Gov. Rick Scott may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Florida’s progressive movement.
Organizers are hoping to turn the unpopular governor, and the policies on display during this year’s legislative session, into a rallying cry and an organizing tool as they gear up for 2012. Liberal and labor groups spearheaded by the AFL-CIO are hoping to start building that momentum at an event going on today in Central Florida.
Billed as “a celebration of working Floridians,” the Festival for Florida’s Future is part teach-in, part music festival. Paul Brewer of Tallahassee, a union member who works in a print shop run by a state agency, says he’s hoping for a “Wisconsin moment” — a chance for the labor movement and its allies to meet like-minded people from around the state.
Brewer said that as a Tallahasee resident, he is able to speak out at some committee hearings (opposing, for example, the changes to state employee pensions), and while that may have had some effect, lawmakers seemed to have already made up their minds about what they were going to do, and a Wisconsin-style show of force at the state capitol just wasn’t feasible in Florida.
“We definitely were not heard in Tallahasee,” he said. “I guess that’s why we all need to get together down there” in Orlando, to start building for next year.
There are performances by local bands and games for children, but there will also be workshops, with titles ranging from “Tech Me Over: Online Communication Tools and Resources” to “Running for Office 101.” AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Anijar said organizers were expecting thousands of people to show up, arriving in buses and vans from Pensacola, Miami and other parts of the state.
Mark Ferullo of Progress Florida, which will be leading some of the workshops, said watching the 2011 legislative session and Scott’s first five months as governor unfold is helping to create “a new generation of civically engaged Floridians — some of them for the first time.”
If that’s the case, it would seem to match the narrative of the tea party, a conservative outpouring unleashed by frustration with the bank bailouts, opposition to federal health care reforms and a general feeling that government that had grown too big for the people to control, which ultimately drew an army of eager amateurs “off the couch” and into a movement.
Ferullo said that in Florida, something similar seems to be stirring among a different set of people, from workers to environmentalists, who see more of a role for government, but oppose much of what Florida’s elected officials have been up to this year.
“We’ve never seen this level of progressive energy,” he said. “And Rick Scott has been a catalyst for that.”