Debt, Defund, and DeSantis
Epiphany Summers of Dream Defenders joins to talk about student debt and Ron DeSantis's war on Black people.
Episode 10: Debt, Defund, and DeSantis
References and resources
Epiphany Summers (00:00):
DeSantis is literally making the state of Florida more unsafe for Black children, and all the while, he is becoming the most popular politician in the country. And this is someone who aspires to run for president one day. And so yes, this is a Florida problem, but it could soon be a national problem.
Solana Rice (00:25):
Welcome to Racism Is Profitable, a podcast where we talk about race and the economy. I’m Solana Rice and I’m joined by my co-founder and co-executive director Jeremie Greer.
Jeremie Greer (00:40):
Solana Rice (00:40):
Today, let’s start talking about this debacle in Mississippi. And there are a lot of things to talk about around Mississippi. There is the water crisis still happening, of course, but that is not actually what we want to talk about, and what we want to start today. Jeremie, this was really getting your goat. You really wanted to tell me about this, so go in.
Jeremie Greer (01:06):
So as people know, I’m from Minnesota. St. Paul, Minnesota. And I grew up a Minnesota Vikings fan. So I have always had this love/hate relationship with Brett Favre. Football reasons, of course. He was on the Green Bay Packers, arch rivals, then played for the Minnesota Vikings, so I had to swallow it and like him for a little bit. But now he has given me all the reasons to just despise this man because of what he is doing to steal welfare money, the state’s welfare money, in the poorest state in the country. And if folks don’t know about it, there’s a great article in Mississippi Today that kind of lays all this out. But Brett Favre conspired with the then governor, Phil Bryant, to take federal money, this is federal money that came through the TANF program, the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families program, and to send it, not to the poorest people in the poorest state in the country who are mostly Black, but to send it to the University of Southern Mississippi to build a volleyball stadium, who his daughter plays on the volleyball team.
Jeremie Greer (02:33):
So this is beginning [inaudible 00:02:38] because we had that wonderful conversation a few months ago with Michael Tubbs. You remember that, Solana, right?
Solana Rice (02:46):
Jeremie Greer (02:47):
And we were talking about this concept of who deserves aid from people. And it’s all of those conversations. But apparently Phil Bryant and Brett Favre felt that they, and the volleyball team at Southern Mississippi University, deserved aid from this program much more than the people that needed it. And I’ve just been like, what the fuck? Ever since I read this article.
Solana Rice (03:20):
So some people out there might be wondering, is it that easy to just move federal welfare money to a university? And the answer is actually no. There are checks…
Jeremie Greer (03:33):
There are laws.
Solana Rice (03:36):
There are laws. There are checks and balances. Now, there is money that comes from the federal government to states, and the states do have discretion. Now, the discretion on how they use the money does have some bounds. But let’s be clear, it sounded like this governor had to go to pretty great lengths to get this money to a university that has nothing to do with welfare provision.
Jeremie Greer (04:05):
Yes. He had to funnel it through a community based organization that was run by a white woman. In order to do so, they got a grant from an organization that was, I’ll say, pretending to help poor people, to get the money to funnel through, to give to the university. Now, if this were say a Black marijuana salesman, this would be called embezzlement or money laundering.
Solana Rice (04:43):
Money laundering, wash it up.
Jeremie Greer (04:45):
And if this were a Black mother, it would be called welfare fraud.
Solana Rice (04:51):
Jeremie Greer (04:52):
So what we have in our society is a system and structure in which, if a Black mother say, I don’t know, buys lobster with their SNAP benefits or their food stamps, they could face criminal charges, but Brett Favre could steal millions of dollars from the state’s welfare program and no repercussions for it. And actually conspire with the sitting governor to do so. And if that ain’t representative of racism being profitable, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Solana Rice (05:34):
Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Well, I’m glad you brought that to everyone’s attention. I think there’s also a point to be noted here that, as we see all these billions of dollars go into communities and states, we have to have people on the ground watching where these dollars go, and telling more people, anyone who will listen, about where the dollars are actually going. And that state discretion is dangerous. It’s not always in the best interest of Black and brown people. I think we’ve seen that pretty clearly throughout the history of the U.S.
Jeremie Greer (06:12):
Especially if they don’t give a about Black people, which is clearly something that Phil Bryant does not. But moving from one racist white dude to another, we’re going to have a wonderful conversation with Epiphany Summers from Dream Defenders, and we’re going to talk a lot about another awful governor, racist governor, that doesn’t give a damn about Black people, in Mr. Ron DeSantis.
Solana Rice (06:40):
All right, let’s get into it. Hi, Epiphany. It’s so great to see you and be here with you. Thanks for being on the pod.
Epiphany Summers (06:50):
Woo. Yeah. Happy to be here. Happy to have been able to build a relationship with you, Solana and Jeremie, for the past few years. We kind of met right before the pandemic started, we had big plans, and then the pandemic kind of slowed those down. But I appreciate still being able to work with y’all and make it work online still.
