Dream Defenders Making Dreams Come True

Many of us dream of better days and brighter tomorrows. Many of us have hope for the future. Many more still keep the faith that a fairer, more just and inclusive democracy lies ahead. Fewer are, however, willing to make sacrifices to achieve those dreams, press for the future or test their faith in what lies ahead unseen and unknown. That task usually falls first to those who have the courage to lead, the heart to take risk and the faith to know that with any step they take; falling may occur, but rising up will be sure to follow.

Many were struck by the jury decision in the George Zimmerman trial that acquitted Zimmerman of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. It opened up the wounds of apathy, of believing that nothing will change for the good in our society. That some of us, particularly those of us who come from communities of color, will never get a fair shake, will never have our lives valued in the same way as others and certainly, we will never get fair access to the rule of law or the fruits of justice.

It is in these low moments when the heroes really step forward to breathe life into movements, to start the calls for justice and begin to lead the way. We have seen these dreamers before; they called themselves Malcolm and Martin, Rosa and Fannie Lou. They step forward to show the way, to give hope and inspire the courage to challenge the status quo. In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, we are seeing these dreamers again.

They call themselves the "Dream Defenders." They wear t-shirts that say "Can we DREAM Together" and they have demonstrated their willingness to make sacrifice for the possibility of change. They are a group of students and young people, organized thus far primarily off the campuses of some of Florida's universities, like Florida A& M, who believe in organizing and training young folks and students in nonviolent civil disobedience, and direct action. They have occupied for the last 12 days the Florida statehouse outside the offices of Florida's governor, Rick Scott, to demand that the governor convene a special legislative session to enact the Trayvon Martin Act, which would end the stand your ground laws in Florida, create laws against racial profiling and other reforms to advance the government's social policy. They have committed to stay put until Governor Scott calls the special session.

The Dream Defenders come in that same special tradition that gave rise to some of our nation's great efforts to bring about social change. Like the A&T Four -- those were the North Carolina A&T students who in February 1960 lead the first sit-ins at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth's to end segregation at the lunch counters there. That effort lead to nationwide sit-ins, the forming of the historic Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), that then went on to help lead and conduct the Freedom Rides throughout the south to end discrimination in interstate travel and accommodations. The Dream Defenders' efforts in taking over the statehouse remind many of the valiant efforts of both students of color and white students at Columbia University in April 1968, when they occupied five buildings, including the office of the president, to appeal for fair dealings with the residents of Harlem and to amend its dealings with the war effort in Vietnam. It further reminds us of those like Reverend Al Sharpton, who in December 1987, lead the 'day of outrage' where just under 100 activists took to the subway tracks to shut down service to bring the efforts to curb racial violence and racial profiling in NYC to the national stage and begin to build a movement for change.

The Dream Defenders are not alone. We have seen the efforts of young people who came together with the National Action Network to hold simultaneous demonstrations for "Justice for Trayvon" in over 100 cities throughout the nation. As we move towards the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, we are reminded that we need the dreamers. Those that are not fearing change, who are ready to become leaders and foot soldiers'' in a national movement for progressive social policy and change that we not just dream about, but do what is necessary to bring about.

Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.