Last month I had a chance encounter with Florida Governor Rick Scott at a coffee shop. I was looking at my computer and glanced up to see him standing at the counter about to order coffee. I knew immediately that I needed to take this opportunity to talk with him about the impacts of HB1411, the anti-reproductive health care bill he had recently signed into law.
I have been to the Florida capital before and was denied meetings with the governor. This was a once in a lifetime chance to talk with a man who shuns public engagement and is commonly guarded by an entourage of staff. I took a breath and said "Governor Scott?"
Initially the conversation was calm, but it quickly became heated as he refused to answer the simple questions I posed, in fact he detoured the conversation from talking about reproductive health care access to his record on jobs. He ran away from our conversation, leaving so quickly he didn't even order his coffee! The subsequent video of me saying "shame on you" as he ran away, went viral. It has now been seen by millions of people.
Some have accused me of acting inappropriately. Perhaps my opponents expect myself and others hurt by unjust laws to just write letters, go to the polls, and politely ask for change. But what do we do when those things aren't enough?
Historically, what is proven to effect change the most is use of all the tools in the box - from diplomacy to disruption. And in this case, confrontation and disruption worked. It started a conversation, perhaps more importantly, a debate.
Our state is literally sinking as the oceans rise, the medically needy go without care and the working poor are refused an increase in the minimum wage. Black people are gunned down in the streets by the police while people in prisons, including youth, are brutally killed by guards. Does the man who sits at the helm of our sinking state deserve my best manners? Should I have chosen decorum over disgust?
Does the man who sits at the helm of our sinking state deserve my best manners?
Rather than bow down to etiquette, I chose to stand up to power. In confronting the Governor I took inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement and DREAMers of the youth immigrant rights movement whose bold direct actions have ushered in a new era of political engagement. These activist leaders have called out police and politicians, using their voices and bodies to stop families from being torn apart. They stand at the forefront of social change by taking risks because lives and communities depend on it.
And what was Governor's Scott's response to my attempt to talk with him about abortion access and Medicaid expansion in public? He released an attack ad. A tactic normally reserved for those running for office was used against me, a private citizen. This attempt to discredit his critics and intimidate others from speaking out has backfired.
Instead of being a deterrent, his video has inspired people to speak out. His response proves that there is inspiration, power and effectiveness in taking direct action. It reminds us that politicians are terrified of an informed and emboldened public.
We must recognize the corrupting role of money in our political system. Corporate interests such as Walmart, U.S. Sugar, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce fund Governor Scott's PAC which put out the attack ad*.
This struggle is not about Governor Scott and me, it is about issues that affect millions of people.
In 2015 alone, Scott collected $4.5 million for his PAC. How do we respond when an elected official wields power recklessly? And most importantly, what would happen if many more people publicly spoke out against this corporate driven right wing push we are seeing across the country?
Governor Scott travels to California this week, and is using the trip to broadcast his opposition to the living wage recently approved in the Golden state. Scott says the Florida minimum wage of $8.05 is plenty and invites Californians to abandon their fair paying jobs and move here. Welcome to Florida, where half of our residents don't earn enough to pay for basic necessities.
This struggle is not about Governor Scott and me, it is about issues that affect millions of people. Maybe friends in the Golden state will be next to run into Scott at a coffee shop and have the chance to tell him we all deserve a living wage, or that we all deserve access to quality healthcare.
Our dignity demands that we continue to organize and act against the politicians who do not care if we live or die, so long as they stay rich and powerful. We are not voiceless, but we go mostly unheard. Perhaps, we must turn up the volume.