MANATEE -- A rally in downtown Bradenton Tuesday was directed squarely at Tallahassee and the opening day of the Florida legislative session.
Four speakers and an audience of roughly 20 at the Historic Manatee County Courthouse essentially said they want legislators to know they will be watching and listening this session when it comes to many issues, but mainly voting rights.
"We are here today to sound the alarm that will wake the state to the need to be more vigilant in our watching, more vocal in our speaking and more determined in the exercise of our voting rights," said the Rev. James T. Golden of Bradenton's Ward Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church. Golden spoke at the "Free the Vote -- Awake the State" rally along with Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen, Manatee Hispanic Caucus leader David Fernandez and Patty Benson, chairwoman of the Manatee County Democratic party.
Awake The State is a grassroots group organized to stand up for working and middle-class Florida families, Benson said.
Awake the State held rallies in other Florida cities Tuesday but none was planned for Bradenton, Benson added.
Benson quickly organized Bradenton's response.
"This rally is for voting rights," Benson said. "Last year, the Florida Legislature cut back on voting hours."
All four speakers demanded better representation from the politicians this year, accusing politicians of not listening.
"Starting today we will not suppress voices," Fernandez said. "We demand better representation.
"Justice demands better health care and better education," Fernandez added.
Gallen received cheers from the Democratic leaning crowd when he called himself the token Democrat along with six Republicans on the county commission.
Gallen told the crowd that he felt politics was limiting access to the voting polls.
"We must increase early voting," Gallen said. "We should allow voting the Sunday before the election. And we should recognize the rights of felons who have paid their debt to society to vote. Right now, in Florida, they have to jump through fiery hoops."
Golden urged the crowd to vote in every election and to get others to do the same.
"If you change the lawmakers, the laws will change," Golden said. "But you will not change the lawmakers if you do not vote."
Peggy Klimek, who attended the rally, said Golden was inspiring.
"I am here because I think voting has been affected," Klimek said. "It should be easy to vote."
"She said it perfectly," Mary Ann Toal remarked hearing Klimek's comment. "Voting should be easy. No one should have to stand in line."