Solana Rice (07:17):
We are so excited to eventually meet you in person again.
Epiphany Summers (07:25):
Yeah, literally. Just tell me the date and time.
Jeremie Greer (07:26):
It’ll happen. It’ll happen.
Solana Rice (07:26):
Exactly, exactly. What do folks need to know about Dream Defenders? Who are the Dream Defenders, and what do you do with Dream Defenders?
Epiphany Summers (07:36):
So Dream Defenders is a Black led youth civil rights organization in the state of Florida. We have about ten chapters throughout Florida where we do social justice, community organizing work. The organization of Dream Offenders… It’s cool to be on this podcast right now, because Dream Defenders actually started ten years ago, in 2012, and we’ve been celebrating our ten year anniversary this year. So we have a bunch of events coming up, go to the website. But Dream Offenders started in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin, and it was started by students across the state of Florida, kind of concentrated in Tallahassee and South Florida at the time, and in Gainesville at UF. But we were just enraged by the murder of Trayvon Martin. We felt like it was something that was not fair. We all felt like our own lives were in danger, and we needed to do something about that.
Epiphany Summers (08:44):
And so that year in 2012, we marched from Daytona, Florida to Sanford, Florida to demand that the police department does something. And then the next year we occupied the capital, which is what a lot of people know us for, from 2013. But since then, we’ve been an organization that works on issues that are electorally related, related to education, related to criminal justice, related to housing. We believe in a Florida for all, and so we’re fighting for a Florida where everybody can live here comfortably and have the things that they deserve and need. So that’s who we are.
Epiphany Summers (09:33):
And for me, I am the organizing director with Dream Defenders. I’ve been the organizing director with Dream Defenders since 2019. I’ve been a member since 2017. But my job as organizing director is to do the best that I can to develop as many young, especially young people of color, to develop them into organizers across the state, to be capable of transforming their communities into communities that are for all, and not for just specific kinds of people. And so we have a number of events all the time. We support different elections. We have a lot of different partners that we work with throughout Florida.
Epiphany Summers (10:22):
And what I’m really proud to say is, there’s a lot of organizations that started in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin. And I’m really proud to say and be a part of Dream Defenders, because we’re one of the few organizations that still exist, youth organizations that still exist, after that murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. And even when we look at the uprisings of 2020, a lot of organizations started organically, and we’re still here. And so we are a Florida based organization, and we are trying to transform Florida, because it needs to be transformed.
Jeremie Greer (11:05):
And we’ll get into that a little later, but what I’d love to hear you talk about is, when we first engaged with you all, you were working on issues of police violence, you were working on issues around trying to get police out of schools. I remember we did a training on the municipal budgets in different places in Florida [inaudible 00:11:30] what made it a natural connection between LibGen and Dream Defenders is, you all were focusing on the economic underpinnings of why violence exists in the community, and why the police are acting out violently in communities. And then most recently, we’ve talked a lot with you all about student debt. And I wonder if you could talk about what… Because to the untrained ear, people might ask, what’s the connection between police violence and student debt, or between community violence and student debt? I just wonder if you could talk about what is driving that shift in that direction, to look at an issue like that?
Epiphany Summers (12:20):
Yeah. That’s a really good question. And it is so funny, because we get this question so much. And once we explain to people, they’re like, “Okay, yeah, I get it.” But one of the things that I didn’t mention about Dream Defenders is that we have a lot of identities that we work really hard to uphold and ground our work in. And so we are socialists, we are abolitionists, we are internationalists, and we are Black feminists. And so when it comes to student debt, and in terms of who we are as an organization, we really feel like working on student debt is something that really is a big goal within our socialist identity. We want free education for everybody.
Epiphany Summers (13:11):
But honestly we’ve just been doing some research on student debt, and we have realized some really wild things. And we feel like this is an opportunity. We’re an organization that has existed for ten years, and we feel like it’s time to take our work to the next level. So we want to continue to do work in Florida, and also we want to try to expand and see what kind of national impact that we can have. And so that’s something that we’re exploring this year, and we really want to get more people involved in. I have a little link of a petition, but I’ll get there later.
Epiphany Summers (13:51):
But anyway, we were doing research about student debt, and we learned a lot of things. So one of the things that we noticed that was kind of cool is that in the 1960s, California, amongst many other states, were providing free education to everybody. Whoever came through, you got the free education. And so this was something that was happening in the ’60s. And because of this free education, universities were diversifying, there were more Black and brown working class people who were being educated, students were getting more engaged politically and were protesting and standing up for their rights. Because some of have been to college and were exposed to things that we were never exposed to in grade school. And so this was a really, I would arguably say, a great awakening in the ’60s. And what happened in California was that around the same time, Ronald Reagan…
Epiphany Summers (15:03):
Was that, around the same time, Ronald Reagan was running for governor of California and actually campaigned against civil rights, high deficits, taxes, and was basically against all of these student protests. And so he literally ran a governor race on the platform of, that was against students and against basically every civil rights and everything that we believe in. And unfortunately, Reagan won. We know that he was trying to make the kids who were protesting pay. They were getting this free education, he did not like that, and one of his number one goals as governor was to make sure that these kids weren’t able to do the protesting that they were once able to do because they were being educated. So, it was essentially a racist political project of Ronald Reagan. And really, that ideology spilled into conservative political spaces around the country.
