For 31 days and 30 nights, Dream Defenders slept on the hard marble floors of the Florida state Capitol in hopes that our governor would listen to the concerns of his citizens. We opened our mouths to have our voices (seemingly) go unheard and our actions disregarded, but the nation was watching. We had not a point to prove, but a mission to remain steadfast in our cause.
Our occupation of the capitol was successful in many ways. We established credibility, encouraged others to act and speak out against injustice, gained the opportunity to discuss our policy recommendations with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and won a legislative hearing on Stand Your Ground.
On September 17th, we met with the FDLE and gained much insight on how the system operates. We learned about the structure of the department; restrictions on oversight, investigations, and jurisdiction; and current racial profiling policies among other things. They also heard our concerns. We established a relationship with the FDLE that we expect to continue and walked away with a better understanding of their role in our government.September 23rd marked the first day of legislative committee hearings.
We have been building relationships and creating awareness across the nation since our departure, but now we have returned for Committee Week. Being back in the Capitol evoked nostalgic memories and invigorated us. Because education is a core value of the Dream Defenders, we started the week with a training to strengthen our mission and our members. Workshops focused on how to behave while demonstrating power in a meeting with legislators, the importance and function of legislative committees, and lobbying activities scheduled for the week. We also prepared for the upcoming hearing on Stand Your Ground where we expect to give testimony.
Across the state of Florida, our chapters on seven college campuses—including the University of Florida, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College, the University of Central Florida, Miami Dade College, and Florida International University—have been canvassing and educating students and community members. We have held a number of townhalls in order to introduce our work, develop meaningful relationships, and ultimately empower people to create change they want to see.
As most of our leaders are in their communities,some traveled and spoke on behalf of us on a national scale.
While our Executive Director, Phillip Agnew has traveled the country to promote our message and has gained national support for our cause, our Legal & Political Director, Ahmad Abuznaid, will grace the international stage in October with a presentation of our shadow report on Stand Your Ground to the United Nations in Geneva. The United States, with over 100 other nations, is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a human rights treaty in 1992, which protects the rights to vote, speech, and assembly as well as freedoms from discrimination and illegal detention, among other civil and political rights.
The UN Human Rights committee, scheduled to review U.S. compliance with the covenant next month, encourages organizations to submit responsive reports to complement evidence submitted by the government. The Dream Defenders’ shadow report, written with the Community Justice Project for Florida Legal Services, Inc. and the NAACP, explains how Stand Your Ground laws interfere with individuals’ right to life and summarized the racial disparities in the law, describing them as inordinate and prone to amplifying existing racial biases in the U.S. justice system.
The work of the Dream Defenders is far from done. October will be a month of much action in the state of Florida and abroad. For more information on upcoming events, policies and programs, visit our website at www.dreamdefenders.org and follow us on Twitter at @dreamdefenders.
Kristian Rainge-Campbell is an organizer for the Dream Defenders. Special thanks to Sandra Khalifa and Ericka Maye for contributions to this article.