Filed under: Analysis, Critique, The State, US
Our story starts where usually it ends, at least in Florida anyway: on a crowded highway at breakneck speed and heavily, heavily distracted.
“What are you doing?” my wife screams, “Keep your hands on the wheel!” Our black jeep emblazoned in Antifa and Stirner stickers roars past 65 and into the 80’s, passing a camouflage truck bearing a confederate flag.
“I am, I am,” I say in a reassuring tone, trying to ignore the nearby honks and screams. “I just have to record what’s happening. How we got here, that sort of thing.” I reach for the voice recorder in my pocket, flipping the switch and trying to speak over the salsa music blaring out of the radio. “It was a Wednesday, my usual day for oiling up my essential tools of sorcery and conjuration when the lead came in-”
“Why are you talking like that?”
“Like…like what?” I tap the brakes to pass another wreck.
“Like that, like you’re some detective or something.”
“Oh. I’m narrating, Boo.”
“I see that. Why is the question.” I pretend not to hear her and continue talking into the device.
“A Marxist-Leninist who doubles as a tenth-generation Floridian wanted to know if I’d be available to attend a Democrat town hall. Normally I’d avoid such things like the plague, though the thought of dropping in three sheets to the wind and screaming curses no doubt sounded appealing.”
“Yes, really.” We switch lanes, a rickety 18-wheeler nervously riding the little yellow lines separating us from certain death. “I despised Democrats,” I continued, “even more than I hated Republicans, and to be deep within enemy territory unarmed was something I had no intention of doing. But when I heard the Democrats would be having a ‘People’s Town Hall’ in one of the wealthier Florida enclaves I knew the spirits had gifted me an enormous opportunity. The gods are with us it appears, greater tides coursing through the timelines. As G&R’s sole Reporter of Fortune it is my sworn duty to cover such weirdness. There is no doubt in this journalist’s mind that what I will witness-“
“What WE will witness-“
“What WE will witness will be nothing short of a full-blown omen, a magical synchronicity giving those with the eyes to see a naked glimpse at the beating heart of American liberalism.“
“Reach Out and Convince the Non-Believers.”
Maybe the night’s events can be blamed on the soil. Conjurers know dirt carries power. The location of a spell can change everything from who it affects to how it plays out. Speak Out Brevard, the progressive non-profit putting on the town hall, could not have picked a more hilarious venue.
Viera is a pop-up “planned community” pulled out of cowfields and built to cater almost exclusively to the well-to-do. It is a strange, unnatural place and on sunny days as they scrub jays play you get the distinct sensation you’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Houses can be bought there “for the low 400’s” and small malls covered in chain restaurants assure the would be patron that for a mere $40 the humble pizza pie can be taken “from food into art.” Winds tear through hundreds of acres of prairie only to slam against fertility clinics and banks. The temperature is hot enough to cause you to walk slow and speak even slower, unconsciously mimicking the spirits of Cowhunters and farmers who no doubt still tread across the very land you stand on.
But the herds are gone, as are the farms, and instead you’ll find yourself enmeshed in botox injections, faux-miami fashion, and stores hawking nautical memorabilia nearly 18 miles from the seashore. The same soil haunted by blues and ranch hands has been bought up by palms so smooth from luxury it’s said quarters will roll right off them.
Here, of all places, the Democrats chose to make their appeal to the people of Florida.
We were lost for what seemed like an hour, trapped in a maze of Panera’s and roundabouts, until a massive brick structure rose from the horizon. There, shrouded in the favor of heaven, was Viera Highschool, and by extension The People’s Town Hall. The school’s auditorium had been chosen as tonight’s seat of populism and as we pulled in we took note of a parking lot full of cars barely three years old.
Some driven by parents, others by their kids.
Getting in was pretty easy, though we were welcomed to a standing room only event; iphones mounted on tripods jutting out from a sea of white faces and name-brand clothing. I was looking for Harmony, our contact, fumbling with my voice recorder when I began to notice a subtle etheric shift. I glanced over my shoulder only to be greeted by a row of sheriffs covered in long faces. Everything about them said they’ve been much happier breaking up this event with clubs than providing it protection.