Epiphany Summers (16:16):
And so, we had no idea that Ronald Reagan was involved in this. It was kind of mind… Normally hear about him as the president or the actor or all the different things that he has done, but you don’t hear about, hey, we actually had free education and then Ronald Reagan was like, “Actually no, and I don’t like this protesting.” And so this is something that has really spilled over into conservative politics. And so when we look at where we are today, what we see is that Black and African American college graduates owe an average of 25,000 more in student debt than white college graduates. After four years of graduating, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed. Black And African American students borrowers are more likely to struggle financially due to student loan debt with like 29% making monthly payments of at least $350.
Epiphany Summers (17:27):
I’m going to just keep going for a little bit.
Jeremie Greer (17:30):
Keep going. Keep going.
Epiphany Summers (17:32):
84% of college educated Black households in their thirties, so millennials, have student debt. 84% of Black millennials have student debt. And on top of that… Another thing that we saw was that Black women in particular, have the most student debt. And I’m trying to… So Black women on average owe 22% more than white women, which really puts them at the bottom of the list of folks who are burdened with student debt. And so when we really looked into the history and we looked into what is happening today, we were like, “Yo, this is a Black problem.” And I think sometimes we get questions and it’s like, “Oh, well isn’t this a privilege, fight?” Or whatever. And it’s like, the Black community would be 40% out of debt as a whole freaking community if student debt was canceled.
Epiphany Summers (18:43):
And so when it comes to us being a socialist organization, we’re like, this is a major fight that we have to win for Black people and for all people to even get to a point where there is free education, where we live in a society for all, where people have the things that they need. So yeah, we just feel like, after doing the research, we were like, this is important and we have to work on it. And today there’s a number of organizations, Black, white, all the things are all working on this because it’s so important. And on top of that, President Biden made a campaign promise. And now it’s being attacked by the right. And so it’s going to take organizations like us, NAACP, the Debt collective, many others who are fighting this fight to be like, “No, this is not okay.” People shouldn’t be this burdened because they’re just trying to get an education. We feel like it’s time that we step out of our norm and do something that can help us to accomplish some of our more larger socialist goals.
Jeremie Greer (20:01):
I love the way that you all are connecting it to… That history is so important that you just laid out. Because this connection between the early Black liberation movement in the sixties and how it was really nurtured in California universities where college was free and the conservative right and the holders of maintaining extractive capitalism said, “Oh, we can’t have any more of that.” We need to choke that off at its source. And I think it’s really important that you all are bringing that perspective because it’s so often just about individuals and then it gets caught in this deservedness trap, which I feel like is a little bit of where the conversation around the Biden administration’s policy is right now. And it’s so much more than just individuals, it’s about our power as a community and I love that you all are making that connection.
Solana Rice (21:00):
I think it’s just so important. What I’ve always admired about Dream Defenders, every single time that y’all are taking on an issue, you’re talking about things and taking on things that are going to change people’s material lives today, but also create a path toward building power for tomorrow. So if we think about student loan debt, it’s like, yeah, how is anybody operating with high housing costs, student loan debt, inflation? What if we take one of those things off the table? But also, these are institutions. These are institutions in which we can get educated but also build power and organize in. And actually, it is a part of our organizing model. So I think it’s just really strategic and brilliant. Thanks for…
Epiphany Summers (21:56):
No, for sure. And obviously, we’ve been out canvassing, we’ve been out talking to people, we’ve been having events, we’ve been traveling across the country.
Jeremie Greer (22:05):
What are you hearing in Florida? Yeah, talk about that. What are you hearing from people in Florida as you’re going around talking about this?
Epiphany Summers (22:11):
I mean, Florida has some of the cities with the highest amount of student debt. Gainesville is one of them, where University of Florida is. Tallahassee is another one. Where Fan U is, and many other universities. So yeah, I think our experience is that we talk to students and I don’t know think we’ve found that students feel as urgent, but I think part of it is, you have 18 or 21 year olds go to college, sign these contracts for these tens and thousands of dollars of loans and they’re just trying to get an education. So they don’t even realize what they’re going to have that $350 bill that they’re going to have to pay the six months after they graduate.
