If you go
Want to participate in an Awake the State event? Two rallies are scheduled in Southwest Florida this week, according to the Awake the State website:
■ An Awake the State rally is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cape Coral City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
■ An Awake the State event is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday in downtown Naples. The group is expected to meet at Naples City Hall, Eighth Street South, at 4 p.m. to begin a march along Fifth Avenue South until 5 p.m. A rally is scheduled at 5 p.m. at Cambier Park.
NAPLES — Bill Van Arsdale isn’t an activist.
But about six weeks ago, Van Arsdale, a longtime Realtor in Collier County, got “radicalized.” He wasn’t pleased with the direction Republican Gov. Rick Scott was taking the state, and decided it was time to stand up and speak out for what he believes in.
Van Arsdale is among the Floridians who have organized more than two dozen Awake the State rallies. The rallies – scheduled throughout the state for Tuesday – are being held as a way to urge legislators to reject proposed budget cuts.
“We need to push back about what’s going on here with the budget cuts and a movement to a more conservative viewpoint here,” Van Arsdale said.
Damien Filer, a spokesman for Progress Florida, said the Awake the State movement started shortly after Scott announced his budget proposal. That budget “sent shock waves throughout the state,” because of the wide array of cuts proposed, Flier said.
“We just started to feel a tremendous amount of traffic coming from people about it,” Filer said.
Filer said his organization, along with Florida Watch Action Inc. and America Votes, set up a Facebook page for the Awake the State movement and “almost overnight” thousands of people signed up to see how they could get their voices heard.
“We tried to give people help to do what they were already wanting to do … make sure state leaders knew they opposed drastic budget cuts,” Filer said. “(The rallies) are all happening organically and have been organized independently.”
Awake the State’s website showed that 29 rallies have been scheduled across the state Tuesday. Two rallies – one at Cambier Park in Naples and one at Cape Coral City Hall in Lee County – have been scheduled for Southwest Florida.
Van Arsdale said he’s not sure how many people will turn out to the Naples event this week, but knows that everyone who attends will be advocating a cause close to their hearts.
For Van Arsdale that cause is the environment, and he said he was “so upset” with everything happening on the state and federal level pertaining to environmental reforms that he needed to do something about it.
“To me it’s something about the survival of future generations,” he said. “That’s where cuts are falling quite heavily, and I’m very worried about the future and all of have to get more active.”
Educators are expected to come out in droves for the event in Lee County this week. The Teachers Association of Lee County has asked participants to wear blue “Make Our Schools a Priority” T-shirts and bring signs to the Cape Coral event.
Lee County teachers are expected to hold simultaneous events at more than a dozen intersections in Lee County as well Tuesday.
Filer said educators, and their supporters, are among the people most concerned about budget cuts in the coming year.
Scott campaigned on a promise to cut government and reduce the state workforce by 5 percent. His budget, released in February, calls for nearly $5 billion in spending cuts from the state’s $70.4 billion budget. Those cuts include eliminating 8,681 of Florida’s 126,765 jobs.
Filer said he’s unsure how many people will come out to Awake the State events this week, but said Floridians shouldn’t expect protests similar to those in Wisconsin.
“I think that there has been a lot of inclination to make what happen in Florida analogous to what’s happening in Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s an apples and oranges comparison. In Wisconsin, this is focused on union organizing; it’s focused and populated by union members. We don’t have the union presence like in Wisconsin or Ohio.”
But that doesn’t mean people won’t turn out.
Van Arsdale said he will be overjoyed if 50 or more people show up to his event, but he thinks Floridians will speak out against budget cuts.
“We have to push back against this conservative agenda,” he said. “It’s just people who are upset. It’s sort of the mirror of the tea party. We’re sort of on the liberal progressive view. … I think we’re finally trying to stand up and do something about it.”