A petite voice echoed out from the stage far ahead. “We will now start with the pledge of allegiance.” The line of cops suddenly freezes as the those in seats suddenly rose, pinning one of the pigs directly behind me.
I chuckle now when I think about it, and can only imagine what was going through his head, my hand noticeably not on my heart and my hat still very much on, a jacket with communist symbols staring back at him with the word “PRESS” obnoxiously visible. Before I could ask him a few questions a bespectacled woman clutching a notebook made her way to us, slipping through bodies like a Seminole through trees. It was Harmony, and after a small introduction she led us to three seats she’d managed to save right at the front.
Ellie Logan, the president of the NGO putting on this event, strode towards the podium with a grin that indicated she was pleased. “This place was empty like, 20 minutes ago,” Harmony told me, rubbing her pentagram ring, “but than, bam, everybody just showed up all at once.”
The event, Ellie proclaimed on stage, was “not a liberal town hall, not a republican town hall” but a “people’s town hall,” one that would reflect the key issues faced by Floridians whether politicians wanted to pay attention or not. Of course this wasn’t exactly true: Speak Out Brevard was overwhelmingly liberal, and the large amount of “I’m with Her” stickers seen in the parking lot left little to wonder about where loyalties lay. Four speakers sat at a table on the stage, three women and one man, each one representing a pressing and topical issue: education, environmental issues, reproductive rights, and healthcare.
It was here the first telltale signs of Democrat influence were in full display. In a state where 3.2 million households – fully 45 percent– are daily struggling to support themselves the silence on poverty was deafening.
First at the podium didn’t come from the table and was more of a celebrity guest: Governor-hopeful and Mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillium. His accomplishments as mayor are impressive: he spearheaded programs to get computers into the hands of underprivileged youth, introduced a restorative justice program to help keep kids out of courts, and built a 350-foot long dinner table for people of “diverse ethnic and religious ideas” to have a conversation around once a year at the state’s capital. He won a $57,250 grant for its construction.
Mayor Gillium talks one hell of a game and is living proof that the Southern School of Statecraft is alive and well; he commands a remarkable flair for making larger issues seem folksy and “common sense” while making the everyday seem larger. Climate change and healthcare weren’t merely human concerns but matters of “property” and “economy.” When it came time for questions he mentioned, with a forlorn look, how upset it made him “when folks attack Muslim folks” and just as quickly turned jovial when talking about an almost certainly mythical time “when my grandmother knew all the police. Same group of folks patrolling our area, she knew ’em all by name. She cooked for ’em, made desserts for ’em, and they chilled on the foot step of the porch.”
The statement sounded to me ludicrous, such an act happening during Jim Crow Florida practically unthinkable. But here, amid an almost entirely white audience, it spoke to the truth they wanted to believe. Heads nodded, suspicions confirmed. The Andy Griffith Show had been a documentary all along, just as they always hoped. It wasn’t the police that were bad but the times.
“Note to self,” I whispered into the recorder, “start baking company. Police violence issue not systemic racism, merely lack of key lime pies. Not just matter of spilt blood and crushed skulls but deficit in baked property ownership. Apply for grant immediately.”
After a few softball questions about getting Gillium elected and the organizer of the event running for office he leaves to massive applause, not even sticking around for the panel. It was weird to have so many people clapping for what was essentially one gigantic commercial. Hadn’t they been promised “hope” and “change” before? Had they forgotten eight years of drone strikes and new wars? The same crowd no doubt laughing at Trump’s total 180 on everything promised during his campaign now eagerly cheered, sure they were immune to such embarrassing roguery.
Dr. Carol Kindt, the Deputy Superintendent/Chief Human Resources Officer for Brevard Public Schools, was the first from the panel to speak. She spoke about teacher shortages and how great the Florida education system was, the same system joined by Mississippi and Georgia in receiving an “F” rating by the Network for Public Education in “promoting a professional teacher force, equitable and sufficient funding and equal opportunities for all students to succeed.”
