Banyai blasts gerrymander proposal for Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai denounces a gerrymandering proposal to NBC-2’s Dave Elias. (Image: NBC-2)

Nov. 22, 2021 by David Silverberg

Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate for the 19th Congressional District, on Friday, Nov. 19, blasted draft redistricting maps from the Florida Senate that cut Fort Myers in two and moved Lehigh Acres fully into a neighboring district.

“This is gerrymandering,” stated Banyai in a press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”

The 19th Congressional District runs along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island and inland about as far as Route 75.

Under new draft maps released by the state Senate Committee on Redistricting, North Fort Myers, the Dunbar neighborhood, the old town River District, Tice and, to the east, all of Lehigh Acres would move from the 19th District to the northern 17th District. (To read a detailed analysis of the draft maps’ impact on Southwest Florida, see “Draft redistricting maps move North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, into different congressional district.”)

A state Senate redistricting draft map moves North Fort Myers (left arrow) and all of Lehigh Acres (right arrow) into the 17th Congressional District. (Map: Senate Redistricting Committee; arrows, The Paradise Progressive.)

There were four draft maps released by the Committee on Nov. 10: S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008.

Banyai pointed out that all the maps move the urban portions of Fort Myers into a mainly rural district.

“I think there is no doubt that it is absolutely a point to move democratic voters out of Florida 19,” Banyai told NBC-2’s political reporter, Dave Elias, in a report last Friday, Nov. 19. “This district has been sold out and considered a red district and they don’t really care what the voting population of Southwest Florida thinks.”

She raised four objections to the draft maps.

“Including part of Fort Myers and Lehigh in FL17 goes against the concept of compactness, given the size of FL17,” she stated.

“Additionally, the Dunbar community in Fort Myers, and Lehigh have high non-white populations. Lehigh has a 64% minority population, while the City of Fort Myers has a 51% minority population. Moving Lehigh and part of the City of Fort Myers out of FL19 has decreased the Black population of FL19 by a third, from 6% to 4% of the total population, in a district with a Black population that was below the state (15.6%) and county (8.2%) percentages.”

She pointed out: “All configurations of FL19 presented by the Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment favor the White populations of Southwest Florida, whilst splitting and diluting the power of the people of color.”

Also, she noted, splitting the city of Fort Myers violates a concept of keeping “communities of interest” together. The new boundaries follow small residential roads rather than major thoroughfares and would cut up the city and move cohesive neighborhoods like Dunbar and majority Black neighborhoods surrounding Safety Hill.

“These areas of Lee County should be put into the same Congressional district. Putting coastal Collier and Lee Counties together favors the wealthy, White elite and marginalizes communities of color across Southwest Florida by lumping them into the largely rural districts of FL17 and FL25,” she argued.

She continued: “I encourage everyone to review all maps in this redistricting process and to stand up for your community. We cannot let politicians carve out communities they don’t like and ping-pong them around the state. Black and Brown voices should not be marginalized to score political points.”

When Elias polled people in Fort Myers about their potential new congressman (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)) should they be moved out of the 19th District, none recognized him.

“I’m not aware of the name. I’m in touch with local politics and never heard the name,” Randy Carry, a resident of North Fort Myers, told Elias when he showed him Steube’s picture. “I’ve never even seen his face.”

To register an opinion on potential redistricting, go to the state redistricting opinion form, here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Draft redistricting maps move North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, into different congressional district

Other changes expand 19th District in Collier County

Southwest Florida congressional districts as drafted by the state Senate redistricting committee.

Nov. 14, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated at 5:00 pm with Rep. Byron Donalds’ home location.

North Fort Myers, including the River District, the Dunbar neighborhood, and a portion of Lehigh Acres, would change congressional districts under new draft redistricting maps.

Florida’s first four draft maps of new districts were released on Wednesday, Nov. 10, by the state Senate redistricting committee, headed Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero).

For the most part, the new maps leave Southwest Florida’s 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts largely intact. The districts retain their existing numbering. No local congressmen were redistricted out of their seats or forced into runoff elections. All the districts remain overwhelmingly Republican based on voter registrations.

