A Progressive COUNTERREVOLUTION in Northeast Florida?

Jan 14, 2017

Lisa Peth leads the North Florida efforts of Progressive Democrats of America, which some call “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
PHOTO BY MADISON GROSS

By J. SCOTT GAILLARD, FOLIO WEEKLY

Ripple effect of Trump’s election creates a wave of liberal activism and engagement

The election sparked more than denial and depression for liberals who oppose the policies of president-elect Donald Trump: Many have turned to activism. Across the country, across demographic boundaries and across a range of issues, Trump’s election has inspired a progressive counterrevolution.

Similar ripples of activism had previously surged through the body politic with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, only to fade as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marched to the Democratic nomination.

Trump’s victory on Nov. 8 came as a shock and a wake-up call to liberals and Democrats throughout the nation.

In the days following the election, Northeast Floridians took to the streets to express their remorse and outrage about the outcome. On Nov. 11, a few dozen gathered at Riverside Park for a candlelight vigil; the following day, approximately 150 people, some bearing signs that read “Donald Trump is Evil,” “Donald Trumpis a Sexual Predator” and “Stop Hate,” amassed at Hemming Park to protest, chant, listen to speeches and march through the city streets behind a banner that simply said “Dump the Trump.”

What began as reaction soon turned to pro-action. Since then, a common theme has emerged: The time for meeting, talking and analyzing is at an end; nothing less than action will do. Over the last two months, people have heeded calls to action by donating money, contacting legislators, getting more politically engaged and volunteering.

According to Variety magazine, after the election House of Cards creator Beau Willimon realized he was guilty of “talking and not walking.” Willimon was no longer content to post messages on social media sites and created the Action Group Network (AGN). Although originating in New York City, AGN is hoping to become a national organization that creates a “culture of action.”

It will have its first test this month. AGN volunteers have scheduled a call-a-thon to defeat the appointment of Trump’s most noxious nominees. They will contact their U.S. Senators and demand they vote against the Trump nominees for Attorney General (Jeff Sessions, current U.S. Senator from Alabama), Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos) and Administrator of the EPA (current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt).

On Nov. 14, comedian John Oliver, host of the HBO show Last Week Tonight, made one of the first national calls to action when he urged Americans to donate to organizations they believe will be hammered by the policies of the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress, such as Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, ProPublica and The Trevor Project. Immediately following the broadcast, ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalist group, experienced a tremendous surge in donations. The next day, Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s president and founding general manager, told FanSided, “We are now 12 hours after the broadcast, and still running at multiple donations per minute,” which he explained was extremely anomalous for an organization that typically averages just a few donations a day.

Between Nov. 9 and Dec. 12, the ACLU received 294,554 donations totaling approximately $20.5 million, which MarketWatch reports a spokeswoman described as “by far a record” for that time period. Time magazine reported that the ACLU’s donation page crashed the day after the election. Similarly, Planned Parenthood received 315,000 individual donations between the election and the end of November, an outpouring of support its president told Time was “unprecedented.” The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth, has also collected donations at historic rates since the election.

A Harris Poll conducted Nov. 28, 29 and 30 showed that after the election, one in four Americans increased their support of nonprofits and charities, The NonProfit Times reports, and total donations increased more than 30 percent, with Millennials and Gen-Xers the most likely to cite the election as the reason for their increased giving. Many have come to refer to this phenomenon as the “Trump Bump.” Critics point out that donations always increase during the holiday season, which coincides with year-end deadlines for charitable tax donations. Regardless of the cause, progressive organizations, particularly those which either implicitly or explicitly oppose Trump’s policies or perceived policies, have reported record donations since the election.
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Though a few did indicate that engagement had increased substantially after the election, representatives from local progressive and nonprofit organizations were less than willing to publicly admit receiving a sizable increase in donations following the election, some citing concerns that doing so would discourage further donors or falsely align their organizations with a political party or agenda.

But even without public statements, recent events make it possible to extrapolate an increase of engagement.

In Downtown Jacksonville on Dec. 6, the Northeast Florida branch of the U.S. Green Building Council held one of its regular events, called “Jax Green Social,” at which professionals mingle and discuss issues related to green building, energy efficiency, environmental protection and the like. Last year, the December event had fewer than 50 attendees; this year more than 100 attended. Board member Joey McKinnon said that although the record turnout at what is historically their least-attended event was surprising and could not definitively be attributed to feelings about the election, other organizations with progressive agendas had similarly experienced a sharp uptick in attendance and engagement in the weeks since the election.

