Welcome to The Florida Progressives Dot Com Podcast, Episode Eleven, for July 31st, 2014. I'm Mike Eidson. This show delivers news and updates via interviews with activists around the state on the issues that you, the people of Florida, care about.
This episode is about an upcoming event where progressives can talk about those issues, ranging from Economic to Environmental to Labor to LGBT, the list goes on and on, and while people are at this conference, they can determine plans and actions for the movement.
The conference is called Accountability 2014, it’s on Saturday, August 16th in Orlando at the University of Central Florida Student Union and we’ll have more information, where you can find more about that online.
My guest today was previously on Episode Three. Kofi Hunt is a progressive activist/organizer based out of Pinellas County who has been working through the Awake the State movement for about three and a half years. He is currently the Project Coordinator for Awake Pinellas.
Kofi, thanks for joining me today.
Hey, I’m happy to be here.
So, you are one of the organizers of this conference, to get organizers across the state together. Why this conference, and what are you hoping attendees get out of it?
I’m hoping that, first and foremost, attendees can meet one another and learn that they’re not alone in this quote-unquote “fight for a better world” that we’re all a part of. Beyond that, I would like to have an aligning of priorities. Everybody complains about the silos and then they run back in them. [laughs] We need to come together, and not put our priorities aside, but to realize that our priorities align and to come up with a single path forward.
I’ll give you an example: at the last conference we had, just on their own, three separate groups came up with Medicaid Expansion as their priority. So rather than having the inefficient three-different-groups-talking-about-the-same-thing, if we would have realized to have those three groups -- and maybe other groups -- come together, we probably would have been able to build more momentum around that sort of initiative.
Mm-hmm. One way to find more information about the event is at flpros dot eventbrite dot com , that’s brite spelled b , r, i , t , e. You can sign up there and find out more information about the event. And, like I said, it’s Saturday, August 16th.
When you’re promoting this, it seems like three fundamental questions: “What are the policy positions of our diverse movement? What are the positions of the candidates on these policies? How can elections build progressive grassroots power?”
Now, last time you were on this show, you were talking about often times connecting an issue with the election. I mean, we are in the middle of… the primary election is coming up very soon. I remember, you used an example of connecting Medicaid Expansion with [State Senator] Jeff Brandes, the incumbent that voted against it, and how you have an alternative, Judithanne McLachlan, who could replace him.
So, do you feel like more progressives need to do this, and can you give some other examples, perhaps, of ways that we could connect that?
I 100% agree. I mean, what we need to do is to start looking at our issues and seeing the people who share them. And we need to promote them and we need the people who are against them to… we need to raise awareness of those opposing opinions. And we need to, more importantly, go to the community and we need to build that consensus, to be able to leverage electorally, politically, and socially, as well as economically, in some ways.
Particular examples, off the top of my head… I don’t know many recent instances, there’s been some movement, obviously sometimes incumbents take positions: she’s not in any sort of electoral/campaign danger, but Congresswoman Kathy Castor just recently came out against the Hobby Lobby decision. She wrote a bill in Congress that would basically solidify the idea that a woman has the right to choose her medical decisions and her employer can’t infringe on that. Issues like that, and people like Castor and other candidates like her that are willing to support women’s rights, y’know, that should be hoisted up.
One of our problems is communications, because when those sorts of things happen, activists are good at protesting and getting media, but not so much communicating to one another, so that’s a big part of what we want to accomplish [at the conference], too.
With this broad, diverse coalition, a lot of diversity is just on the surface level, because when we all get in a room and we start talking, for the most part we actually align on a lot of our viewpoints and our priorities, and I think that the secret is to focus on that than on what’s different about us. Values are going to be what holds any group together, when it comes down to it.
Mm-hmm. I’m looking at the list of challenges that you and the other organizers of Accountability 2014 want to address. Some of the challenges are, well, one you just mentioned, #4: “Vast geography makes it difficult to come together.” So, if everybody can get together personally, and brainstorm, that is better. Here’s another one, though, that’s interesting: “Elections are dominated by meaningless ads instead of concrete policy discussions that address community needs.”
