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Broward Voters Want To "Awake The State"

Lisann Ramos

Horns were blaring on Broward Boulevard Tuesday evening, but not due to heavy traffic. Protesters stood in front of the Fort Lauderdale Federal Courthouse during rush hour with signs encouraging drivers to "Honk for Justice."

The rally coincided with the beginning of the 2015 Florida Legislative Session. That was the intent of a movement called "Awake The State."

Awake The State began in 2011 as retaliation to the election of Governor Rick Scott. The group's goal was, and still is, to keep special interests out of the session and encourage the legislators to focus on what the voters want.

The grassroots movement focuses on five issues: clean energy, water preservation, Medicaid and healthcare expansion, campaign finance reform and a living wage. 

This is the fifth year in a row that Awake The State has kicked off the session with rallies across the state. Nick Steffens is with the group. 

"Session always starts at a snails pace and moves very rapidly into a full on sprint, and that's when a lot of the really bad stuff happens. But also when a lot of the really good stuff can happen," said Steffens.

Credit Lisann Ramos
Members of the Awake The State movement gathering for the speeches made at the rally.

Dr. Jennifer Jurado is the director of the Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division. She spoke at the rally about water preservation.

"In Florida we are flat, we do not have an area to store rainfall. We rely upon our aquifer. We do not have a backup water supply, and it is essential that we continue to place strong environmental protections that prohibit fracking across our state and instead utilize those same resources to invest in renewable and clean alternative energy sources," said Jurado.

Former State Senator Nan Rich also made a speech about healthcare for all.

"The governor and the Florida legislature have a choice. On the one hand, they can watch the healthcare system in Florida deteriorate," said Rich. "On the other hand, they could chose to expand Medicaid coverage to 1.2 million Floridians."

Broward County Commissioner Martin D. Kiar spoke about raising the minimum wage. 

"If somebody makes minimum wage, they make approximately $16,000 a year before taxes. Now I ask you, who can live on that?," said Kiar. "You have folks that wake up every day and decide, 'Am I gonna take my kids to the doctor or am I gonna feed them tonight?'"

He also offered some encouraging words to the protestors. 

"This is the way that you really effectuate change; when residents let elected officials know what's on your mind," said Kiar.

Awake The State plans to monitor the session closely. Its members are optimistic about the possibility of Medicaid expansion and a water bill that's currently in the House. 

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