Epiphany Summers (23:07):
But what we have found just canvasing in Florida and also canvasing… I mean, we’ve been to DC, we’ve been to many other places across the country. If we don’t talk to a person that has student debt, they know somebody who has student debt in their family and it directly impacts them. Can you imagine a $350 bill in 2022 with these inflated… I just went grocery shopping for snacks the other day and I paid $90. I just got some rice pudding and some yogurt.
Solana Rice (23:45):
I didn’t get a full meal.
Jeremie Greer (23:48):
Epiphany Summers (23:49):
So yeah, I think there’s a lot of young people that are a little disillusioned because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them once they graduate. And then everyone else is like, “Yeah, this is a problem.” When we first started thinking about this, we were like, oh, we should test this out. Most people are going to see this as a privileged fight because it’s college, most people don’t go to college. But when we went out and talked to folks in Florida, everyone was like, “Yeah, yeah, it’s impacting me or I know somebody who was impacted and it’s impacting me.” So yeah, I think we just really want Black people and people of color to know that this is a Black issue. This is not just a privileged fight. This is something that is keeping our community in debt significantly more than any other community. And it’s something that we have to tackle and fight against, or else it won’t happen or else we’ll continue to be burdened by this or we’ll continue to live in a future in the United States that continues to not prioritize people with brown skin.
Solana Rice (25:03):
I remember when I first learned about the issue of student loan debt, I was surprised to understand that older generations were also taking out loans on behalf of younger folks too. So this was very much an intergenerational issue. It wasn’t just that young folks were in debt, they were actually, their parents, their grandparents that were also over leveraged. It’s just heartbreaking. And also, I think what I also wanted to just pull out of the story that you told about the history and the very real history, me sitting in California today and that it’s a history we always tell, “We made education free once upon a time” and it was like, yeah, because white folks were kind of struggling. We were like, “We got to do something.” And then once we realized that they were grounds for people to organize, it was like, “Wait, what do we do?”
Solana Rice (26:01):
But I think what is so important here to note, and we talked about this with our previous guest, is that what happens in states matters. We have a responsibility to understanding, I have to understand what’s happening in Florida. I always go to you, Epiphany, first if I need to understand something.
Epiphany Summers (26:21):
Its always welcome here.
Solana Rice (26:25):
I have to go to folks in Georgia. I have to understand because these ideas proliferate. And now it’s time to get your real take on, okay, what’s happening Florida, Epiphany? What should we know about Mr. DeSantis? What should we know about just the politics of the place right now?
Epiphany Summers (26:54):
Yeah. Man, I could probably talk for days about what’s happening in Florida because… I’ve been living in Florida for over a half decade and I’m like, every year it just gets more intense. Surprising, but not really. But yeah, this year it’s 2022, we have a governor election, there’s Senate racism, there’s local elections happening. It’s been really hard. But I think I want to start from the beginning of our journey with DeSantis and bring us back to today. 20… This is like 2017, 2018. Because DeSantis was elected in 2018. Amendment four was the biggest Florida fight in 2017, 2018. And Amendment four was this amendment that if passed, would allow over 1.4 million returning citizens to vote. To register to vote, to go out and vote because you paid your time. And they still were not able to vote in Florida.
Epiphany Summers (28:25):
They weren’t even considered real citizens. And we worked with so many partners to even get this on a ballot and get hundreds of thousands of people across the state to help us to get this on a ballot. It finally gets on a ballot, a majority of folks across Florida vote for it. And at the same time, people voted for DeSantis and not Andrew Gillum. So at the time, our first endorsement, political endorsement as an organization, because we weren’t even really into that prior to it, was Andrew Gillum. We were like, “Fam, you grad. We know him, he knows us.” We have the Freedom Papers, which is our vision for Florida. Freedom from poverty, freedom from police and prisons, freedom of mind. There’s like four more freedoms.
Jeremie Greer (29:24):
Love it. We’ll put in the show, we’ll put in a link on the website.
Epiphany Summers (29:27):
We’ll take that. But we went around the state, we had candidates sign a freedom pledge, which basically was representative of what we believed in in the Freedom Papers. And this is before DeSantis was even governor. He was bashing us at that point. It was like, they call Andrew Gillum anti-American, anti-police. They connected him to… I mean, this was on a news. You could literally…
Epiphany Summers (30:03):
… Connected him. I mean, this was on the news. You could literally look back at news stories that are like, “Dream Defenders is an anti-police organization and so is Andrew Gillum,” and this is what the-
Jeremie Greer (30:11):
And this is your first foray into electoral politics, right?
Epiphany Summers (30:16):
First time. We had done legislative work before, but in terms of endorsing a candidate, we endorse this guy. We’re like, Oh, he’s black. We know him. We know he supports our stuff. We’ve had conversations with him, and the news is going wild. And this is all engineered by DeSantis and his homies.