So, I guess, one of the goals, I would say, of this conference, correct me if I’m wrong, is to try to make things more about policy instead of, like, sound bytes or who-said-what or things like that, right?
Yeah, that part is really perplexing. The thing is, it’s very interesting as an organizer, you have the opportunity to have conversations with literally hundreds if not thousands of people throughout your career. And you notice the same the same tendencies with people. And one of the tendencies is that people don’t… they initially hear you, but they don’t listen to you. I think that’s exacerbated by the media culture that people are under. They have a tendency not to actively listen to what’s being told to them. So it’s really an art, it’s the art of speaking to someone in a way where you pierce through the veil, and then once you do that, to say something to them that’s pertinent, that they’re willing to invest brainpower into what you’re saying. And that’s really our challenge.
You know, no one really gets into the details of The Affordable Care Act. People say that they don’t understand it. They don’t understand it because no one’s really [inaudible], they’ve been given the cliff notes. And that’s fine to a certain extent. Activists aren’t policymakers. Neither are campaigners or organizers. Policymakers are the people who get elected, and largely their staff. So it’s our job to condense that sort of policy language into something that is digestible, and then once that digestion happens, to promote meaningful conversation about those sort of things.
In election time, we’re saying, we don’t have that much time to get down to conversation, because you have to talk to so many people, especially in a state as large as Florida. So you’re really challenged with getting a conversation that’s meaningful down to a manageable portion to where you’re being realistic, but you’re not cheating that conversation.
And that’s really the challenge of being an organizer in this day and age, especially in a state as geographically large, but also culturally large. Some people think of Florida as five different states in one. And anybody that’s traveled around can really see what they’re talking about. You go from one end to the other, people are completely different. Completely different ways of thinking and priorities and culture. And you really have to appeal to them, not on a broad “This is Florida,” but you have to appeal to them in a way that’s local, in how they speak and how they think. And that’s one of the reasons why, with this [progressive] movement, we try to connect with people all over the state. Because we need them to bring their voice to our table. Because I, in Tampa, do not appreciate the voice of someone in Jacksonville who does not appreciate the voice of someone in Miami who does not appreciate the voice of someone in Pensacola. But if we can bring each of those people together to talk about all of our shared values -- promoting democracy, enhancing democracy, economically, socially, and politically -- but saying it through our own vernacular, that’s how we’re really going to take this movement to the next level, where we can really start to have some impact and really start to change the way things work in this state.
Okay. Let’s talk about the specifics: let’s say that you are showing up at Accountability 2014. Let’s say that you are a health care activist and you have that issue that you want to fight for. I don’t think that you guys are really expecting that health care activist to try to fight for every other issue, but I think it’s more about connections, networking, and getting each other’s back, right? Like, all step forward, together?
Well, it’s a perfect example. Health care is a women’s issue, it’s a minority issue, it’s a labor issue, it’s an economic issue, and in some ways it’s actually an environmental issue as well, because with environmentalists, one of their biggest points about clean air and clear water is that it affects your health. We need to be able to talk with all of these diverse groups, and we need to be able to have them understand, we’re all talking about the same thing. So that when they go to talk to their different groups, they come up with a cohesive message, that each of them speaking to each group the same way about the same thing, so that we start to have that conversation.
It’s not really about the sound bytes; it’s about sparking dialogue amongst people. When you start getting people talking to one another, they themselves begin to organize. That’s the trick of organizing, and that’s really what we need to be able to accomplish at these conferences, is that we need to start having everyone understand that you’re all coming to the table for the same reason, because the game is rigged, and you know it, and you’re willing to do something about it, and you want to inspire others to do something about it. And the only way we can do that is together. That’s the only way, because we do not have the kind of resources that the other side has. And in some ways, that’s a blessing, in my view.
Right, I mean I think that passion does get a little stronger when you see all the obstacles that are placed in front of us.
So, this will be from 9:30am to 5pm, [Saturday, August 16th in Orlando,] does this follow the session/breakout-session format, and if so, can you explain what a breakout session is?
