The youth organizers of the Dream Defenders civil rights collective stood their ground and slept on the grounds of the Florida state capitol building for a full month in response to the "not guilty" verdict for George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin. That chapter is now drawing to a close, they announced today. They are now embarking on new actions across the state to draw attention to unjust policies that the youth leaders say made Trayvon's death and Zimmerman's acquittal possible: Stand Your Ground laws, school-to-prison pipeline policies and racial profiling. The Defenders begin their new journey today by marching to Gov. Rick Scott's home to deliver an "eviction notice."
Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond was present with the Dream Defenders as they made the announcement and he said the youth activists were "ending a protest because [they] are starting a movement."
"We came here to the capitol because we wanted what we all deserve--a seat at the table," said Dream Defenders director Phillip Agnew at a press conference this afternoon, "and we said we were willing to stay here until our work was done."
Their work will continue, said Agnew, but instead of staging sit-ins, teach-ins and making demands from the capitol building, the youth activists will be taking the fight back to their communities. In the meanwhile, the Dream Defenders can list a number of accomplishments in their 31-day stand-in that will probably send a bunch of Tea Party activists back to the drawing board.
- The Defenders called for state legislative hearings on Stand Your Ground laws, and were originally denied their request, but then Speaker of the House Will Weatherford called for a subcommittee to host hearings in the fall. "We look forward to having that debate because we know that Stand Your Ground don't have a ground to stand on," said Agnew.
- They've secured meetings with the heads of the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to discuss "zero tolerance" school policies.
- They authored a bill "Trayvon's Law," which the youth organizers will help state senators workshop through briefings and conferences.
- In addition to having that bill filed, they triggered a legislative poll, a head count to see where legislators stand today on the issue so the organizers know who to target.
- The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has agreed to discuss racial profiling policies, where Defenders will have the opportunity to bring experts in the field to testify before the department.
Beyond that, the Defenders have initiated a massive voter registration drive, drawn celebrities from Talib Kweli to Jesse Jackson to the movement, and earned the attention of mainstream media outlets from The New York Times to MSNBC.
"This is the last time I'm going to sleep on any floor," said Agnew. "Now the real work begins. Our work has grown too big for these halls."