“Stay Wake Florida” rolling protest comes to Sarasota
Written by WSLR News on Thursday, June 29, 2023
The 15-city rolling protest through the state tackles rising obstacles to voting—particularly for Black voters.
By Johannes Werner
Original Air Date: June 23, 2023
Host: The Washington-based transformative justice coalition offered, and the Florida NAACP accepted it. The 15-city rolling protests through the state titled “Stay WOKE Florida,” sponsored by the National NAACP, by the American Federation of Teachers and by the Rainbow PUSH coalition, this is an African American poke in the eye for a governor with presidential ambitions who keeps saying that Florida is the place where woke goes to die. It’s a protest against rising obstacles to voting and an effort to mobilize voters.
Before coming to Florida, the rolling protests visited 200 cities in several states and these cities now have one thing in common: voter turnout there increased. And this Wednesday morning, the Stay WOKE bus rolled into Sarasota to, as Manasota NAACP President Trevor Harvey put it, galvanize and mobilize black voters here. The WSLR news team was at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Sarasota’s Newtown to witness the moment. [Cheering and horns blaring.]
The bus had been held up its previous stump in Tampa, but few in the crowd of an estimated 200 in Sarasota gave up on the rolling protest. For nearly an hour on Wednesday morning outside Bethlehem Baptist Church, despite rain, nobody seemed to mind because everybody was busy. Volunteers with clipboards registered people to vote and asked them to sign petitions for access to abortion and clean water and to registered candidates. Many bought “Black Voters Matter” and Jim Lewis t-shirts. When the bus finally rolled in, the first person stepping off, bullhorn in hand, was Barbara Arnwine, the president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, which conceived these rolling protests. The grateful crowd greeted her with a “Stay WOKE Florida” chorus.
Crowd: Stay WOKE Florida! Stay WOKE Florida! Stay WOKE Florida! Stay WOKE Florida!
Host: The Manasota chapter of the NAACP was there, the League of Women Voters was there, Support Our Schools was there. They listened to local speakers such as Edward James III, a former political candidate and now-campaign manager and second-year of law school student at Florida State University. They listened to city of Sarasota Mayor Kyle Battie and to Patrick Miller, the pastor of Bethlehem Church and host of the event. The speakers talked about injustice, about education and about responsibility, and they talked about a tangible challenge: rising obstacles to voting. The NAACP’s Trevor Harvey summed them up.
Trevor Harvey: The high schools in any area, and Sarasota is no different than any other area, is a lot of these voter suppression laws that we have to deal with in Florida as well as across our country. We have these new, “only a certain amount of people can take ballots” to what they call the drop off box. They’re not even calling them drop off boxes anymore. You can get fined for that, if there’s too many people dropping off those. Or third-party voter registration organizations, if they don’t have ballots back within a certain amount of time, they can, you know, receive large fines and therefore your ballots can be thrown out.
So, it’s really those kinds of things that we have to make sure that the community is very vigilant about and completely aware about because those are the kinds of things that can, you know, hinder them from voting. Now, you got to update every other year. You got to update your voter card with your signature. Some people forget about that. I mean, once they do the vote by mail, “Hey, I’m done with that.” No, not necessarily you’re not done with that. Because now they want you to update it every other year. So it’s those kinds of things that really just become a kind of a thorn in the side, especially when you’re trying to galvanize and mobilize the communities to get out to vote.
Host: Asked about the recent arrests in Florida of former prisoners who thought they had regained the right to vote, Harvey had this to say.
TH: Those individuals that they had the right to vote, so they went and registered to vote, like anybody else who said, “Hey, I have the right,” and then comes to find out that they didn’t have the right to vote and they ultimately ended up getting arrested. So my thought process on that, if you are a returning citizen, really make sure that you do your research and your homework and make sure that you are legitimately to register to vote, because you don’t want the police to come knocking on your door.
Host: And who can help navigating these bureaucratic labyrinths?
TH: Obviously organizations like ours are there to help, the NAACP, Suncoast Women of Action, the League of Women Voters, there’s other grassroots and returning citizen organizations. There’s a lot of organizations that can help.
Host: But that takes faith, which the event was in no short supply of.
Crowd: Amen. [Singing.] He’s got the whole world in his hands, he’s got the whole wide world in his hands.
Host: This was Johannes Werner reporting for WSLR News.