“Relief Not Reopen” Demand Local Activists In Polk County
by James Coulter
With COVID-19 infections and deaths in Florida reaching record highs, many Polk County residents are saying “enough is enough” and demanding that the county and state halt measures to re-open the economy.
Several local activists planned a demonstration in Downtown Lakeland on Sunday to protest the state’s re-opening measures, call attention to the countless infection cases and deaths, and demand measures and policies to help curtail the spread of the virus and support the elderly, unemployed, and other marginalized groups most affected by the pandemic.
Organized by the Polk County Florida Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the protest was planned as a faux funeral procession that would have started at Cannon Funeral Home, traveled along Memorial Boulevard and Bartow Road, and end at Lakeland City Hall where demonstrators and organizers would have read a list of demands addressed to Lakeland City Commissioners.
DSA organizers had previously scheduled the protest for June, but postponed the event until July out of respect for the Black Lives Matter movement and its nationwide protests to bring attention to police brutality and systematic racism, explained DSA organizer, Amy Lee Lawrence.
The “Relief Not Reopen” protest was rescheduled for Sunday, July 5 at 1 p.m., and more than 30 people had expressed their interest to attend on the Facebook event page. However, most likely due to inclement weather that afternoon, along with the looming threat of COVID-19, the protest was canceled, Lawrence said.
The list of demands to the politicians in the Lakeland and Polk County community that would have been read at the rally were instead posted on-line in a Google Docs document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rI_eXghWmZ1DGWYt5CnLbUvVXwhODhGAT3e6vfoesrA/edit?fbclid=IwAR0Paou3809SmOFcCpmoicp4Su42iJNdl8Yt9usAGVBwGXnw0KFL7OfqnLU
The demands included a mass mandate to be issued by the Polk County Commissioners to reverse re-opening measures, as well as to not re-open Polk County Schools until the number of new cases has safely dropped. Other demands included guaranteed protection for all workers, protection for unemployed workers, the right to safe housing, debt forgiveness, the right to information, the right to fair and safe elections, and Medicare-For-All.
“Governor DeSantis and local governments want to continue to reopen the state of Florida…and yet they stay quiet on what they’re doing to help the people in Polk County and Florida as cases skyrocket and people die,” the document read. “We don’t understand how public and government officials can say that we should sacrifice our lives for our economy. Human life is more important than money.”
Following re-opening measures, Florida and many other states have seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Florida recently experienced a new single-day record of over 11,400 Coronavirus cases, as reported by TODAY. In fact, Florida has reported more new daily cases than any European county “at the height of their outbreaks”, US News reports.
“[These] European countries are taking the steps and precautions that need to be done; Florida wants to reopen so they can reopen the economy and get back to work, but that is not how we lower the infections and deaths,” Lawrence said. “We have to not necessarily shut down everything, but we need to put [stricter measures] in place, social distancing needs to be required, masks and testing should be required.”
Lawrence and other DSA organizers had answered the call to help their local community through the pandemic by starting a new local initiative, “Masks And Meals.” Every other Saturday, the local activist group gathers at Munn Park to distribute masks and meals to the local homeless. The first event was hosted on July 3.
“It is important that they [the homeless] are not only fed but protected,” Lawrence explained.
Aside from the less fortunate, many DSA organizers are concerned about members of their own family who are most vulnerable to contract the virus, especially elderly and people with immune deficiencies. Lawrence already has one in-law in critical condition, and another who is asymptomatic.
Katie Smith, another DSA organizer, has several family members, including her grandparents, who are most susceptible to the disease.
“If one of us got sick because things were reopened too quickly, it would spread through our family,” Smith said. “I am out here because I support more programs and protection in place for the everyday working-class person in Florida, and our government and officials have not done enough. I want them to take seriously the concerns in our community.”
Currently, the Polk County DSA has a petition on Change.org calling for an executive order for residents to wear face masks when out in public: https://www.change.org/p/polk-county-commissioners-mandatory-masks-for-polk-county-fl
They also have a fundraiser on GoFundMe for their Meals And Masks program: https://www.gofundme.com/f/meals-and-masks-in-polk-county