McKinnon, who is also on the board of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, said, “There has been unprecedented interest and totally unsolicited outreach from the community to get engaged, to get involved … . … and I can tell you that it definitely seemed to start on November 9.” McKinnon added that increased engagement following Trump’s election had been brought up at board meetings for both organizations.

On Dec. 13, the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, which has been ramping up a renewed effort to amend the Human Rights Ordinance in the Jacksonville Municipal Code to protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination, reported that an anonymous donor offered matching funds for every donation of up to $5,000 made before the first of the year. (On Jan. 4, the HRO amendment was introduced to City Council.)

And on Dec. 29, as part of the “Statewide Day of Resistance,” over 50 impassioned protesters gathered outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ office in San Marco to voice opposition to the Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline. Chanting “Stop Sabal Trail,” “save our water” and “water is life,” protestors shouted at passing cars, waved signs and temporarily blocked the road, leading Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to shut down area streets. The protest, which was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., lasted until well after dark.

Progressive organizing is not new in Jacksonville, where the arts community in Riverside is home to a particularly rich vein of progressives. For most of the last decade, Ben “America” Weaver, a personal friend, has hosted a low-key event in Riverside, called “Stone Soup.”

It was, on the surface, a potluck gathering. But it provided a salon-like setting for discussing music, art, technology, politics, religion and other subjects that are typically under-discussed or even taboo, particularly in conservative-leaning Northeast Florida. Weaver said, “Art is politics and politics is art. A progressive political movement in Jacksonville needs to connect with the cultural soul of the city. Moreover, progressives need to have a voice in local elections.”

Weaver helped the local Sanders for President organization get off the ground in early 2016. Recently, Weaver said, “We got that band back together.” The team has rallied to support Lisa King, who is running to be elected chair of the Florida Democratic Party. King is a former Jacksonville City Council candidate and an official in the local Duval County Democratic Executive Committee.

On the campaign trail, King has said that she is committed to returning the Florida Democratic Party to its glory days when it was led by “visionaries” like past governors Reubin Askew, Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles. She has promised to recruit more candidates and delegate some decision-making to the county executive committees, whose members have, in some cases, bristled under authoritarian top-down rule from state leadership.

Locally, the Duval Democratic Party Executive Committee elected new leadership which offered the prospect of unity. One observer noted a renewed energy and confidence in new officers known for their “passion and hard work.” A recent meeting included attendees who had not seen the inside of a party function in 15 years and others who had never attended one.

King has said that the local Democratic Party is now “the most diverse in terms of ethnicity and age” and she hopes to have the same kind of diversity on the state level.
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Many local Democrats and progressives are hoping that the coming years will see their fortunes turn for the better. For decades, the Republican Party has handily won elections across Florida, even in districts like Duval County, where far more voters are registered as Democrats than as Republicans. Among those in the know, there’s a sense that the only thing that can beat Florida’s Democrats in future elections, notably 2018, when the party will attempt to take back the U.S. House of Representatives, is the Democrats themselves. For many years, ideological differences and other conflicts have characterized the state’s Democratic Party and have made it difficult to achieve consensus and run the kind of cohesive campaigns that win elections. Though Trump’s victory has seemed to mend some old intra-party wounds, time will tell whether longstanding divisions within the party can be overcome. It’s one thing for a Democrat to win in a liberal enclave, quite another for one to carry a swing district.

In Northeast Florida, Democrats have long been split along ideological and, often, racial lines, with white “latte liberals” who prioritize expanding socially liberal policies and causes above other issues on one side, and African-American liberals who prioritize economic equality, criminal justice reform, and issues related to racism above other issues on the other. The division between the factions has at times been palpable.

In the weeks ahead, Jacksonville will closely watch the HRO battle be waged again. In the past, the rights ordinance expansion has failed to gather critical support from more socially conservative Democrats, which contributed to its failure to pass in 2012 and its withdrawal from consideration last spring. With backlash from Trump’s election increasing engagement and interest among voters and potentially sending liberals and other progressives and third-party voters running back to the Democratic Party’s waiting arms, this round of the HRO debate will be seen by some as a test of local Democrats’ ability to turn increased engagement and interest into action and, more important, unity.

Those not content with the Democratic Party’s status quo of recent years include Lisa Peth, who is leading the North Florida efforts of Progressive Democrats of America. The grassroots organization and political action committee, which some call “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” hopes to “strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party.”

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