Dream Defenders executive director Phillip Agnew, surrounded by fellow "resistors," addresses a crowd in the courtyard from the steps of the old Capitol. JAMES ROSICA/STAFF
BY JAMES L. ROSICA Tribune staff
Published: July 19, 2013
Updated: July 19, 2013 at 08:35 PM
TALLAHASSEE - Jonel Edwards found herself cast as an accidental protester at the Florida Capitol this week. "Honestly, I didn't even know I was going to spend the night," the recent University of Florida graduate said on Friday. But after arriving Tuesday, spend the night she did - and the next two nights. She planned to sleep there again Friday night, with a thin mat between her and the Capitol's hard terrazzo floor. "It's been rough; you get up feeling pretty achy," said Edwards, 20. "But it's a good cause. We do kind of get stir crazy into the night, though."
Edwards is one of the 30 or so self-described Dream Defenders who have taken up residence in the building since Tuesday, upset over the acquittal of George Zimmerman during his trial in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford. They vow not to leave until Gov. Rick Scott agrees to call lawmakers back to Tallahassee to reconsider the state's Stand Your Ground law and pass a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act. Scott met with some of them, but the only ground he was ready to cede was declaring a statewide day of prayer on Sunday. So the protest, or "resistance," as organizer Phillip Agnew now wants it called, will stretch into its first weekend. Capitol Police are allowing them to stay, but won't allow anyone who leaves to re-enter until the building opens for business Monday morning. That includes anyone bringing food over the weekend. Still, state Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he will supply food and bottled water this weekend. He also has opened up his office as a "quiet place." Organizers released a daily schedule, showing what life is like for the diehards, some of whom have yet to have a proper shower. They rise around 6 a.m. to clean up and put their bedrolls away, then go into strategy meetings by 7, and have breakfast at 7:30 a.m. "Occupation of office," meaning Scott's reception area, then lasts from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. with a break for lunch around 1 o'clock. The governor's staff put two lines of tape on the carpet to demarcate a narrow "no-sit" lane from the doors to the reception desk. Meantime, those with smartphones and laptops check messages, surf the Web or post on Facebook and Twitter. "I'm never bored," said Regina Joseph, a 19-year-old Florida State University student from Miramar. "I'm always doing something." She may call people who have left messages of support on the Dream Defenders website, asking them for a donation. "I think we've inspired a lot of people," Joseph added. Locals have been bringing in food and bottled water, as well as coffee, doughnuts and Goldfish crackers, judging from a well-stocked snack cart that sits by an elevator bank. The evening includes dinner - Friday was pizza - and time for "reflection," though protesters don't actually fall asleep until the wee hours. It doesn't help that the hall lights stay on all night. "We've been just sitting up, talking till 2:30, 3 in the morning," Edwards said. "We're all pretty close now." Those who have friends and family in the area may leave for a spell during the day, usually to shower. "Otherwise, we use body wipes, and we do what we can in the bathrooms here," Edwards said. By Friday afternoon, another cart arrived piled with blankets, pillows and board games like Scattergories and Clue. Not that Edwards expects much rest. "It's hard to go to sleep when you have eight police officers looking at you," she said. email@example.com (850) 765-0807 Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO