Dec 02, 2023

Nikki Fried's T

The T-shirt became the talk of the town after Tallahassee police handcuffed and perp-walked Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried and Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book Monday night for participation in an abortion rights protest at City Hall.

In what appeared to be a made for the camera moment, there stood Nikki Fried, hands cuffed behind her back, police officer at her side, wearing a shirt that said "Just F**k!ng Vote."

Like most everything associated with the event, the shirt serves as a political Rorschach test — where some see authorities harassing peaceful protesters while others see politicians and unruly demonstrators trying to disrupt the city to earn media attention to score political points.

The spectacle was a shock to many Tallahasseeans, who would point with pride to retired Tallahassee Democrat Capitol Curmudgeon Bill Cotterell's description of residents going to City Hall chambers to "debate for hours a proposal that will pass unanimously."

The morning after the women were arrested for sitting in a circle and singing, City Hall was barricaded like a construction zone, apparently to prevent any imitators.

The nine members of Occupy Tally, a coalition of abortion rights groups arrested with Fried and Book came to Tallahassee to challenge authority and knowingly to risk being taken into custody if they violated a curfew, that is clear in conversations and a review of Occupy Tally 23 social media.

Whether Fried and Book showed up with the same intentions is less clear.

And if their critics' charge — that the two staged a political street theater production with the arrests — is true, then the City of Tallahassee played a co-starring role with Occupy Tally serving as extras.

City Manager Reese Goad made the decision to revoke Occupy's permit after moving the protest from Kleman Plaza to City Hall, to better accommodate the protest. Goad said he revoked the permit after Occupy Tally 23's social media posts asking for supporters to bring sleeping bags to Tallahassee.

That set up the sundown showdown between protesters and the city.

When Fried showed up wearing the provocative shirt, she stole the show.

In a Spring when Big Bend antics twice earned mention on SNL's Weekend Update, the city produced another set of international headlines like the Times of Israel's "Nikki Fried, Jewish head of Florida Democrats, arrested at abortion rights rally," to lead a story about 11 women being arrested for singing "Lean on Me," after sunset.

The shirt is a fundraising tool for Change the Ref, a nonprofit organization founded by Manuel Oliver, who lost his 17-year-old son Joaquin, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

The group markets the shirt along with "Less Guns N More Roses" coffee cups, "Orange Crush gun violence" tank tops and "We Don't belong in Body Bags" jerseys to fund voter registration drives and provide materials to effect change through conversation, education, and activism.

Fried said Oliver gave her the shirt in 2018 when she ran for Commissioner of Agriculture and pushed for stronger gun regulations.

She said she thought it appropriate to wear to the abortion ban protest because under new rules the group was unable to get a Capitol protest permit like the ones the Marjory Stoneman students did when they marched on the Capitol in support of gun control measures.

Editorial:Students fight back against violence; will legislators?

Background:Days before Florida lawmakers gather, new protest limits are set

Both Book and Fried view their attendance and arrest as a wake up call for Floridians to oppose an agenda to roll back constitutional rights on abortion access, voting, speech, and to loosen gun regulations and marginalize the LGBTQ+ community.

Book said she wanted to demonstrate solidarity with the protesters on reproductive rights and had no plans to be arrested and booked into the Leon County Jail.

In a conversation Tuesday morning, she asked who would wear heels and neglect to take a bathroom break if they were headed out to be arrested?

Decisions, Book confessed she regretted while being ushered into a police van.

"I did not wake up Monday with a plan of being arrested at eight o'clock that day. If I had I would have worn different shoes. Also, I would have gone potty," said the mother of two young children.

Tallahassee police had been monitoring the coalition's social media threads as both the City and Occupy prepared for Monday's protest.

TPD in arrest records said there was "concerning rhetoric," used by Occupy members such as "Tallahassee will be pure chaos," and "'sleeping on the sidewalk was ‘a show of resistance.’"

More:Autopsy finds 'Cop City' protester's hands were raised during Georgia fatal shooting, attorney says

Local ties:Person fatally shot at Atlanta 'Cop City' was well-known Tallahassee activist, FSU grad

The probable cause affidavit for Kat Duesterhaus' arrest links Occupy Tallahassee 23 to past "Occupy" protests and connected their members to supporters of Atlanta's "Cop City" protests, which have resulted in at least one fatality involving a former Florida State University student.

"I run all of our social media, I never knowingly linked to anything with Cop City" said Duesterhaus, communications director for Occupy Tally and Florida NOW.

A proposed public safety training center set to be built in a forest near Atlanta has sparked months of protests from activists who say the project will damage the environment and contribute to the militarization of police.

A protester with Tallahaasee ties was also fatally shot by police in January after allegedly shooting a state trooper. Then in March, 23 people were charged with domestic terrorism. Atlanta police said "violent agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest" to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers and destroy multiple pieces of construction equipment with fire and vandalism.

The official autopsy has not been released, but a private autopsy found that Manuel Paez Terán, who went by the name Tortuguita, was shot 14 times. Gunshot wounds to the hands and arms indicate Tortuguita's hands were raised during the shooting, according to a private autopsy report conducted at the request of family.

What is 'Cop City?'Why activists are protesting police, fire department training center in Atlanta.

Occupy Tally 23 wants an apology from the city and for the trespassing charges to be dropped. Their supporters have checked property deeds and zoning records and say the arrests took place on the Adams Street right of way, not on City Hall property and therefore no trespass occurred.

Goad doesn't seem interested in providing an apology. He said if anything he has already "over communicated" with the protesters and had told them numerous times before Monday that they would have to leave at sundown.

"My staff and everybody involved worked very diligently to make sure we can have a safe place for everybody to protest that wanted to protest but within the rules that were previously established," said Goad.

When asked whether the charges would be dropped, State Attorney Jack Campbell told the Tallahassee Democrat he was, "waiting to get all the facts and evidence in the case before I make any decisions or conclusions."

Suzanne Southard of Deland was photographed Monday sitting on a park bench in front of City Hall knitting while protestors prepared to march in unison to the Capitol.

A former court reporter, Southard explained Tuesday people tend to have the wrong idea about knitters.

She explained she used to fill court down time knitting while people sat nearby discussing cases, thinking she was preoccupied with her yarn and needles.

"I would knit and watch and listen. Oh, the things I heard," she said with a chuckle and explained how knitters are not necessarily passive bystanders.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahasse

Editorial: Background: More: Local ties: What is 'Cop City?'