Epiphany Summers (30:40):
So we’re all over the news. This is something that kind of tore some of our relationships a little bit that we eventually had to rebuild. Were also a pro Palestine organization, and so unfortunately in the United States, that is never good for a candidate. And so they were putting so much against him, and so much attention was against… Andrew Gillum is so bad because he supports Dream Defenders, and he didn’t win that election. He actually only lost by maybe 30,000 votes. It wasn’t even a lot. It was so close. But Amendment Four won overwhelmingly.
Epiphany Summers (31:23):
As soon as the DeSantis got in office, one of the first things that he did was create more amendments to make Amendment Four more difficult for returning citizens. So he added a clause where it’s like you have to pay all your fines and fees before you can go register to vote and many other things. And so we’re like, damn, we just spent two to three years trying to get this on a ballot. We got it to pass, most Floridians actually support this, and DeSantis doesn’t care. He could do whatever he wants. So that was one thing, and that was like 2018 when that happened.
Epiphany Summers (32:06):
Fast forward to 2020, the uprisings happened. Obviously Dream Defenders were out there in the streets. Many other organizations, I don’t even want to say it was just us in Florida. It was so many people. Young people, middle age, elderly folk. Everybody was like, Yeah, this is a wild time. We’re tired of seeing Black lives just not being valued. We go out, we protest. We had a couple of wins in St. Petersburg. There’s a police alternative in St. Petersburg. Miami ended up doing some amazing things around investing more in services for the community and stuff like that. T.
Epiphany Summers (32:53):
He very next year, not even a full year happen, HB 1 is presented. And what’s interesting is that the way that DeSantis presented HB 1 was actually in a response to a protest that we were having in St. Petersburg. There in St. Petersburg specifically, we have a DD chapter. There’s many other organizations here too. I don’t want to take all the credit. We protested for over 200 days straight in a row. Well actually, no. We protested for 131 days. Sorry about that. Just consistently. It was a peaceful… even the city officials were like, “This is a peaceful protest. We got nothing but respect for y’all.” It was interesting. We were like, Okay, if that’s what you want to call it. We’re just like, please defund the police.
Epiphany Summers (33:51):
We’re protesting and stuff. And nearby counties, conservatives are just getting hot, angry. The Proud Boys, angry. We have a protest where we always have it. We pass a restaurant. Some white folks who are in at the restaurant complained about some things that made national news. Another time where-
Jeremie Greer (34:18):
You do not want disturb a white families’ dinner.
Epiphany Summers (34:21):
[inaudible 00:34:21] as peaceful protestors. We’re just minding our business. What’d you say, Jeremie?
Jeremie Greer (34:24):
Don’t disturb a white woman’s dinner.
Epiphany Summers (34:27):
Yeah, don’t disturb them.
Jeremie Greer (34:28):
You Know that you’ve crossed a lot when you do that.
Epiphany Summers (34:32):
God forbid we’re fighting for our rights and someone’s meal is disturbed. And it wasn’t even, just the bottom line to that story. Another day we’re protesting like we always do. At this point, the city is like they’re blocking streets for us at this point. They’re like, Okay, this is what they’re going to do. They’ve been doing this for a hundred or so days. We’re protesting, the Proud Boys come. They actually held up guns towards the protestors. And when I say protestors, I’m talking there’s black and brown Dream Defenders, there’s young white people, there’s elderly. It’s a mixed population because everyone is like, We need more alternatives to police. People who we had never seen involved in this kind of work before were like, “We’re going to be there.”
Epiphany Summers (35:27):
They held up guns to us. A lot of people were traumatized that night. We were certainly the people who were held accountable for what happened. I think there was a person or two from the protest that was arrested, even though we did nothing, we were just minding our business and people held up guns to us. But after these events, DeSantis literally came to St. Petersburg to announce HB 1, and to talk about it and how this is going to go through the legislative session and why it needed to happen. And he used us as an example of why HB 1 needed to be a bill that was passed.
Solana Rice (36:10):
And remind everybody what HB 1 is.
Epiphany Summers (36:12):
Yes, so HB 1, we call it for short the anti-protest bill. But an HB 1 was a bill that basically said, if you’re protesting, you can get a felony. There was a stand your ground provision of HB 1 where if someone who witnesses the protests feels threatened, they can literally kill you and it’s legal.
Jeremie Greer (36:39):
Which was the grounds that George Zimmer was not convicted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, the stand your ground law in Florida.
Epiphany Summers (36:48):
Literally, it was like stand your ground. But no rights for the protestors, only rights for people witnessing the protests. So it allowed people to kill us, it allowed people to run their cars over us. I literally witnessed another comrade be hit by a car and arrested at the end of that.
Jeremie Greer (37:07):
That didn’t make no national-
Epiphany Summers (37:12):
Yeah, it’s just a lot. I got stories for you, so I’m trying to keep it short, but I’m obviously not. And then there was another part where if you get arrested, you cannot get bail. And it was just straight up an anti-protest bill. And this particular bill really impacted us a lot. We tried our best to fight against it, but the legislative makeup of Florida is not in our favor, and so the bill passed.