The big change for the state as a whole is the addition of a new congressional seat, the 28th. It is proposed, as expected, for the center of the state where population growth has been greatest.

While there was widespread trepidation—and expectation—that the new Florida maps would be radically biased in favor of Republicans that proved not to be the case.

When the maps were released, “they were surprisingly unaggressive,” wrote the website “Instead, they largely preserve Florida’s current congressional map, exhibiting only a mild Republican bias.”

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an impressively deep and thorough examination of redistricting across the country, gave them an overall grade of B, meaning “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”

This article looks at the four draft maps for three US congressional districts in Southwest Florida and what they mean for voters. Subsequent articles will examine state Senate and House districts and other draft maps.

In all four draft maps released last week (S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008) the boundaries for the 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida remain largely the same.

There are, however, some important changes.

Northern borders

The existing 17th Congressional District.

The Florida Fair Districts amendments aim to keep districts as compact and contiguous as possible, following existing boundaries, like county lines. These maps largely do that.

The 17th District, represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R), is a huge, although largely rural, district encompassing Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, with chunks of Polk, Lee, and Sarasota counties.

In the new maps the 17th loses all its territory in Polk County, which goes to the newly-formed 28th Congressional District. It also gives up much of its Sarasota County territory to the 16th, although it keeps North Port and the whole town of Venice. But it gains territory in Lee County.

The northern border of the draft Congressional District 17 showing the change in Sarasota County. The red line denotes the existing boundary. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres

The existing 19th Congressional District.

It is in North Fort Myers that there are big changes proposed as that community shifts from the 19th to the 17th.

The 19th District is represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R), who lives two miles east of Rt. 75 in the 25th District.

In the new maps State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75. Then everything—the River District, Buckingham, Tice, Dunbar, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as far south as Winkler Ave. and as far west as the Seminole Gulf railway—becomes part of the 17th.

The 19th may be losing a big chunk of North Fort Myers but it picks up Palmona Park across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral.

In the past, most of Lehigh Acres was in the 17th District with a sliver in the 19th. That’s no longer true: the 17th takes all of Lehigh Acres as far south as State Road 82.

The draft map of the northern 19th Congressional District with North Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow) moved into the 17th District. The red lines denote the current boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

Collier County

Since its drawing in 2010, the 19th District has resembled a railroad spike or a mushroom, with a bulbous north and a skinny south along the coast in its Collier County portion.

In the draft maps, that spike or stem widens slightly. Instead of Livingston Rd. in Collier County being the eastern end of the district, this map extends the line to Rt. 75, which makes much more sense as a boundary.

Between Vanderbilt Beach Rd. and Pine Ridge Rd., it also extends the district eastward to Logan Blvd. to include The Vineyards, which are now entirely in the district.

In its southern end, it stops following Rt. 75 and instead makes 32nd Ave. SW its boundary as far as Collier Blvd., where it goes straight south to Rt. 41 and encompasses Marco Island and Goodland as its most southeasterly community.

Where the 19th gains in Collier County the 25th loses, but not by much. The western edge of the 25th, represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) retains Golden Gate and the unincorporated town of Immokalee and more or less keeps its existing shape. More important is the action on its more densely-populated eastern side where it gains population with Opa-Locka and slivers of Miami. However, it keeps its most important community, Hialeah, a Cuban-American stronghold.

Expansion of the 19th District in Collier County. The red line denotes the existing boundary. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

Analysis: Implications

Redistricting—or gerrymandering, if you don’t like the results—is always a delicate art. Drawing the lines can’t help but get partisan as they’re drafted.

In this case, the 19th District was overpopulated and had to lose population somewhere. It so happens that the state Senate drafters chose to take it out by removing minority, working class, somewhat Democratic communities.

Moving North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the 17th means the interests of those suburban communities will be subsumed by the majority rural and agricultural voters further north in Charlotte, Hardee, Desoto, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties.

In partisan terms, it means they can’t threaten Republican dominance in either the 19th or the 17th. But that was the way the existing lines were drawn anyway.

