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Young activists in Miami are fired up, and they’re not just focused on the midterms

They say Tuesday's election is the priority, but their efforts will continue long after the balloting's over.

FILE PICTURE: The Dream Defenders, who have been relentlessly canvassing to help Get Out the Vote. (Credit: Dream Defenders)
FILE PICTURE: The Dream Defenders, who have been relentlessly canvassing to help Get Out the Vote. (Credit: Dream Defenders)

MIAMI, FLORIDA — It’s a muggy afternoon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Easton Harrison is adding to the thousands of doors he’s already knocked on to help get out the vote.

Easton is canvassing on behalf of New Florida Majority, a grassroots group dedicated to increasing the voices of marginalized communities throughout the state. In an election which could potentially result in Florida having its first African-American governor in Andrew Gillum, as well as restore the voting rights for 1.4 million formerly incarcerated Floridians, the votes of marginalized communities will be crucial.

“The energy has been amazing,” Harrison told ThinkProgress. “On Saturday the Democrat vote was down 20,000, but after our Souls to the Polls event we’re actually up 20,000. That just shows the type of power minority communities have.”

Easton Harrison in front of a pro-Gillum Mural (Credit: Luke Barnes for ThinkProgress)
Easton Harrison in front of a pro-Gillum Mural (Credit: Luke Barnes for ThinkProgress)

There’s plenty Harrison likes about Gillum — as well as prospective Attorney General Sean Shaw, who has promised to sue the Trump administration over his plans to end birthright citizenship, which violates the Constitution.

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Ultimately, Harrison doesn’t see Tuesday’s midterm election results as the endgame, but rather another building block in progressive organizing.

“My position is that there is a wave coming and it’s not the blue wave [the Democratic establishment] is hoping for,” he said.

“It’s a blue wave of progressive people and it’s also a wave of activists and organizers willing to organize around issues, which is going to in the long run foster more candidates from a grassroots level.”

Harrison’s comments were echoed by volunteers at Dream Defenders, a Florida-based activist and organizing group, which has also been helping to canvass voters and marshal support for Amendment 4.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis has called them a “radical group” with a “radical manifesto that attacked our police officers.”

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It’s a label the group scoffed at when I met them at a community center — ironically enough located right next to a police station — where they were preparing Get Out the Vote efforts.

“Get your weight up,” Nailah Summers, Dream Defenders’ director of communications told me when I asked about DeSantis’ attacks. “I mean DeSantis targeting us is indicative of a lack of a platform, a lack of a vision. We’ve got four staff and maybe 150 members. Meanwhile you have millions in your campaign chest and this is the best you can do?”

Dream Defenders have mobilized to support Andrew Gillum, as well as for Amendment 4. On Monday they were canvassing in Liberty City, a low-income neighborhood in Northwest Miami. One early voter who chatted with the Dream Defenders said she’d been in line for two hours and 45 minutes — but still managed to cast her ballot.

But the activists and volunteers I spoke to acknowledged that the work will continue whatever the mid-term results. This is perhaps best encapsulated by Dream Defender’s Freedom Papers, a seven-point manifesto calling for, among other things, criminal justice reform, free education and voting days as recognized holidays.

“Voting is our right, we have to vote out white supremacy and keep Trump from gaining more power,” volunteer Helen Peña told ThinkProgress. “Today we vote, tomorrow we vote but after that we organize. The long term vision isn’t voting and getting Democrats in power the long term vision is liberation and freedom.”

“We’ve lost the purpose of politics and government,” Jonathan Flores, a Miami native and fellow with Dream Defenders. “One thing that is missing when it comes to grassroots is our local politics, we don’t really vote on our mayors or anybody that’s local. We have to think about that because it affects our livelihoods here.”

Dream Defender Jonathan Flores out campaigning in Liberty City (Photo Credit: Luke Barnes for ThinkProgress)
Dream Defender Jonathan Flores out campaigning in Liberty City (Photo Credit: Luke Barnes for ThinkProgress)

Easton Harrison also agrees that, while acts like protesting and canvassing during the midterms or Presidential elections may be good political sugar rushes, the real community-building comes in the day-to-day grassroots efforts. As an example, Easton is currently chair of the Broward County School Board Committee, and has introduced a new policy to have more young people involved with the committee as a way to get their voices heard.

“It’s not sexy but it’s more important in long run and it’s more substantial,” he said.

“One of my main goals after this election is to carry on the issues we’ve been talking about — from gun control to environmentalism to immigration — and keep the conversation going,” Easton added. “People pay attention when elections are going on but they sneak in a lot of bad policies while we’re not paying attention.”

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Despite the exhaustion of thirteen to fourteen hour days spent campaigning and canvassing, Dream Defenders also has no intention of resting on its laurels — whatever the result come Wednesday.

“One of the things we’ve been saying all year is that we have to have twenty twenty vision, win or lose,” Nailah said.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about all year. If Amendment 4 passes, there’s work getting 1.4 million people ready to vote. And if DeSantis wins, we have a ton of work to do.”