Heroic youth hold sit-in for third week

Aug. 5 – “The World is Ours” reads the shirt of Phillip Agnew and his other Dream Defenders, who have been holding down and controlling the Florida state Capitol for the past 20 days. Twenty days of demonstrations in the Capitol, workshops in the governor’s office, and serious talk about revolution and social justice. Twenty days of sleeping on a marble floor, eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and playing the card game UNO until late at night – all to pressure Florida Gov. Rick Scott to call to session the absent Florida Legislature to pass the Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act. The Dream Defenders started their occupation on July 16.

The act, or Travyon’s Law, addresses the racist environment which led to George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin and walking free. It includes wiping off the books the dubious “stand your ground” laws, as well as dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and ending the rampant racial profiling of people of color.

Rather than waiting on the governor or the necessary 96 Florida legislators to call the session to discuss the act, on July 30 the Dream Defenders called forth “The People’s Session.” Through impassioned speeches, they declared three major initiatives. The first is to commemorate February 5, Martin’s birthday, as Trayvon Martin Day in honor of his life and to denounce the racist, unequal society which led to his death.

Also passed was the pardoning of Marissa Alexander, who stood her ground against an abusive partner, yet, as a Black woman, did not benefit from the “stand your ground” laws. Rather, Alexander is imprisoned with a 20-year sentence. The last resolution of The People’s Session was to call for the creation of Take Over Tuesdays, to mark Tuesdays at the Florida Capitol as a major day of resistance. The People’s Session ended with the chant, “The House is ours!”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was one of the many people present at The People’s Session. He stayed the night with the Dream Defenders, waking up at the customary 5:45 a.m., along with everyone else. This comes less than one week after musician and activist Harry Belafonte visited the Defenders.

Justice-loving people from across the U.S. are organizing Freedom Rides to join the Capitol occupation in Tallahassee, Fla. Coming from the Florida cities of Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; New York City; Philadelphia; and beyond, people have been riding buses down to Florida to support the Dream Defenders and their allies.

On the third day of the occupation, the Defenders met with Gov. Rick Scott. This was the only hour in which Scott has been in his office since the takeover began. Since then, around 40 legislators in Florida have called the session. On Aug. 2, the Florida speaker of the House, Republican Will Weatherford, said that they would hold hearings on “stand your ground” in the fall session.

“It’s a critical first step,” said Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew. Yet the takeover of the Capitol has not stopped. The movement goes far beyond just “stand your ground,” and far beyond just fighting racism. Rather, it is fighting for the future of all young people through one slogan: “The World is Ours.” (Tampa Bay Times, Aug. 2)

The author stayed at the Florida Capitol from July 25 to July 27 as part of a Freedom Ride group from Philadelphia.