Assuming that redistricting proceeds smoothly and according to its assigned schedule, next year candidates will be campaigning in the newly drawn new districts. However, it’s difficult to see how the new lines could make much of a difference.

Currently, both the 19th and 17th districts are represented by extreme, radical right-wing Republican incumbent representatives, Donalds and Steube.

For residents of North Fort Myers that doesn’t mean much of a difference in being represented to policymakers in Washington, DC. For Black residents of the affected areas, Donalds not only has no interest in traditional Black concerns like civil rights and voting access, he is actively hostile to them. He has inveighed against critical race theory in schools and is part of the Republican culture wars chorus. He plays to his extreme conservative political action committee donors and a hard-right Trumpist base. Minority voters weren’t getting much representation anyway, so they aren’t losing much if he doesn’t represent them in 2022.

By contrast, his Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai, is already campaigning vigorously on behalf of those communities. However, she’ll be deprived of potentially supportive voters if the maps change as drawn.

Nor will North Fort Myers residents get any representation if Steube wins re-election again. If anything, Steube is even more extreme than Donalds and would likely completely ignore those communities.

Steube was opposed in 2020 by Allen Ellison, whom he defeated 64 to 34 percent. This year Ellison is running for the US Senate seat of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). To date, Steube has no announced opponent.

In the 25th District, Diaz-Balart is running against Democrat Adam Gentle. Last year Diaz-Balart ran unopposed. Changes in the district lines would not seem to make much of a difference in the demographic makeup of the district.

It’s worth remembering that these are just draft maps. In addition to the state Senate committee’s proposals individuals have submitted proposed drafts. Also, the state House committee is expected to shortly submit its proposals.

People who want to weigh in can contact their representatives and Southwest Florida is fortunate in that Rodrigues, who oversees the whole redistricting effort, is a local state senator. Also, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) will be serving as Senate president next year and has a disproportionate say in the final redistricting.

To make your opinion of the draft maps known:

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues can be reached at

(239) 338-2570

District Office

Suite 401
2000 Main Street
Fort Myers, FL   33901

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo can be reached at

(239) 417-6205

District Office

Suite 203
3299 Tamiami Trail East
Naples, FL   34112

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

UPDATED: Michael Flynn, QAnon-related show cancelled in Fort Myers, new location concealed

Michael Flynn, center, pledges “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan, in a July 4, 2020 video he posted that was reported by CNN. (Image: CNN)

March 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

The dinner and fundraising event featuring Michael Flynn, former national security advisor, and Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon-promoting traveling production, which was scheduled to come to Fort Myers, Fla., on March 11, has been cancelled in its originally scheduled location.

A new location will be revealed only to ticketholders 12 hours before the event, according to its organizer, The Florida Conservative blog.

Management at the Treehouse Rooftop Lounge, an entertainment venue in the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, where the event was to have taken place, confirmed its cancellation there.

Word of the cancellation was also spread yesterday by an officer of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

The fate of a “secret” Michael Flynn dinner in Naples scheduled for March 10 remains unclear. (For more on the Fort Myers event, Red Pill Roadshow and background on QAnon, see: “QAnon show, Michael Flynn, coming to Fort Myers.”)

Local television reporter Amelia Fabiano with NBC-2 News interviewed Red Pill Roadshow’s president, Brian Gamble, on Feb. 26, who denied that the production company promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory.

“I’ve never really believed in the Q doctrine, but I believe that Americans should have a right to free speech,” Gamble told Fabiano. “To say we’re a Q event or anything like that – nothing could be further from the truth. We’re a free speech event.”

The new announcement was made the day before some QAnon cultists hold out hope that Trump will somehow take power on March 4, when inaugurations occurred prior to passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1937.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

QAnon show, Michael Flynn, coming to Fort Myers

Michael Flynn, center, pledges “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan, in a July 2020 video he posted that was reported by CNN. (Image: CNN)

Feb. 23, 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security adviser, and a QAnon-promoting traveling roadshow are coming to Fort Myers.

