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Florida rallies to repeal voter suppression laws

By staff

Pensacola, FL – Activists and workers in 23 cities across Florida laced up their boots, grabbed their picket signs, and took to the streets on March 5 to protest the state’s now-infamous voter suppression laws.

The day of action was called by Awake the State, an activist network formed after Florida Governor Rick Scott began attacking trade unions and public education in 2011. The rallies coincided with the first day of the Florida legislative session. Activists hope to repeal the Republican-sponsored voter suppression laws.

In downtown Pensacola, 30 union workers, bus riders and community members gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza to protest. The Northwest Florida Federation of Labor organized the event.

Protesters listened to a speech by a representative from the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections office. She spoke out against laws designed to restrict the voting rights of people. As she spoke, the audience held signs reading “Our Right, Our Vote” and “Protect the 15th like you do the 2nd,” a reference to the Fifteenth Amendment legally guaranteeing the right to vote.

Meanwhile, 80 protesters assembled outside of the Historic Capitol building in Tallahassee to send the same message to the Florida legislature. Members of Dream Defenders, a black and Latino student organization, joined activists from Progress Florida, several trade unions and other groups in speaking out against voter suppression.

In Jacksonville, 30 people gathered at the Duval County Supervisor of Elections. Members of the North Florida Central Labor Council, Florida New Majority, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and other groups heard from a short stack of speakers and talked directly with Jerry Holland, Supervisor of Elections for Duval County.

Richard Blake, member of Teamsters Local 512 and organizer with the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, said, “People were excited to fight back against Governor Scott’s policies during this session, especially against the voter suppression laws. Most of the people seem to think the laws will be repealed early in the legislative session.” Blake added, “A lot of the speeches focused on getting ex-felons the right to vote after they serve their time. Florida’s laws are the worst in the country. This is one of the biggest ways that Governor Scott is taking away the voting rights of poor people.”

In Tampa Bay, 70 people from the community marched to Lykes Gaslight Park and spoke out against Governor Scott’s reduction in early vote days. Cutting early voting causes long lines and disenfranchises voters. Protesters held signs reading, “Free the vote” and “Florida elections are a national punch line… Let’s change that,” which referenced the continued irregularities with Florida elections since the infamous 2000 Presidential recount going to George Bush.

Other rallies took place in Gainesville, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and 15 other cities across Florida.

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