Sharpton, Crump join activists on DeSantis’ home turf to protest his policies

As Gov. Ron DeSantis travels the campaign trail touting his controversial Florida policies and dominant reelection win, renowned civil rights leaders and Black voter organizations are mounting resistance to the state’s far-right shift on his home turf.

“We come to ground zero for civil rights fights… We cannot excel with our history and people being under attack,” said civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton following a Sunday morning service at Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “[DeSantis is] not going to be president. Stop embarrassing yourself, and come home and clean up your mess.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at a press conference outside Tallahassee's Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023

Sunday marked the commemoration of the prominent Black church’s 153rd anniversary and the 37th pastoral anniversary of its pastor, the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr. It also marked the continuation of a movement against DeSantis’ policies by Sharpton, Holmes and other Black religious leaders and activists that began after Florida rejected the Advanced Placement African American Studies course earlier this year.

“We cannot stand quietly while this governor turns the Sunshine State into a dark state, where only a few people our represented and respected,” said Holmes, who did the closing prayer at DeSantis’ first inauguration but has since become a vocal opponent of his policies.

Some of those speaking Sunday also participated in a separately-organized, multiple-day campaign to boost Black voter participation in Tallahassee and surrounding areas.

“We’re here to let everybody know that Florida will be woke, Florida will stay woke and Florida will show up at the ballots next year,” said Tallahassee NAACP president and attorney Mutaqee Akbar at an event Thursday, the first day of the voter campaign.

At Sunday’s post-service press conference, he said, “We need to work from the ground up to make sure [DeSantis is] not president, and that these types of policies don’t remain.”

NAACP Tallahassee President Mutaqee Akbar speaks at a press conference outside Tallahassee's Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023.

‘We’re not going to stop organizing’

The Tallahassee voter campaign, which ended on Saturday, marked the fourth stop of the “Power of the Ballot – We Will Not Be Erased: Vote 2024” tour.

That tour began in Jacksonville at the beginning of October and ends in Orlando in mid-November. A slew of national and local organizations participated in the effort last week, focused at generating a higher Black voter turnout in the 2024 election.

“It’s not an attack on Florida. This is a call to action that we say we are going to own the power of the ballot, now and in 2024,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, one of the groups leading the campaign.

DeSantis won a second term by a whopping 19 percentage points in the 2022 election, which was also the first statewide contest in modern Florida history where more state residents had registered as Republicans than Democrats.

The state now has 627,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. The Florida Legislature is run by a Republican supermajority. Republicans fill all elected executive positions. DeSantis has shifted the previously liberal-leaning court to the right since taking office in 2019, appointing five of its seven justices.

At the same time, voter turnout in Florida has gone down in recent years. In 2018, the state had a 63% turnout among registered voters in the midterms. In 2022, turnout dropped to 54%, which mirrors the historic average of past decades.

In Leon County and other areas of the state, Black turnout took a hit in 2022.

Advocates, in part, have blamed new stricter election laws signed by the governor and a DeSantis-driven congressional map that scattered Black voters. They accuse the DeSantis administration and legislative Republicans of voter suppression, saying many of the new policies have been aimed at Black people, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat.

Campbell said voting and other rights are under attack in Florida.

“This is not a one-shot deal,” she said on Thursday about the campaign. “We’re going to be back. We’re not going to stop organizing.”

69-year-old’s voter fraud charges nixed:Voter fraud charges dropped against 69-year-old Florida woman arrested at 3 a.m.

Florida civil rights inductions stalled:Florida religious leaders denounce DeSantis’ years-long pause of Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductions

So what’s happening in Florida?

As a governor and a presidential candidate, DeSantis has railed against diversity, equity and inclusion programs and “woke” ideology, a conservative smear for values or initiatives deemed too progressive. All the while, the governor points to policies he’s pushed combatting these initiatives.

While signing legislation into law banning DEI funding at Florida public universities, DeSantis said DEI really should stand for “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination.”

“This has basically been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda and that is wrong,” he said.

This year, DeSantis has also signed a law that has prompted a barrage of book removals across the state, a law expanding restrictions on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity as well other controversial legislative items.

“Florida is where woke goes to die,” DeSantis has repeatedly proclaimed.

The governor’s office did not respond to a media request.

And what’s happening in Tallahassee?

It wasn’t just DeSantis that drew Sharpton to Tallahassee on Sunday.

Sharpton said they felt it was an “appropriate” time considering so many people were in town for the homecoming festivities of Florida A&M University, a historically Black institution.

Another reason, he said: Florida’s capital city is also home to Edward Blum, the legal strategist behind the case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s summer decision banning affirmative action in college admissions. In August, Blum sued an Atlanta firm, Fearless Fund, that backs Black women entrepreneurs. 

But for those gathered at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, the policies that’ve come out of the Florida Capitol only a few blocks away drew most of the focus.

Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks at a sermon in Tallahassee's Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023.

Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump said it was “only proper” for Sharpton, who in February also participated in a Tallahassee rally against the governor, to come back and “denounce these policies and talk about why we must all stand now, not just for today, but for a better future for all our children tomorrow.”

Some elected officials praised

The civil rights leaders, though, also gave thanks to some government officials, including Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley and State Attorney Jack Campbell of the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

After speaking with Earley and another “key witness,” Campbell dropped the charges for 69-year-old Marsha Ervin, whose 3 a.m. arrest for voter fraud galvanized the support of a multitude of advocacy groups.

But the leaders on Sunday blasted DeSantis for Ervin’s arrest. The Tallahassee resident, who voted while being on probation for a conviction of aggravated neglect of an elderly person, is one of dozens in Florida to get arrested following voter eligibility confusion since last year. Advocates have long called on the state to fix the confusion instead of arresting people for it.

“One thing that this whole thing pointed out [is] that this whole elections army that DeSantis put together to really intimidate voters, those types of policies… we need to fight against or continue to fight against,” said the Tallahassee NAACP’s Akbar, who was on Ervin’s legal team along with Crump.

The Sunday events ended with a reception at a nearby hotel, where Ervin, who was unable to attend due to work, was a special honoree.

Akbar said Ervin’s probation had been terminated last week. Next week, she’s going to register to vote again.

Contributed: James Call, TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat, USA TODAY

This reporting content is supported by a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA Today Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at Twitter: @DouglasSoule.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site