Epiphany Summers (37:45):
I remember us having to make different decisions about how we were going to show up in community. We’re like, Oh, we can’t protest. We can’t do a speak out or whatever, or else be seen as a riot or something like that. And we ended up taking more of a voter registration route.
Epiphany Summers (38:06):
And then my last point is we take the voter registration route, 2022. So DeSantis passes HB 1 There’s also the Don’t Say Gay bill, the Critical Race Theory stuff, that happens all kind of in the same year. I can talk more about that if you want to. But all these things happen, and what’s interesting is that for the past decade or two, maybe even more in Florida, there has always been more registered Democrats than Republicans, even though anything can happen here, so it’s always kind of been a purple state. For the first time in a long time last year, there was more Republicans registered to vote than Democrats. So we’re like, Hey, we need to do voter registration. Get more people registered to vote. This was our strategy because everything that we do, he attacks. And sadly today, I can say he has also attacked that. We’ve gone around the state and gotten thousands of people registered to vote as well as our partners in Florida, because we all were like, this is super important. DeSantis has literally sent SWAT teams to people’s houses who registered to vote, who were qualified under Amendment Four. He is literally threatening families.
Epiphany Summers (39:34):
So anyway, I say all this to say that DeSantis don’t really like Black people. DeSantis doesn’t really care about most marginalized communities. And every step of the way since before he’s been the governor to now to whatever the future is, he has consistently attacked us. And all we’re trying to do is get more people registered to vote. We’re trying to make sure that people have an outlet to speak their rights, and he has attacked us at every angle.
Epiphany Summers (40:06):
When you think about the Don’t Say Gay bill, when you think about Critical Race Theory and what has happened, DeSantis is literally making the state of Florida more unsafe for Black children, for LGBTQ+ children. And all the while he is doing that, he is becoming the most popular politician in the country. And this is someone who aspires to run for president one day. And so yes, this is a Florida problem, but it could soon be a national problem, and we all need to pay attention and be worried. And so we’re trying to do what we can in Florida, but this could be a national problem very soon. So I hope I answered the question, and if I didn’t just react.
Jeremie Greer (41:03):
You did. You did. And I’m getting chills because I’m alarmed, and as we all should be, because what we’re talking about is a party and a man who may lead this party in the future who is unapologetically anti-Black. This is George Wallace. He is in that line of politician. We just talked about Reagan, who did the anti-blackness wrapped up in-
Epiphany Summers (41:31):
Welfare queen trope.
Jeremie Greer (41:33):
He hid it. He created little veneer around it so he couldn’t be called racist. But this dude is not. And he’s willing to use state violence to enforce his anti-blackness, which is another step. And this is the man that may have the keys to the Pentagon someday.
Epiphany Summers (41:55):
Yeah. And he’s running a campaign off of some really messed up things. He’s priding himself off of… One of the things that I forgot to mention about HB 1 was that there was another part of it that said that no city in the state of Florida can defund the police. I’ve seen one of his mailers and it’s like “I made sure the police was not defunded. I made sure that police officers got bonus. I passed Don’t Say Gay. I made sure that the kids were safe from Critical Race Theory.” And I’m like, when you really think about what’s actually happening, when we think about Don’t Say Gay and Critical Race Theory because it was all in the same bill. As a result of this, there was a teacher in the state of Florida that had to take down a pride flag from out their classroom. There was a scholastic book fair in Sarasota that was canceled because… A book fair. A book fair that was canceled in Sarasota because of this bill. There was a play in Polk County that was canceled because it was about the Civil Rights Movement.
Epiphany Summers (43:14):
So I’m like… When we think about what DeSantis is doing, we should probably also be thinking about what Reagan did. He started this sort of war on crime, war on black people, and DeSantis is trying to do the same thing. He is planting the seeds to shift the narrative to be more discriminatory just like he is. When you pass these kinds of bills, when you pass such explicit stuff, you have a plan. This is not just a thing for now. This is his plan for the next 10, 20, maybe even 30 years from now. And so I think as people who care about people, we really need to pay attention and get together and really figure out, what can we do to combat this? Because there’s no reason that… Protesting is a right, right? Anyone can protest. But in Florida it is a riot if it’s three or more people. Kids should be able to go to book fairs. I want to go to a book fair.
Epiphany Summers (44:35):
And so returning citizens who pay their time and do whatever they need to do should be able to vote. If you live here and you’re impacted by how things are governed, you should be able to vote.
Solana Rice (44:49):
I just think you’re bringing up though three really important themes. There’s a theme about idea generation, and our universities, our education system is where people understand-
Solana Rice (45:03):
Our education system is where people understand ideas, their own ideas, new ideas. And it is part of movement building, people have to understand what we’re dealing with, the history, and where we want to go. Its idea generation. We also have to be able to get together. I’m pretty sure that’s in the Constitution, but I think we need to be able to get together, right?
