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Sarasota congressman pressured by immigrant rights group

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Sarasota congressman pressured by immigrant rights group

Approximately 100 Sarasota locals prepare to occupy the lobby of House Representative Vern Buchanan's (R-Sarasota) office on Feb. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of All of Us Sarasota.

Approximately 100 Sarasota locals prepare to occupy the lobby of House Representative
Vern Buchanan’s (R-Sarasota) office on Feb. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of All of Us Sarasota.

“People more than ever need to know that there is someone out there fighting for them, someone willing to go to the end of the world to make sure that they don’t get deported back to nothing,” second-year and volunteer with All of Us Sarasota Ximena Pedroza said.

This is the motivation behind the weekly protests targeting House Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota), a congressman who has called Syrian refugees a “terrorist diaspora” and supported two bills cutting federal funding for sanctuary cities and toughening penalties against anyone who re-enters the country after being deported.

All of Us Sarasota – a multi-issue group prioritizing immigrant rights, climate action and defending social programs – began organizing to resist President Donald Trump’s agenda after he won the election.

“What we’ve been doing so far are weekly delegations to Representative Vern Buchanan’s office,” Sean Sellers, volunteer with All of Us Sarasota, said. “To date, Buchanan has not broken with the Trump administration on any issue of consequence and he’s showing lock-step agreement with a very extremist agenda. Ultimately, we want to show that we’re his constituents and we don’t agree with these policies.”

The first action organized by All of Us Sarasota was in the aftermath of President Trump signing Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” also known as the “Muslim ban” because it bans travelers from seven predominantly-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Approximately 50 people, including several refugee and immigration experts, presented a signed petition to Buchanan’s staff in Sarasota. Several hundred people signed the letter calling for Buchanan to oppose the travel ban. Vern Buchanan did not meet with the activists.

The following week featured a Valentine’s Day themed action, with approximately 50 people delivering dozens of Valentine’s cards to Buchanan’s Sarasota office asking him to “have a heart” for immigrants and “love thy neighbor.” The crowd was met by Buchanan’s Field Representative Danny Bilyeu, but not Rep. Buchanan.

For the most recent action on Feb. 21, approximately 100 protesters filled the lobby of Buchanan’s office calling on him to host a Towne Hall meeting, but Buchanan, again, was not there to meet the crowd.

“He’s one of 200 Congressional Republicans that refuse to hold a Towne Hall meeting during the February recess which is very unusual,” Sellers said. “Usually Congressmen go back to their home districts and the tradition is you hold a Towne Hall meeting. Instead, this year Buchanan booked a trip to Afghanistan. He is hiding out. He doesn’t want to come home and face constituents.”

According to CNN, there is a trend of Republican lawmakers avoiding town hall events this week and the passionate constituents that come with them. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) also scheduled a trip out of the country during the February Congressional recess.

Matt Wolking, Rubio’s press secretary, said organizers are using an online activist manual made by the group Indivisible “to stage a hostile atmosphere, record themselves booing no matter what is said, and refuse to give up the microphone.” The Indivisible manual is being used as a foundational guide for All of Us Sarasota.

According to Seller, constituents have been given no formal reason why Buchanan will not meet with them or host a Towne Hall. Despite the lack of follow-up, All of Us Sarasota is committed to organizing weekly protests and sustaining pressure on Buchanan.

“We view [these protests] as a first and necessary step in a more protracted effort to put pressure on him and specifically to spotlight his lock-step agreement with the Trump administration’s most extreme policies,” Seller said. “One of the next steps would be stitching together a broader fabric of opposition in Sarasota by connecting with other local groups.”

Both Seller and Pedroza are eager for more involvement from the New College of Florida community. “The vast majority of this school isn’t affected by these issues and they don’t want to take action. Just because it doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care, because it affects millions of people in this country.”

“If you go to a march or a rally and you say, ‘Immigrants are welcome here! Refugees are welcome here!’ then stand up. Take all that energy that you got from that march or that rally and put it into actions. Go volunteer. Educate yourself on what being deported is like, about what the process of getting citizenship is like. Do something, because if you don’t help then you’re no better than them.”

To get involved, like All of Us Sarasota on Facebook or e-mail allofussarasota@gmail.com.

Information taken from the Orlando Weekly and CNN.

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