut, we won’t have the necessary funding for the proper upkeep of our infrastructure. “Don’t get mad, vote!,” he pleaded.

A banner on the stage said that an average of six people die every day because of the failure of the Scott administration to accept Medicaid expansion. Emcee Shana Smith led the crowd by djembe drum, chanting “Forward together, not one step back!” She says, “Bernie Sanders said on PBS that the 400 wealthiest American’s have more wealth than the bottom 150,000,000 Americans. If that’s not inequality I don’t know what is. Our theme for this Moral Mondays rally is get out and vote. This is a window of opportunity to begin to make a difference.”

Mary Glenney, Co-host of the WMNF radio program, From a woman’s point of view, says that when she reads the headlines on women fighting for their rights today, she asks herself, “Is this America?” She says that after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, New York was transformed by the adoption of unions. “To me that is America, it’s not just one person, it’s a heritage of people who fought for our rights. You may not be comfortable with a new idea at first, but after a while it begins to make sense. America has always been a democratic consensus,” says Glenney. She feels like we have lost that consensus. She also asks us to think about all of the lives taken and sacrifices made by individuals in past labor movements. “It took women 75 years to get the vote. Think about that,” says Glenney.

Phil Compton, Sierra Club Florida’s regional representative, asks the crowd not to just hold big energy companies accountable for the lack of public transportation, poor air quality and rising energy prices, but that they hold themselves accountable as well. He asks who among the audience walked, rode their bike or took a bus to the event if they could have. He also asked who drove. “Why did you drive a car? You don’t have a choice here in Tampa Bay, do you?” he shouted. He says that we invest less money on transportation than any other place in the U.S.

Choosing how we get around is a very basic right. Compton feels that we are victims of tyranny for having to own a car. “Each member of each household family spends $10,000 a year for each one of their cars.” He says we spend more out of our pockets on transportation than any other community in the U.S. Our current dependence on our cars and lack of transportation options is robbing our families of the income we need to spend on things like our children’s education and maintaining our homes. “85 percent of that $10,000 that we each spend every year on our cars leaves the local economy. Where does it go? 50 percent of it goes to fixing your cars, but most of it leaves here,” says Compton. He believes that the most equitable thing we can do for our local economy is to invest in a better transportation system that every other city as big as ours has. “That’s our Greenlight Pinellas plan,” he says.

Nadine Smith is the CEO of Equality Florida and an LGBT activist for the last twenty-five years. She highlighted the lessons learned from the LGBT rights movement. “We stayed in it with our families, even the families that rejected us and taught us to reject ourselves. In that process not only do we heal ourselves from those injuries, often times we moved them along,” she says. Smith believes that the public must be reflective enough to listen to people who have different opinions. “Leave the door open for people to make the journey from following the crowd, feeding at the fox news trough and not really understanding the interconnectedness of us,” she says. She says people have to be vulnerable enough to reach out, even to those who refuse to listen, to keep showing up. Once upon a time no one supported the LGBT community, but now 57 percent of people support marriage equality. “When the people are heard, Tallahassee will change. The impediment to Florida is not my neighbors voting anymore, it’s politicians who won’t listen us and our neighbors.” She says there are two people standing in the way of marriage equality in Florida, “Their names are Rick Scott and Pam Bondi,” says Smith.

Shana Smith believes there are better existing models of democracy to be considered such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden. If the U.S. were up as high in the quality of life that those countries are, “all of these issues that we are talking about would be resolved,” she says.

We have the voice, we should be listened to, and we must listen to each other was the main consensus among the speakers. “Let’s try and get that consensus back where we really are America of, for and by the people. Vote,” says Glenney. “Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. That’s us,” says Compton. Nadine Smith believes that if each of us reaches out to five others, we can encourage people to vote and transform Tampa Bay.   


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