Epiphany Summers (45:24):
Jeremie Greer (45:25):
There’s something about assembly in the Constitution, I think that’s there. I believe so. Yeah.
Solana Rice (45:34):
Right? I knew it was a word. And we saw that with Reagan again, right? So, I think that’s the second pillar. This third pillar is about economic justice. If you can’t quite control the ideation space, the information space, the education space, you can’t quite control people getting together and still coming together and putting together a plan. Then we’ve got to get the economic piece under control, which is what you mentioned at the very beginning with Amendment Four, right? This idea that you might have those freedoms, but we not really going to give you those freedoms if you don’t have the money, right? So, I just think that so you brilliantly told the whole layout of what is happening with DeSantis and highlighted three really important tools for other folks to know and watch out for, not only in Florida, but in their places as well.
Epiphany Summers (46:32):
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it’s really scary-
Solana Rice (46:37):
Yeah. Well one, how are you doing with the storm? Are you okay. We probably should have led with that, but wanted to check in on you.
Epiphany Summers (46:50):
Yeah. No, I’m pretty good. During the storm at Dream Defenders, we actually decided to… Hurricane Ian is what we’re talking about. But yeah, we decided to take a break from work that particular week and we just focused on hurricane relief efforts, raising more money, going out and helping the community, doing mutual aid. We’re actually still involved in that right now. We’re doing some work with the Smile Trust and yeah, we collect money. I think we’ve gotten over $300,000 at this point, and we’ve just been sending it across the state, buying resources and stuff like that. And so yeah, I mean, we’re an organization that believes in, we keep a safe, that we can’t wait for DeSantis or local politicians to do a thing, but it has to be up to us and other folks in community who can provide the resources that folks really need and that we need.
Epiphany Summers (47:50):
That’s why its mutual aid because we all need it. And so yeah, we’re still doing that today. But yeah, I live in a Tampa Bay area and we thought Ian was going to come hit us directly. So, I’m happy to say that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. There’s still a few trees down, but things are pretty much up and running again. But we know that families are still suffering and so we’ll probably continue to do some hurricane relief efforts for the next few weeks. And yeah, just also try to be as preventative as we can and prepare people before the next hurricane happens too.
Jeremie Greer (48:29):
Yeah, that’s all good to hear. It’s good to know that you all are safe and that the damage at least where you are, wasn’t as bad as it could have been. And just wanted to make sure that you had time before we sign off to talk about what is it that you want folks to support, things that all got going on at Dream Defenders that people should know about?
Epiphany Summers (48:52):
Yeah, I mean I think for us right now, one of the biggest campaigns that we have is to cancel student debt. So, there’s been a lot of things happening around that, but the applications should be open soon and we’re going to work to organize a bunch of application clinics across Florida and across the country with some of our partners who are helping us out with this campaign. And so, I would say look out for that because we want to be able to help people as much as possible with this application process. We know it might be a little complicated. And then, yeah, we also have just different calls coming up to talk to people more about this issue, get people more activated in the issue. We have plenty of actions that people can do across the country. We’re really learning to expand our organizing outside of Florida and really try to make an impact nationally. So, we do have a petition, it’s a Bitly link but it’s like Bitly DD cancel the debt-
Jeremie Greer (50:01):
We’ll put it in. We’ll put it in the notes.
Epiphany Summers (50:04):
Okay. So, I’ll send that to you all. But yeah, the student debt campaign is a big thing. One of the things that I am working on in particular are campaigns that confront gun violence. So, that’s kind of some of our more hyper-local organizing right now. One of the research and talking to people, one of the things that we’ve realized is that there’s been a huge uptake in gun violence ever since 2020. It’s just been more prevalent in our communities since then. I’m sure there’s a number of reasons for that. We’re not making assumptions, we’re just out talking to people and trying to figure it out. But yeah, for a long time we would go out on canvas and as an abolitionist group, we not trying to say, “Hey, we’re abolitionists”, but we really want want to know why did people support the police or why not?
Epiphany Summers (50:58):
And for a long time we would go around talking to folks about police and they’re like, “Well, I don’t want to talk about that until we talk about this gun violence.” And so, we never really knew how to tackle that as an organization or had a lot of examples that were good to be quite frank. And we’re at a point now where we’re like, this is a huge issue in Black communities and communities of color. And the reality is that local municipalities are not responding in ways that make sense. I mean, the response historically has been, well less invest more in police. And what we have seen literally throughout the entire history of this country is that that has never worked.
