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C CAIR-FL In The News

An army of fired-up women is coming after Trump

By Adam C. Smith, For Tampa Bay Times, On 16 February 2018, Read Original
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From St. Petersburg to Trinity to Tampa, women across Tampa Bay are mobilizing for 2018.

ST. PETERSBURG — Donna Bradley, a Trinity resident who works to facilitate adoptions, recounted her stages of grief following Donald Trump's election.

First came the shock and anger.

Next the strong desire to consume wine.

Then numbing depression. "How could our country elect someone like this?"

Finally, resolve. "Let's do something."

She and a group of friends quickly hooked into the national Indivisible network, created after Trump's election to help mobilize grassroots progressives.

"As we speak, a lot of our members are making calls, sending emails, voicing their concerns (about gun violence) to our governor, state and federal representatives," the co-director of the 500-strong Indivisible Pasco said Thursday morning after the school massacre in Broward County.

Republicans should worry about this mother of four, because she is anything but unique.

An army of Donna Bradleys has sprung into action since the 2016 presidential election. They are part of what veteran political activists say is the biggest and most energetic liberal grassroots movement Tampa Bay and Florida has ever seen — and that includes the then-unprecedented grassroots machine that delivered Florida's electoral votes to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

This year, they are shifting their focus from protests to winning elections, including registering Puerto Rican newcomers.

Their energy and potential to upend a colossal election year for Florida is irrefutable.

"My husband used to say, 'You're always on the phone, every morning for like an hour,' I'd tell him, 'Well, I'm running a revolution,' " quipped Tampa attorney Erin Aebel, who last year helped launch Surly Feminists for the Revolution, which has 15,000 Facebook followers organizing for or against candidates, raising money, firing off emails and making phone calls to elected officials.

Whether the constellation of newly formed liberal groups can effectively reverse the Democrats' traditionally weak turnout in non-presidential election years is an open question. Chronically low Democratic turnout in off-year elections has helped Republicans win the past five governor's races and hold every statewide elected office except the Senate seat held by Bill Nelson.

Women accounted for 53 percent of the Florida vote in 2016, and Hillary Clinton won women by 4 percentage points, according to exit polls.

Most of these new progressive groups are homogeneous — overwhelmingly dominated by middle-age, college-educated, white women. And many of these activists are new to campaigns and the science of mobilizing infrequent voters. Most are working with little or no coordination with the Democratic Party or campaign professionals.

"People in my neighborhood and my life who have never been involved in politics before are outraged," said Gulfport resident Andrea Smith, a leader of Floridians Against Corruption and Treason (FACT), which last year held weekly protest rallies outside the St. Petersburg Judicial Building to highlight Trump's ties with Russia and alleged collusion and obstruction of justice.

"When I go door to door in my neighborhood, people don't even let me finish my sentence before they take my flier and ask, 'Where is this event, when is it, and can I bring four friends?' When they get that this is helping a Democratic surge in 2018, they're like, 'Okay, I'm there.' I think we're headed for a very big year," said Smith, 48, who also has organized a voter mobilization group called November Starts Now.

In recent months, Democrats have won three hard-fought elections across Florida, including this week with a Sarasota state House seat held by Republicans for more than a decade. Activists across Tampa Bay made thousands of phone calls urging voters to turn out for Democrat Margaret Good, while Sarasota Republicans grumbled about a lack of support beyond the local GOP.

The Republican Party of Florida declined to comment for this story.

Middle-aged white women have long been the backbone of campaigns' volunteer machine, but President Trump has ramped up the passion.
More than 4 in 10 college educated, white women voted for Trump in 2016, but a national ABC-Washington Post poll last month found just 27 percent approved of his job performance. 

"I think we go into a bit of mama bird mode, when we see how our children's lives are being affected. We're going into protective mode where we're just not going to let this s— happen," St. Petersburg resident Karen Berman, a leader of the 900-member Fired Up Pinellas, said of the prevalence of women leading what many Democrats call "the resistance."

Engaging with more non-white voters and younger voters is a priority for Berman, 49, whose group has drawn hundreds of people to forums about charter schools, gun safety, the media and health care to educate them, keep them engaged and help shape their advocacy.

"I ask everybody, 'What is your state House District, what is your state Senate district? What is your congressional district?' I am shocked how many educated people do not know this," Surly Feminists for the Revolution leader Erin Aebel told a Cafe Con Tampa civic forum earlier this month.

Lisa Perry, leader of the Pinellas chapter of Women’s March Florida. (Adam C. Smith | Times)
Lisa Perry, leader of the Pinellas chapter of Women’s March Florida. (Adam C. Smith | Times)

Lisa Perry of St. Petersburg, a 38-year-old mother of two young daughters and local leader of Women's March Florida (an estimated 4,000 in Pinellas 2,500 in Hillsborough), said the near-daily drama and controversy surrounding the Trump administration is both a help and hindrance to progressive organizers.

"On one hand, he's keeping our energy going," she said, "but on the other, there's just so much happening, people are saturated. It almost works against us."

On Saturday, several Women's March groups are joining with Fired Up Pinellas, the League of Women Voters, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations to hold a "Community Vigil & Rally in Response to Gun Violence" in St. Petersburg's Williams Park at 5 p.m.

The myriad new groups — others include Indivisible Action Together Tampa Bay and the Community Protection Coalition concentrating on immigrant rights — are united by opposition to the Trump administration. Most have different focuses, however, and social media has been key in improving coordination and cooperation.


"You wouldn't believe what you can do with Facebook. It's not just the Russians who can take advantage of it," joked Kate Pravera, an Indivisible leader for Congressional District 13 in south Pinellas.

Ashley Walker, a Broward County-based political consultant who ran Obama's grassroots-focused 2012 Florida campaign, said the potential impact of these organizers can't be overstated.


"It's much easier and effective to organize through inspiring than it is organizing to be against something," she said. "Even though these groups are organizing against the policies of this administration, this is many, many people coming together to effect positive change and improve the lives of their children and people across the county and that is inspiring."

Her advice would be for these activists to court voters without the time or inclination to pay close attention to current events. And to talk issues to voters who might not agree with the liberal activists on everything but do agree on key issues, whether it's expanding access to health insurance or public education.

Even talking to like-minded voters in the same ideological bubble can reap electoral benefits, said Democratic consultant Barry Edwards of St. Petersburg.

"It is all right that they are preaching to true believers because not every true believer is going to go vote in a midterm," he said. "Florida's midterms are very low turnout compared to presidential cycles, 50 percent compared to 75 percent. … So even getting 1 out of 10 voters who believe but were not going to vote is a big deal."


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