Yeah. A breakout session is when people go to separate and speak on more specific points. I think it’s important for all these groups to come together and to align their values, but first they have to understand what those values are. They have to speak amongst one another to really come to this point, then they can go and bring those points to other people within that coalition. So the breakout sessions are usually certain amount of time -- I think this time they’re between 45 minutes and an hour -- and basically they’ll go there and talk, and they’ll come up with those specific deliverables, and each deliverable will be aligned, so that people don’t have random information all over, but specific information that can be aligned with other specific information. And then, from that, then they’ll come back together as a group, go over the information, and then start to take it into some sort of meaningful action at that point.
Okay. So, the deliverables and the meaningful actions, some examples would probably be a rally or a piece of legislation or things like that, right?
Yeah, it’d be like, “Okay, we want to do a statewide day of action on this day for this message.” Like minimum wage. That’s another issue that is, once again, Minority, Women, Labor, everybody’s issue. So, if we said, “We’re going to do a statewide day of action on minimum wage, and these are our talking points for us to take back to our groups,” coalesced around everything, well, that’s one thing. Then there’s another thing, like, say we want to be able to communicate our message, say on the minimum wage, as it applies to the entire movement, to candidates. We want to support progressive candidates. We can package talking points, we can package, like, in your area, these are the different groups, we can package all that intel, and we can be able to give it to the campaign, and then the campaign can take that information and run with that position, and they would see all the supported information, and all the groups they’re in contact with, who the point-people in those groups are. By doing that, we start coming up with a method of being able to articulate who we are and be able to quantify our values.
In the text for this at the Eventbrite, you want to “build a report card on candidate positions.” I love this idea, because so often, the voter doesn’t know who the candidate is, or if they do, they’re just names on a ballot, and they’re not, “Oh, I can immediately identify this candidate with that position.” So, how would you go about doing that? Would you just start asking everybody who they know and what they know their positions are, and put it all together?
For incumbents, it’s obviously very easy, we just have to do basic research; a lot of groups, like Planned Parenthood and whatnot, have already written out “these are the bills that came out, this is how everyone voted on these bills,” so there are those sorts of resources. But, beyond that, we can just look up the information through various websites.
Now, for candidates, it’s a little more difficult, because they might have listed their issues on their website, but they probably haven’t, so we would have to go through and contact these campaigns and say, “I’m with this group, this is my issue, what is the candidate’s position on this issue?” And hopefully get a reply. And then we would be able to allocate that into the report card. And for our movement, just following up a lot. “Okay, you’re in Alachua County, these are your candidates. Have you touched base with these campaigns?” “Have you found their positions on the issues?”
That would be for the state legislature, right?
Yeah, that would be for the state legislature, but also, I know we have certain points for the Congressional, and others as well. It’s all about being in your area. And also, getting solid commitments from the activists in those areas to follow up with these people as well.
Okay, so it’s a great chance for activists from all across the state to come together, to collaborate, to brainstorm. The event again is called Accountability 2014. It’s Saturday, August 16th at 9:30am at the UCF Student Union, Room 316 in the Cape Florida Ballroom.
Kofi, is there anything else you want to say, to anybody listening?
I just hope everyone gets the chance to make it out. We’re really trying to do something special, but we can’t do it alone.
Okay, well, thank you, Kofi, and thanks for all the work you do.
Thanks for listening.
You can find Kofi on Twitter at kofihunt. He's also on Facebook. Awake Pinellas can be found at https://www.facebook.com/AwakePinellas and the Awake the State networks can be found at http://awakethestate.com/local .
For more on the Accountability 2014 conference beyond what was described on the show, check out the Florida Progressives Facebook collective at https://www.facebook.com/FLPros , unaffiliated but in solidarity with the goals of this website, and that is achieving widespread progressive change in Florida.
You can find me on Facebook at The FloridaProgressives.Com Podcast. You can find me on Twitter at mike eidson, spelled e i d s o n. This is the second podcast out of five, in five days. If you want to promote the podcast on social media, you can use the hashtag #5interviews5days .
This music is by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com . It is licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Thanks for listening.