Jeremie Greer (51:42):
Epiphany Summers (51:45):
Investing more in police never decreases crime. If someone could show me an example, I would love to see it because we haven’t found it. And so, we’re like, we don’t need to be…. I mean, we believe in other alternatives. We believe in getting to the root cause of the problem. Some of the things that we’re learning is that kids can’t read, kids aren’t getting a good education. Folks in community don’t feel valued because they know that their local government isn’t investing in them. I mean, I’m not the one that’s going to be like, Hey, beautify my community. But at the same time, when your community isn’t being beautified, but you see the community, white people’s community being beautified and nice parks and the grass is cut real nice and ain’t no cracks in the sidewalks, you got felons. You’re like dang. So, some of these things is what we’ve learned that really impacts how people feel about themselves, their community, and just the lack of response to gun violence. And so, we really want to dig more into what does universal basic income look like on a local level.
Epiphany Summers (52:54):
We know that there’s been a number of organizations doing that. We want to see what does it look like to just do a tutoring program and actually address the literacy problems. We want to see what it looks like to do right now we have an entity called the Healing and Justice Center in Miami, and it’s a center that directly confronts gun violence in Liberty City. And we talked to folks who are victims of gun violence and we were able to provide them with therapy and trainings and all different kinds of things. And so, we’re like well, what does it look like to do that across the state? And so, we’re really trying to get to the root cause of gun violence. And so, that’s another thing that we’re working on in Florida. And I would say outside of that, it’s a big election year, so we do want to get people registered to vote. We have done our best to get people registered to vote. We’ve gotten a few thousand registered and then DeSantis kind of stopped that.
Epiphany Summers (53:58):
But there’s a few young people across the state of Florida that have formally been Dream Defenders or have been really good comrades of ours that we’re supporting. So, we’re supporting Michele Rayner for Congress in Florida, who’s in the Tampa Bay area. We’re supporting Max Frost, who’s running for Congress nationally. I think he might have won or something like that. But he actually would be the youngest person elected to Congress ever. I think he’s younger than me. But he’s a really cool guy, he used to be the organizing director for March for Our Lives. And we’re also supporting Michael Anderson, who lives in Jacksonville and is running for a local race. And just in general, trying to just get folks out to vote. We know that it’s not the most encouraging thing, but we believe that when it comes to making a difference to making social change and structural changes, that it has to be multiple prongs on how we do it.
Epiphany Summers (55:01):
And so, we know that the answer isn’t just electoral. We know it’s going to take some direct services, it’s going to take some campaigns, it’s going to take different things, but we know we still have to vote it. It still has to be a part of it. I mean, even in St. Petersburg, we were able to get a socialist elected to City Council. And today we just got a… I’m so happy today, I don’t even know if you all want to put this on a podcast or not, but there’s this community leader who’s a Muslim and had a history of supporting Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. And today he was just appointed to City Council after being bullied and ridiculed publicly.
Jeremie Greer (55:54):
Was that Brother John Muhammad?
Epiphany Summers (55:56):
Brother John Muhammad, yeah.
Jeremie Greer (55:56):
Yeah, yeah, that’s dope.
Epiphany Summers (55:56):
Literally just happened hours ago. So, I’m kind of-
Jeremie Greer (55:59):
Good to hear. That’s good to hear. Oh man.
Epiphany Summers (56:01):
And he’s such a good person and I’ve just always admired his leadership. And so yeah, there’s always good stuff happening locally and we want people to go out to vote. So yeah, I would say we have the Healing and Justice Center in Miami. We really are trying to figure out how do we expand that? How do we make it a bigger program? We have our gun violence campaigns, which we’re calling Safe Streets, and we have this national student debt campaign, and we’re always doing electoral work because it’s always something electorally to focus on in Florida. Because if you don’t, you might get a DeSantis so, and we don’t want that.
Solana Rice (56:42):
You might catch the DeSantis. It’s a-
Jeremie Greer (56:43):
And we go, catch this.
Solana Rice (56:44):
Epiphany Summers (56:44):
I mean, it’s really sad, but I mean, locally, there definitely have been some people who have been elected that are very DeSantis or Trump adjacent. And so, we want to do what we can to try to prevent that in the areas where we’re doing work.
Solana Rice (57:03):
Jeremie Greer (57:03):
Well, thank you Epiphany.
Solana Rice (57:04):
Well you all, I hope you know why we love Epiphany Summers, why we love Dream Defenders, why we are so just honored to work beside you all in support in any way we can. Go check out DreamDefenders.org for more information. We’ll have lots of the things that you mentioned in the show notes as well, so folks should check that out. Epiphany, thank you so much.
Jeremie Greer (57:32):
Epiphany Summers (57:33):
Thanks for inviting me for sure. This is fun.
Speaker 1 (57:39):
Thanks for listening. For more information, check out our list of episode resources and visit us at LiberationInAGenerationaction.org. Shout out to our producer and audio editor, Nino Fernandez, the design team at TrimTab and the LibGen Action Communications team. Like what you heard? Help us make some noise by telling two friends about the Racism Is Profitable podcast. Until next time y’all, peace.