Besides being flat out wrong her entire speech seemed weirdly out of touch with the reality of everyday Floridians, or at least the reality of the three members of the proletariat in attendance. In reference to a bill requiring mandatory recess she remarked “How many of you sit at your desk and just haaaaave to take break?” Amid muffled “mhm’s” and “oh-yeah’s” from the herd my wife and I both stared in disbelief. These people got breaks to fuck around? They got to sit while they were at work? Every sunday I stand from 6:30am to 5:00pm; the only breaks I get during the week are an unpaid lunch and whenever I have to take a shit. My wife stands her entire shift and is scheduled in a way where she’s not legally required to be given a break at all.
Low wage jobs are projected to grow at double or triple the rate of high-skilled ones over the next decade in Florida, a place where already 52% of the jobs pay under $15 an hour. Here, amid the frappichino’s and designer purses however, such cares were as foreign as justice to a courtroom.
If the panelist on education was out of touch the one detailing the threat to our environment was nothing short of bat-shit crazy. Amid Lorax quotes a black-haired woman named Melissa gave a weird, moralistic screed to “reach out and convince the non-believers” while “being kind, effective, positive advocates.”
“You have organizers that do everything for us,” a practically stoned voice cooed from glazed over eyes, “and when they sound the call to action we need to hear them.” Translation: you don’t really need to do anything, just give the good establishment enough resources to fix things for you. She than proceeded to give a laundry list of progressive NGO’s who just so happened to be in the other room hungrily waiting for email addresses and donations.
Brittany Arroyo and Scott Darius, the last two panelists, were the only saving graces. Brittany, who volunteers as a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, displayed the tenacity that can only come from the front lines of conflict when she roared to resounding applause that “a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right.” Scott, a young black man from South Florida, worked with Medicaid and as an Obamacare Navigator to help the poor get insurance. He spent his time detailing the absolutely terrible plans Republicans were trying to roll out, including creating premiums for Medicaid that would lock a patient out of care for 12 months if they missed a single payment.
2 misses, 2 hits, and one thirty minute long campaign speech for a crowd that would no doubt vote for the Mayor of Tallahassee simply because of the “D” at the end of his name. It all smelled very familiar to the cow-like stench I’d seen at a Trump rally. Sure, this was much more well-behaved and lacked the palatable barbarian threats of violence, but there was nothing of substance, nothing different from the same views and ideas everyone thought Hillary could ride into the white house. The Democrats had learned nothing and worse saw absolutely nothing wrong with that. After the panel finished almost half of the room simply got up and left. They had heard what they wanted to hear: that they were right, that they were good, and that they could definitely win. Anything else beyond that didn’t interest them.
The night could have ended there, the usual deep-fried platter of tall-tales, straight bullshit, and pretended generosity that made up much of mainstream politics, and for many people it did. I’m sure the event organizers wished it had.
But Democrat or not, a town hall is where the people are supposed to be heard and some people had no intention of going anywhere until they had the chance.
“I Can’t Hear You”
When I heard this was going to be a town hall I expected something like I’d seen happen to the Republicans: common folk with microphones accosting their leaders and eagerly demanding why they had committed the crimes they had. Not that there were any leaders to question. The Democrats in charge of “Speak Out Brevard” had planned for this, and made it clear that no questions would be taken during the first half of the event. We were to hold our hands up like little children and wait for a volunteer to bring us a note card. where we would proceed to write our question on it. After all was said and done it might get selected by the MC to be fielded towards one of the speakers at the end.
What few questions did get asked barely got any answers.
Special Needs programs are so bad in Brevard I’ve needed to use a voucher program. How can we address this?
Answer: Your problem is communication. We have plenty of programs, you just need to investigate.
Next Question: What do you say about fracking?
Answer: Ahh man…yeah, fracking is like…I won’t get into the chemistry but, yeah. It’s bad.
The only thing that kept me awake was Brittney Arroyo’s reactions. Her first question was what people could due to help keep money in Planned Parenthood. She stared forward, teeth practically clenched. “We don’t have any protection….there’s not much we can do. The law is the law now.”
Sheer terror stretched across her face when she was asked “if Medicaid is withheld from Planned Parenthood, what then?” Her eyes were pale, drifting off, as if imagining Huey’s flying over Vietnamese rice paddies. She calmly explained the Christian “crises centers” popping up everywhere would receive all funding from the state and that, in no uncertain terms, Planned Parenthood would be deader than chickens swimming in a shark tank.
