As the Dream Defenders sit-in against Gov. Rick Scott moves into the tenth day, the State of Florida has begun to push back against the liberal activist group, issuing a report on the costs of the occupation and citing incidents ranging from safety violations to nudity. The group calls the report misleading. Meanwhile, the group itself has come under increased scrutiny for its leftist pedigree.
So far, the state claims that the sit-in has cost taxpayers $117,000 and that the per-day cost averages over $13,000. Florida has made show of force against the group, with sometimes as many as fifteen law enforcement officers inside the Capitol building standing and watching four to five dozen protestors.
The Dream Defenders issued a statement that deflected criticism of the costs into a political point about the issues they support. They said:
We agree that Florida taxpayers should be concerned with how the state spends their money. The state billed taxpayers over $46.5 million on misdemeanor school-based arrests in 2011-12, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. As Secretary Wansley Walters told the South Florida Sun Sentinel a few months ago, many of the state’s 13,870 arrests of disproportionately Black and Brown youth were for noncriminal acts. Each young person who doesn’t graduate because he fell behind and disengaged due to zero-tolerance school discipline policies costs the state $260,000. Ending Florida’s school-to-prison pipeline would save millions in tax dollars.
The state also released incident reports that included some sensational details that might tend to paint the group in a bad light. As I wrote in an article comparing the Dream Defenders protest to Occupy Wall Street, Breitbart News has been covering the Florida sit-in since the minute it began and it has been free of the aggressive violence and mess of the Occupy movement. The report lists minor violations that the group has corrected.
As TV station WJHG reports:
An aide for house member Alan Williams escorts some protestors through an unsecured door. Officers found two men and one woman, half-clothed and sleeping in the chapel and several protestors have inflated air mattresses, which are blocking emergency exits and causing safety hazards.
Wednesday, a DMS cleaning crew member reported walking in on a nude female washing her body in the plaza level female bathroom just after 7:00a.m.
In this exclusive interview, Dream Defender Monique Gillum addressed the nudity charges:
The Dream Defenders group has also come under some criticism for its institutional left connections. I’ve previously written about those connections as well as ties between the group and Trayvon Martin family attorneys Parks & Crump. While I stand by my earlier reporting as both factual and significant to revealing the political manipulation last year in Sanford that included the ouster of police chief Bill Lee, I’d like to clarify what I’ve learned about the group and this current protest action.
In the course of reporting this story, I’ve had an extraordinary amount of access to the group members and leadership of the Dream Defenders over the past ten days. I’ve come to like a number of the Dream Defenders personally, despite significant ideological differences. They have been aware that I work at Breitbart News, I’ve been clear about my political views and they have been clear about theirs. We disagree about nearly every issue related to the story, from the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial to Stand Your Ground laws.
As far as the takeover of the Capitol goes, everything I’ve seen indicates that the group has acted independently. Ideologically, Dream Defenders is a leftist group and their policies goals therefore line up neatly with those of the left, but the command structure of the Dream Defenders in Tallahassee is controlled by the group itself, not outside forces. Based on both private conversations and public pronouncements, this independence is intentional.
Most of the main leadership behind the Dream Defenders met while involved in student government at Florida State University around 2006. Phillip Agnew is currently on the payroll for the SEIU as a field organizer but has said he acts autonomously. Gabe Pendas is a professional organizer who has worked with the SEIU but is not currently on anyone’s payroll and is volunteering his time. Monique Gillum works for the Southern Poverty Law Center and she two weeks vacation to volunteer for the Capitol occupation; she says the SLPC was not aware of her involvement in this action. Steven Pargett is volunteering for Dream Defenders and does creative consulting and freelance graphics for a living. Ahmad Abuznaid is a lawyer and is volunteering. Ciara Taylor works part time with the ACLU in Jacksonville on death penalty issues, and says they have no affiliation with the action. Vanessa Baden, who I’ve written about previously is not involved in the Capitol takeover.
Not surprisingly, the Dream Defenders have gotten public support at their rallies and events from institutional left groups like the NAACP and the AFL-CIO, and have worked with people who have worked with the Obama campaign and OFA. They have also gotten support from the Democratic party at the State Capitol, who has provided some storage and meeting space. The group has also reached out to the Republican party.
While all these connections exist, most of the people involved in the sit-in are young, black men and women who are college students. Most also hold jobs and have taken time off to protest. They are bonded by a strong emotional connection to the Trayvon Martin story. Seeing what I’ve seen at this protest, I would not call it Astroturf.