By Joshua Anijar, Florida AFL-CIO Communications Director
Florida’s 2011 Legislative session left people both shell-shocked and outraged at the intensity of assault leveled on working families. This made the need for Floridians to come together, in unity, to take back our state from politicians and big business paramount.
Instead of holding another rally, or another conference, groups and organizations from diverse backgrounds came together, under the Fight for Florida (www.fightforflorida.com) banner to put on a festival in Central Florida on June 4. On that day, thousands of Floridians, from as far as Pensacola to Miami, traveling by bus, car and even motorcycle convoy converged on the Central Florida Fairgrounds in Orlando to be a part of the festivities and to attend workshops.
The Festival for Florida’s Future marked the kick-off of a sustained campaign to organize and mobilize working families from all backgrounds to make a difference in the lives of all Floridians.
Attendees participated in different workshops on a range of subjects from how to use social media, to a panel discussion with Awake the State organizers. There was even a workshop on how to run for office! Activists were also able to write letters and record video messages to Legislators while their children were entertained in a supervised play area.
In the promenade, there were more than 40 different info booths from various community, faith and political organizations, which offered activists a gateway to take action and become involved with ongoing campaigns. This area also served as the central meeting place for activists from across the state to introduce themselves, share ideas, network and connect to the larger progressive movement in Florida.
On the main stage, music (from salsa to rock and roll) was intermixed with speakers like Silvia Perez (a farm worker from Immokalee) who spoke about her struggles as an immigrant looking for the “American Dream” and a decent education for her children.
Fred Barr (an unemployed marketing executive) shared his story about dealing with the physical and financial strain of cancer while trying to find a job to support and provide for his family. Elton and Barbara Wright (school teachers with a disabled son) connected the actions of the Florida Legislative session to their daily struggle. Their stories are by no means unusual but are instead repeated each day by many Florida families enduring similar hardships.
Mike Williams, President of the Florida AFL-CIO, explained at the event, “You know, I remember when the American Dream of prosperity was achieved by many people. It was the result of a strong public education system and working at good paying jobs. Those jobs helped us afford a home, send our kids to college and let us retire with dignity. Unfortunately, that dream has become out of reach for Florida’s working families because of our inaction – you, me, all of us – the wealthy special interests have seized complete control of state government. Their power and influence has turned that dream of prosperity and economic security into a nightmare of want and insecurity.”
The Festival for Florida’s Future ended with a rallying call that this day was not the end but the beginning of a working families’ movement that will continue to grow and become a force unlike anything that Florida has ever seen.
Together, united, the participants at the festival sent a new message to Tallahassee: “Working families stand united to fight against the powerful special interests that hold our state hostage.”