At noon on the forth day of the Dream Defenders’ sit-in at the Florida State Capitol, the NAACP held a rally on the steps of the old Florida capitol building with the theme “We shall not be moved.”
It was fitting. After a late night meeting with Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday night that ended with no movement on the group’s demands for a special legislative session to address what they call “The Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act,” the activist group stayed true to their word. They continued their occupation of the Governor’s office and the rotunda area of the Capitol.
At five o’clock on Friday, over 80 protestors — the largest number so far — were locked in the building for the weekend, which makes it likely the protest will enter its seventh day on Monday.
Dream Defenders’ combination of motivated students and savvy professional organizer leadership have continued to get extensive media coverage on MSNBC and CNN, and their actions have led the local Tallahassee news for several nights. After the group’s sit down with Gov. Scott failed to give them what they wanted, their morale was actually higher.
Violence has been absent in the four day standoff. The group makes frequent use of singing songs from the Civil Rights era with the words modified to evoke Trayvon Martin, and there is a good amount of Christian prayer.
The group’s goal is not to overturn the jury’s “not guilty” verdict for George Zimmerman. There has been almost no discussion at all about the idea of pursuing the civil rights charges against Zimmerman that have been floated by Eric Holder and the Department of Justice. Instead, the group’s political focus has been on Stand Your Ground, racial profiling, and the effects of incarceration on young people.
The discussions that take place during the days and nights of the occupation are less about political issues and more about the personal experiences of the protestors themselves, who are nearly all black and young. They talk about being profoundly emotionally effected by the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and how they see parallels to their own lives.
Almost all the participants are students; it’s not at all uncommon to see them working on homework or studying for a test as they wait out the Governor. Many also work and have operated in shifts or taken time off to join the protest.
The group’s reaction to having a reporter from Breitbart News spending hours a day at their event has also confounded expectations. The reaction from the protesters and their leadership to me has been curiosity and dialogue, not hostility. The discussions I have had with the young people occupying the capitol have not shied away from usually forbidden topics like race, politics, and religion. Instead, we have confronted them straight on.
Some respectful disagreements resulted, but more importantly, some key areas of commonality emerged. A number of the young protestors said positive things about the late Andrew Breitbart, saying that while they disagreed with his politics they knew who he was and that they admired his outspoken passion. It is an amazing testament to his legacy.
Despite the omnipresent cameras and reporters at the Capitol providing a forum for free media coverage, there has been no appearance by anyone who favors the Stand Your Ground law.
More troubling for those who want to stem the tide of statism has been the lack of conservative voices. In this sense, the protest exposes the complete empty failure of the recent “outreach” rhetoric by Republicans.
The protests actually give liberty advocates a chance to listen to the problems and concerns of three demographics they claim to want to get more voters from — youth, women and minorities — and to present the alternative to the clear failures of central planning.
Of course, making the case for freedom would be met with some resistance requiring the hard work of first understanding people’s underlying issues and trying to come to consensus on solutions. It is not easy but in conversation after conversation with the Dream Defenders protestors, I have seen an openness for new ideas by young people who distrust the Republican establishment but are also deeply suspicious of the mainstream Democrat machine and the policies that have failed them on issues like jobs.
This resistance to the Liberal Co-Opt-O-Sphere was echoed in Dream Defenders leader Phillip Agnew’s speech at the NAACP event. Although the group has been supported by the familiar cast of leftist characters such as NOW, the AFL-CIO, and SEIU, Agnew used the end of his speech to say that the group was prepared to shun some donations and alliances in order to maintain their independence.
Every day that the group continues to stand their ground in the Capitol, the story gets bigger. They appear 100 percent committed to their cause, but since the Dream Defenders are operating inside the proven failures of the leftist ideology, their solutions are likely doomed to the same fate. The open question is when, if ever, conservatives decide to get serious about presenting the alternative.