Two fundraising events with Flynn are scheduled for Thursday, March 11. One will be a dinner at the Roots Restaurant and Treehouse Rooftop Lounge on Bell Tower Drive in Fort Myers, according to the organizers.

The event marks the emergence of Flynn from a previously announced “secret location.” He was to have been the main speaker at a fundraising dinner in Naples on March 10.

However, when the original venue, Shula’s Steakhouse, canceled the booking, the dinner was moved to the “secret location,” according to its organizer, Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional candidate and conservative activist. That dinner was intended to benefit her Constitutional Warriors Political Action Committee.

In the past, McLaughlin had organized a Naples fundraiser that featured Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, who appeared unannounced at the event. McLaughlin also promised unnamed and unannounced guests at the Flynn dinner.

The new dinner is being presented by The Florida Conservative, a conservative blog, and Red Pill Roadshow. No names for specific individuals are provided by either organization’s website.

Red Pill Roadshow is a traveling production that promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory in a tent-revival atmosphere. It was born out of a 2019 Washington, DC rally called “The Great Awakening,” which in QAnon mythology is an apocalyptic battle between Donald Trump supporters and their enemies. (In American history “the Great Awakening” was a religious revival that swept the American colonies in the 1730s and 40s.)

QAnon is a widely-repudiated online conspiracy theory holding that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring and controlling the country and its culture. The cabal was said to be plotting against Donald Trump who was secretly fighting them while in office. This battle was to culminate in “The Storm” or “The Great Awakening,” when Trump was going to round up members of the cabal in mass arrests. Q is supposedly a high-level intelligence officer who chronicled the battle.

Red Pill Roadshow was founded in 2019, according to its website, and is dedicated to “Bringing The Great Awakening to your town.” The “red pill” is a reference to the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which a red pill reveals the truth about a falsely constructed world.

The video on the Red Pill Roadshow website features a “Great Awakening” event in Washington, DC event held on Sept. 11, 2019.

“While putting the show together, we experienced how the fake media and big tech worked hand-in-hand in attempting to silence our opposing political views,” states the text on the website. “However, their efforts to censor us and to deny us our right to peacefully assemble and to free speech didn’t have the desired outcome the opposition had hoped for.

“So, now enter the Red Pill Roadshow, created specifically to bring The Great Awakening free-speech events to your town!” 

According to the website, Red Pill Roadshow has been banned from Twitter and Instagram.

In Florida, Red Pill Roadshow has held events in Jacksonville and Tampa. An extensive account of the August 2020 Jacksonville event appeared on the website, an online news outlet, in an article, “On the floor for the Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon tent revival.”

According to that article, McLaughlin addressed the Jacksonville crowd, saying that “If Donald Trump isn’t re-elected in November, America will cease to exist.” The article quotes her saying  she was “thrown out of law school for being a conservative. ‘Now I’m Florida International University’s worst nightmare,’ she snarled, then suggested defunding colleges.”

The article also stated that: “A stack of fliers on a trashcan encouraged joining right-wing militias, including Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters.”

QAnon was specifically condemned by a resolution passed in the US House of Representatives in October 2020, which found that “the conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon undermine trust in America’s democratic institutions, encourage rejection of objective reality, and deepen our Nation’s political polarization.” The resolution passed by a vote of 371 to 18, with two of Southwest Florida’s representatives voting for it. (Then-Rep. Francis Rooney was absent.)

According to the announcement on the Florida Conservative blog, the Fort Myers event consists of two fundraisers, one for SW Florida Heroes Foundation, Inc., which benefits first responders.

The beneficiary of the second fundraiser is not revealed in the announcement.

In the past, McLaughlin has been an adamant opponent of  COVID-related masking. While the event announcement does not say if masks and social distancing will be required, the likelihood is that it will be unmasked.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Ivanka Trump comes to Southwest Florida selling faltering campaign

Financial record of Trump campaign makes for questionable investment.