There was a weird turn here in the evening, an existential cramp right around the third chakra when the same person who volunteered to protect women under the threat of bombs and shootings practically whimpered that the best thing the crowd could do was to simply “focus on your state legislatures.”
Her life’s work, rather than resting in the hands of a caring community, depended on the ability of people to annoy men whose ideas on life came straight out of Leviticus. She was resigned to the idea crucial care depended on the attention span and poltical zeal of people whose idea of activism was simply writing a check.
A woman who lived and breathed direct action, who radiated energy and resolve, begged for others to beg the powerful.
That was enough for me.
I began to pack up my notebook, sickened by what I’d seen, as the environmentalist gleefully took the mike again. She explained that the only way to ensure water quality was to focus on the “poop loop” and give up on the crazy idea of “not living in cities.” I thought about throwing my notebook at her, or at least spitting, as she pontificated the need for all of us to start going to our Home Owner’s Association meetings to make sure the no doubt immigrant gardeners we employed weren’t using too much fertilizer. This momentary delay would prove fruitful indeed.
A question was asked by note card of Dr. Carol Kindt: is the school board still committed to the protection of transgender children?
“We are committed,” she says slowly, “to the protection of all children.” A nice empty answer for the empty heads in the room, who clap eagerly. Suddenly a woman speaks up over the applause and asks what the school board is doing specifically.
“What, uh, what are we doing specifically?” The panelist shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “We, uh, changed verbage in our policies to protect transgender children specifically.”
Now a young woman, perhaps no older than 20, yells in a whisper. “What are you doing concretely, like are you working with bathrooms, are you working with teachers, are you changing language in the classroom, what are you doing other than saying you’re committed to protecting them?”
“Well one of the things we do county-wide is about bullying protection.” She describes a system that holds “teachers accountable if a child felt like they were getting picked on based on those parameters, the teacher was now held to do something about it. You couldn’t turn a blind eye to it. It’s s-specific now, there’s a name, a place, and identity for it, and the child can come forward and say ‘I’m being bullied.’” The idea that a child may not want to be labled a snitch and be treated even worse stood silently in the room, politely ignored.
“What are the repercussions?”
“I can’t hear you.”
“What are the repercussions for students bullying based on being different?”
“Well, uh, it’s part of the student code of conduct. Anything up to and including suspension or expulsion.”
Another person almost rises out of his chair but remains sitting. “M’am,” he says respectfully but loudly, “as a teacher I can tell you these policies are not working.” His arms are crossed tightly around his chest. “I can get with you after this but they are not working at all.”
I start a round of applause in response, though it never gets as far as the others had that evening. Dr. Carol Kindt, in a tone that promises a child you’ll hang their drawing on the fridge, says she’s very interested to hear this and to get with her afterwards. No one in the room is satisfied, these people dressed in clothing a little more worn and a little less new than the many who surrounded them earlier. I look around at the faces pinched forward with concern. They have worries, want answers beyond mere platitudes or speechs for their continued loyalty.
They get nothing in return. Worse, they get nothing with a bleached-teeth smile.
This was the moment, the magical display I had hoped and prayed to witness. On an issue the Democrats should have easily walked across the mask had slipped off, if only for a second, to reveal a forked tongue reeking of brimstone underneath. The horrible reality of American politics, the thick layers of not-giving-a-shit-because-who-the-fuck-are-you so heavy the crowd sat in stunned silence afterwards.
The prevailing wisdom is that the Democrats are the good guys in some manichean battle against Republican evil, an image the party has carefully cultivated. We hear plenty of words about “equality” and “justice” when the lights are on or they’re being interviewed for big press outlets but when push comes to shove, when the actual policies of these enlightened despots finally roll out, the nature of the entire machine exposes itself.
The Democrats are all about reforming capitalism and making it palatable. It’s not about changing the bitter beverage we call life but sprinkling a little sugar on top to help it go down easier. We’ll protect trans kids somewhat, we’ll make education a priority sometimes, we’ll even keep Planned Parenthood open somehow as long as you keep sending us to Washington and keep the money flowing. We did something, see? We do stuff for you. Go along if you want to get along, otherwise you’ll be thrown to the wolves that elected Trump in the first place. You may not like it, it may be only lip service, but you should be happy we’re even bothering to give you that.
