Daniel Tilson: Legislature needs to catch some hell to recapture its soul
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I’ll never forget the Florida prison guard who started crying when I asked her about the challenges she faced on the job, not to mention from elected and other officials responsible for the state penal system.

I visited with her family for a few hours in a sketchy Miami neighborhood, where she and her school police department husband were raising three kids in a small house, struggling to keep their heads above water and find a life raft that might give them more breathing room.

A proverbial “tough as nails” veteran corrections officer in a maximum security prison, she got through long shifts in large part by putting her emotions aside and hoping a hardened exterior would shield her from the awfulness inside prison walls.

But when I interviewed her several years ago and asked what it was like, working such a stressful job in a system targeted for ever-increasing cost pressure and privatization by politicians and legislators, she paused before saying, “You don’t want to mess with our morale” – but then she had to stop, her eyes welling with tears.

She tried hard to continue without crying, to no avail. Her husband was watching with the kids from the open kitchen nearby. As she continued talking through the tears, I watched as he quietly led them into the back of the house. My eyes welled up too.

“They treat it like it’s politics,” she said, “…and I guess it could be in some ways – it’s over my head – but I just know that we have families too, and we already don’t make that much money, we’re just getting by.”

I’d been interviewing workers for weeks, for the advocacy organization Florida Public Employees Partnership (FPEP). All were hurt and hurting, confused and upset about Gov. Rick Scott and GOP legislators putting new pressure on working poor people already pushed to their limits.

There was the young, second-generation Cuban-American school bus mechanic, who first spoke with such pride about keeping other people’s children safe on their way to and from school; and then with such sad resignation about financial pressures forcing him and his own wife and children to move into his parents’ house.

There was the single, middle-aged bus driver whose eyes filled with tears as she spoke of trying to support and care for an elderly, ailing father, with inadequate salary and cuts to public support services. She pleaded for compassion from politicians and the general public, not simply for government workers, but for all working class Floridians:

“It’s hurtful, it really is, it’s hurtful. Because I don’t think the governor or anybody else realizes that just because we’re the low people on the totem pole, you’re standing on our back, and if you’re gonna stand on our back, at least give us kneepads. We want the chance to survive…we want the chance to support our families. This American Dream, is it just for the people that are rich? We would like the opportunity to dream.”

One of the videos for FPEP was called “We Are You.” The call for unity between all working class folks struggling to get ahead statewide is even more important three years later, days away from the start of the 2015 Florida legislative session.

Florida’s economic “recovery” and job growth in recent years haven’t helped working poor or middle-class Floridians. In fact, over-reliance on growing minimum wage jobs that force families onto taxpayer-funded public assistance made things worse. Study after study reveals wage and income stagnation, less upward mobility, more poverty, and an ever-widening gap between the rich, like Gov. Scott and many legislators…and the rest of us.

Sure, with all the coverage of special interest agendas and lobbyists making millions, most in the general public look the other way; not because they don’t care, but because the humanism, empathy, compassion and clarity that should be the four chambers of the briskly beating heart of our government…have been replaced by corporatism, selfishness, heartlessness and secrecy.

But if people who’ve grown accustomed to looking the other way, if they resolve to take a minute to give the Florida Body Politic hell for having grown so soulless…it can only help.

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Daniel Tilson


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