“Stay Woke” Bus Tour stops in East Tampa for voting rights rally

From the left: Barbara Arnwine from TJC, Yvette Lewis from Hillsborough NAACP, and Daryl Jones from TJC. By: Josh Holton (6/20/23)

Voting rights organizations are taking a “voter-cade” bus tour this week through 15 cities across Florida to encourage voter registration while encouraging Floridians to “Stay woke” amidst recently passed laws that impact students, teachers, and workers, as well the African American and the LGBTQ communities. They call it the “Stay Woke Florida!” bus tour, featuring the face of the prominent Civil Rights leader and late congressmember John Lewis on their bus, who had encouraged voters to get into “Good Trouble” in the fight for fairness in elections.

“Stay woke, Florida! Stay woke, Florida…”

Leading that chant was Transformative Justice Coalition Board Chair Daryl Jones. They were giving away copies of banned books, and holding a banner that highlighted the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march in 1965 at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, that was violently pushed back into Selma, Alabama by police.

“Every state has its own Edmund Pettus Bridge. Florida, your Edmund Pettus Bridge is to stay woke!”

The rally took place one day after Juneteenth, which was named a federal holiday two years ago to mark the day that African slaves were freed in the United States. Several organizations gathered in solidarity yesterday for a bus tour stop at Cyrus Greene Park in East Tampa including the LGBTQ Caucus of the Hillsborough County’s Democratic party. (At least 100 in attendance.) Luis Salazar is the Caucus President.

“By staying united, by organizing together and not being fractured, we are much stronger.”

Also joining in solidarity was Jim Junecko, the president of the West Central Florida Labor Council.

“Ron DeSantis wants to take us backwards to an ugly time in our history- an ugly, racist time in our history. Donald Trump wanted to make America great again, and we know what he really meant by that. That’s a racist dog whistle. It’s a racist dog whistle, and it’s the same thing that DeSantis wants to do when he talks about making America Florida. Can you imagine living in this country if he has his way? What he’s doing in Florida right now: banning books, attacking teachers, attacking the labor movement, banning abortions, and womens’ rights to reproductive health. They want to take us backwards. They don’t want us standing together. They want us down and divided and we’re not gonna let them do that.”

Ashley Foxworth is the education chair for the Hillsborough NAACP, and said that they have been educating formerly convicted persons on how to restore their voting rights after they have served their time, since many former felons may have stayed home during recent elections.

“We had a huge turnout when we had that meeting with our local clerk’s office. Like I said, a lot of people just did not know, and because they did not know, they just stayed away from the voting box altogether. Once they were informed on what was eligible for being restored and things like that, we got a lot of people who really wanted to follow through the process.”

Governor Ron DeSantis’ Office of Election Crimes and Security has investigated allegations of voter fraud in recent years, but several of those cases have been dismissed. She said like Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders like John Lewis, asserting the right to vote, especially amidst false allegations of voter fraud is the kind of good trouble that the Floridians should be willing to get into to assert their rights. But elections laws aren’t seen as fair to everyone as they’re written. Democratic State House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said former Georgia State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams got it right when she named her organization, “Fair Fight.”

“And really that’s all we want is a fair fight, right? I mean, you think about the amendment four initiative that was looking to restore voting rights to formerly convicted felons, as we refer to them as returning citizens, right? And so the people of Florida decided to give these folks who had paid their debt to society their vote back. And then what is the Republican-led legislature do? They take it away. And so the challenge that I have, and you know, not to make this partisan, although I am the Democratic leader, the challenge that we have is that people are being blocked out of our democracy, and that’s not right, no matter what your party is. And so when we think about 2024, there are significant hurdles, because the road is now filled with more obstacles than it was before. We’ve got this initiative trying to get abortion access on the ballot, but this is after Republicans in the legislature have systematically made it more difficult to get these initiatives on the ballot. And people need to know all we want is a fair fight. But given that we have to play the hand that we’re dealt, what we have to do is push for turnout. We have to make sure the Democrats and people who support our values, turn out at the polls, that is the only path forward.”

She said communicating with voters about core issues is key.

“…like housing affordability, like property insurance rates, which are out of control, like the rising cost of health care. That’s what people want to talk about. And when you can connect with them about the issues that matter to them, then that opens the door to have a conversation: Yes, about voting rights and redistricting and all these other things. Because let me tell you, it’s not just redistricting that’s on the line. It’s also the courts. And so governors have a lot of power and authority when it comes to judicial appointments. And so Ron DeSantis, what he’s been doing is not just expanding his executive powers, but he’s been reshaping institutions in Florida as we know them, and we’re going to feel the effects of his governorship for years to come. So we do need to talk to voters about what’s at stake, so hopefully they feel motivated to get out there and to vote for candidates who reflect their values.”

The “Stay Woke” bus tour will make stops later today in Miami and will finish the tour in Jacksonville on Friday.

Videos from the “Stay Woke” bus tour stop in East Tampa. By: Josh Holton (6/20/23)

Photos from the “Stay Woke” bus tour stop in East Tampa. By: Josh Holton (6/20/23)

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