With Activism On The Rise, Organizers Lay Groundwork For Future

Feb 3, 2017

The Trump administration is driving thousands of Floridians into protest marches and lawmakers’ offices, some for the first time. But will that anger and energy translate into a real impact?

Credit B. C. Lorio via flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/ackniculous/

This is what week two weeks of the Trump Administration looks like: people crowding into streets and airports, and lawmakers’ phones ringing off the hook. In a matter of days, the American Civil Liberties Union raised $24 million, six times what it usually raises in a year. The top Democrat in the Florida House, Janet Cruz of Orlando, says even her apolitical husband is pitching in.

“He goes, 'I am thinking that I want to give some money to the ACLU' and I said, 'do it honey!' But this is a guy who is really not political, but he’s like, 'this guy is really irritating me,'” Cruz said.

So what does 100 days from now look like? A year from now? WFSU went to a legal advocacy training session at Florida State University to see how some young voters are getting involved, and how they plan to stay organized.

For the first time, History and Women’s Studies student Patricia Singletary has decided to pick up the phone, and call her lawmakers.

“As a history major, what am I going to tell my children that I did during this politically horrible time? Did I do nothing? No, I did do something,” Singletary said. “I like Bill Nelson’s office. They answer my calls. I like them. I want to become friends with their staffers, I’m calling so often, I swear….”

But at Senator Marco Rubio’s office, she’s only been able to hear a message like this one:

"What am I going to tell my children that I did during this politically horrible time?"

“Our normal business hours are Monday thru Friday, 9 am to 6 pm. If you are receiving this message within those hours, we apologize for the inconvenience as we are busy assisting other callers. To leave a legislative opinion please record your message after the tone…” intones Rubio's D.C. office voicemail.

Sociology student Andrea Zang is calling her lawmakers too, but she says it’s discouraging.

“You can see I'm floundering now. I really don't know what to do as a student. I have this script of: show up at Senate, talk about it on Facebook, but don't talk about it on Facebook. Go to protests, but also protests don’t do anything. So for me I’m really struggling,” Zang said.

But what is clear is her trust in public officials is eroding.

“For people my age, and if you have my views, you've grown up your whole politically sentient life with a presidential administration who seemed to protect your rights and your interests," she said. "We can’t look to our president anymore as, 'oh look he made the White House rainbow when we got the right to get married.' I think we’re gonna have to look more to the ACLU and those organizations.”

That’s not exactly encouraging for public officials. House Minority Leader Janet Cruz says the election is forcing her party to re-evaluate its relationship with voters.

"We can't look to our president anymore."

“I don’t think as Democrat we’ve done a good enough job of articulating how our core values have a direct impact on ensuring Florida’s families can continue to climb the economic ladder to success,” Cruz said.

Patricia Singletary says it’s hard to predict what the presidential administration will do next. But she’s got her eye on Florida’s upcoming legislative session.

“Is everything going to calm down or is it gonna keep on being everyday a new thing that I care about is gonna be threatened? Like how’s it gonna go? So I'm not entirely sure. But just this week has really made me see the importance of being involved in the process,” she said.

Organizers are trying to focus that energy, which is why the group behind the Women’s March on Washington is setting up local chapters all across the state. They hope to encourage more people to lobby their lawmakers, and they’ve already scheduled a march on Mar-A-Lago, President Donald Trump’s Florida home.