Tampa Bay progressive activists launch statewide action committee

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Black Lives Matter Tampa march in East Tampa. Saturday, April 24, 20201. Chandler Culotta/WMNF

Two progressive activists have launched a statewide action committee to bridge the gap between grassroots activism and electoral policy. Florida for Change has launched with its first slate of candidate endorsements and new projects to help Floridians track elected officials.

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The group got its start, like many things today, on social media. A Facebook group where progressive activists and those wanting to get involved could find all the information they needed.

“If it was a protest, we wanted you to be able to learn about it through Tampa Bay for Change,” Samuel Ronen said. “If it was an exciting candidate for statehouse or one of the positions we call less sexy, the things that people don’t necessarily know are there. We wanted you to be able to learn about it at Tampa Bay for Change.”

Ronen and Khyre Edwards founded Tampa Bay for Change last year. Just before George Floyd’s murder sparked a summer of unrest not seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.

Ronen and partner Tiffany Pervis have now launched Florida for Change in an effort to turn that unrest and organizing into action and policy.

Change Slate

Florida for Change is an actual legal entity that can support candidates, raise money and put on events. Ronen and Pervis recently launched the official site with its first “change slate.” That’s a list of candidates the organization has endorsed for the St. Petersburg Municipal elections later this month, along with how and why they chose them.

Pervis and Ronen have also partnered with organizations like Dream Defenders and Black Lives Matter. They’re a regular presence at marches for social justice throughout the bay area.

Ronen said he’s most excited to introduce the group’s first big project, a legislative vote tracker.

“We’re going to be empowering people to know every single vote that their city council members have been making,” he said. “Up until this point Florida as a whole really hasn’t had anything like that.”

The group is starting with Tampa by building a searchable database of votes. Once completed, a user will be able to go to the Florida for Change website, select a council member and track votes chronologically or by category. Once the Tampa database is up, the project will expand to include other cities around the state.

Meeting the moment

The project is labor-intensive, but Ronen said it’s part of identifying lanes that need to be filled, then putting in the work to fill them. Ronen said Florida has seen a concerning number of oppressive initiatives work through the legislative process like bills making it more difficult to protest or for disabled and minority residents to vote, and others attacking the LGBTQ community. He said there’s too much happening to sit by and watch. He said he and Pervis had to meet the urgency of the moment.

“If there are things that we can be doing,” Ronen said. “More things that we can be offing and bringing to the table than just being a community organization. We felt obligated to do those things.”

One of those things is a year-round school supply drive. The group also has its first community event coming, albeit with some COVID-safe precautions. They’ll be helping folks fix brake lights next month, one of the most common reasons for traffic stops. But that won’t be all. Ronen said all of Florida For Change’s events will feature other actionable initiatives like voter registration.

“Everything we can possibly do safely you’re gonna be able to do at our events,” he said. “We’re going to start hosting them in as many local parks as we possibly can starting on 9-12.”

Florida for Change recently launched Flforchange.com with ways to volunteer, lists of events and links to social media.

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