From tightly controlled questions to outright flippant attitudes, the night felt more like a conference with corporate management than some grand populist revival, something we would all watch play out in the news shortly after.
We had gotten our symbol, our omen, and amid sighs of resignation the three members of the radical press decided to make an exit, sure that everything of value had now been seen.
The Best Walmart
We head over to Harmony’s van where she lights up a cigarette, a habit many workers keep because it’s the only opportunity they’ll have to step outside and take a break. She’s showing us a paper sent to her by the Democratic Party of Florida, a paper stating she will be paid 80 dollars and that they will no longer be needing her services.
That’s the payment for eight hours of work she gave them, eight hours she spent outside in the Florida sun trying to recruit new believers in the battle of good versus evil. Her hours faithfully logged it was determined she hadn’t signed up enough new voters and as such wouldn’t be paid at all.
That’s wage theft, and it says a hell of alot more about how the Democratic Party works than any speech on the campaign trail.
“I couldn’t get quantity and that’s what they wanted,” she said. “It wasn’t about reaching out, it wasn’t about interacting with voters, it was just about getting numbers.”
“So you were basically a car salesmen for the Democrats,” I said, chewing a tooth pick.
“Exactly. I mean, I drive a bomb.” Harmony leans against the van, the cigarette dangling in her hand. “Like, my gas tank leaks and technically my van is a bomb. I couldn’t drive all over Brevard county for 10 dollars an hour so…that’s nothing to them.”
She’s not alone. Between telling Millennials “we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is,” to calling universal healthcare “just a distraction from the real issues,” the Democrats have made it clear they are sticking to their guns after the recent election. Under the auspices of a party headed by one of the most establishment of the establishment-types it’s been communicated to all offices that business will go on as usual, regardless of whatever warm and wonderful sermons they belt out before the believers.
On April 11, Democratic congressional candidate James Thompson came close to defeating Republican candidate State Treasurer John Estes in a special election in Kansas, with just over a 6 percent margin in a district that President Donald Trump won by 27 points. However, the bigger story is how Thompson ran a formidable campaign without support from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)…
Rather than this special election representing an anomaly or misstep from the Democratic leadership, there’s a prevailing trend within the party’s establishment to select and support weak, centrist candidates who provide the party with opportunities to fundraise from corporate donors….
Currently, in a special congressional election in Georgia to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, the Democratic establishment is putting vast resources behind establishment Democrat Jon Ossoff. The former legislative assistant and filmmaker has strong ties to Rwandan dictator and Clinton Foundation ally Paul Kagame. In addition to the party’s funds, Ossoff’s pro-business centrist platform has afforded his campaign several million dollars…
Harmony and I both had writing to do, so after shaking hands we got in our respective death traps and rode off under the darkened sky, out of a town and out of a world never intended for proles like us in the first place; different directions but towards the same raggedy edge.
My wife and I stopped at a Walmart in Viera before we left to get some gas, and I couldn’t help but take a quick peak inside. The fact the well-to-do still wanted cheap Chinese goods on hand spoke volumes to the ethics professed so loudly but a stone’s throw down the road. The store was well-lit, and the place looked cleaner than the ones we usually see, but it was still just a Walmart, still some place where the people get paid so little they have to hope on the charity of the state to get enough food to feed their families.
But maybe, just maybe, this one might be different. Maybe it runs on clean energy, has a diverse and multi-racial managerial staff, and even donates money to the school where the children of defense industry engineers study hard to build the missiles that protect The American Dream.
Maybe we’ll all get jobs there, get our food stamps together once a week to have a barbeque and talk about how different our store is from all the others, how nice it is to have a program for healthcare provided we can afford it and apartments in a city with clean, efficient sewers.
We’ll talk and talk and feel good about how different things are, here in such a wonderful and enlightened town. Why it’ll surely be the best Walmart, a place where our dedicated organizers and leaders will be open to talk about anything, even abortion and bullying, swearing up and down to fix any kinda problem you got.
Anything and everything.
Anything but class.