The activist group Dream Defenders was founded in Florida two and a half years ago after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
The group has taken on causes largely related to gun violence, like protesting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The law enables potential crime victims to "stand their ground" and use deadly force to defend themselves. Group members seeking changes in the law got a lot of media attention when they staged a month-long sit-in at the Capitol last year.
Now they’re out with a campaign through Election Day called Vest or Vote. Below, read an edited version of an interview with Dream Defenders political director Ciara Taylor.
Tell us about the Vest or Vote campaign.
The campaign is reminiscent of Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech. What we’re trying to do, and I think that we’ve done, is spark conversation around the importance of voting and how it directly correlates to our everyday lives.
Walk us though the public service announcement the group is running. Describe what’s happening.
In the PSA, you see an intimate moment with a mother and her teenaged son Randy, and Randy is playing a video game just like any teenage boy would do getting ready for school. [The mom tells Randy she needs for him to wear the vest today. Click here to see the ad.]
The ad is pretty dramatic – the idea that society is on the verge of parents putting bulletproof vests on their children. Is this symbolic or do your members really feel like it’s come to this?
I think that when the idea for the PSA was imagined, we were looking at the world through a lens of what it could be. But something that I’m seeing that’s really frightening... is that there are actual parents who are reaching out to us, wondering if they could in fact get the vest for their children. So, unfortunately, this reality that we’re presenting in the commercial isn’t so far-fetched.
You’re using the hashtag #VestOrVote. Why do you say that voters have the option of voting or putting bulletproof vests on their children?
Both sides of the aisle are voting in favor of laws like Stand Your Ground, like zero-tolerance policies, and laws that will allow for the children of parents of color to be targeted and profiled in their communities.
So, when we say #VestOrVote, we mean it. We mean that you need to vote, or you need to come to the realization that your child may soon need to wear a vest just to be safe in their own community.