Ivanka Trump promoting Goya beans. (Photo: Ivanka Trump Twitter)

Oct. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

In a last-ditch effort to sway voters in what has in the past been a reliably Republican area, the election campaign of President Donald Trump is deploying First Daughter Ivanka Trump to Southwest Florida to shore up support and raise money.

A “Make America Great Again” rally that is sure to be a COVID superspreader event has now been officially scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 1:00 pm at Top Rocker Field at Six Bends in Fort Myers.

Ivanka Trump is also reportedly going to speak at a private, invitation-only fundraising event in Naples, according to a number of local news outlets. The unconfirmed location is reported to be at the Old Collier Golf Club. The cost of attending is reportedly $15,000 per person and $100,000 per table. However, this event cannot be confirmed through official campaign websites or statements.

The First Daughter’s blitz comes as the polling site gives Democratic candidate Joe Biden a 69 percent chance of carrying Florida with 51.1 percent of the popular vote, based on multiple polls. In 2016, Trump carried Florida with 49 percent of the vote, or a margin of 112,911 votes.

The Trump campaign money record

As exciting as having such a distinguished celebrity in Naples might be, those who are in the $15,000 per plate class might want to ask themselves before they fork over the cash: What am I donating to?

(And also: What can possibly be served for lunch that’s worth $15,000?)

From its outset the Trump campaign has been plagued by money woes. In a Sept. 7, 2020 New York Times article, “How Trump’s Billion-Dollar Campaign Lost Its Cash Advantage,” reporters Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman detailed a campaign of undisciplined spending that burned through hundreds of millions of dollars.

It also featured chaotic purchasing, erratic hiring and disorganized messaging all in the service of an unrestrained and volatile candidate.

Much of this can be laid at the feet of Brad Parscale, Trump’s initial campaign manager. It was Parscale who rode in a chauffeured car and flew on private planes, who decided to spend money on questionably effective advertising, including heavy investment in the Washington, DC media market primarily so that Trump could see his ads on local TV.

The article quotes Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who runs a small pro-Trump super political action committee, as saying: “If you spend $800 million and you’re 10 points behind, I think you’ve got to answer the question ‘What was the game plan?’” He accused Parscale of spending “like a drunken sailor,” and noted “I think a lot of money was spent when voters weren’t paying attention.”

Parscale has since been replaced by Bill Stepien, who has taken a lower profile and tightened spending. However, the campaign’s cash chaos has not ceased.

Another exposé of Trump campaign spending also appeared in September in The Atlantic, titled “Trump Is Running His Campaign Like He Ran His Businesses.” The article by David Graham noted, “The president is again profiting handsomely at the expense of those trusting enough to give him money.”

Graham wrote: “The Trump 2020 campaign seems to be running on the same principle as many of the president’s commercial endeavors: Trump gets richer, while other people’s money gets lit on fire. This was how some of the president’s real-estate ventures and casinos operated, and so it’s unsurprising that it’s how he’s chosen to run his campaign—and the country.”

Along those lines, in July the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to advance “democracy through law,” filed an 82-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the campaign violated campaign finance law by illegally spending $170 million in disguised spending by “laundering the funds” through a variety of companies.

Commentary: The Shark Tank for real

Making a donation to a political campaign is a lot like investing in a business. As a donor you’re essentially investing in an outcome. You may be driven by ideological urges rather than profit, but many of the principles of effective donating and investing are the same.

Any investor knows the drill for evaluating a business pitch (and the public can see a version of it on the TV program Shark Tank): You look at the company’s business plan, its leadership and products, past performance if the company’s established or the founders’ past record if it’s a startup. You check references and media coverage. You examine the market and the needs and you try to peer out to the future to determine its prospects. Then you go through the spreadsheets to find errors or erroneous assumptions. In the end you make a bet—or not.

If the Trump presidency and campaign was a business investment opportunity, what would a potential investor see?

The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is erratic, irascible, uncontrolled and uncontrollable but still overly controlling. He’s diseased and seemingly deranged. He’s been responsible for six previous bankruptcies and was cut off from established credit sources. He and his companies may be $1 billion in debt to unknown creditors. The company’s products are badly flawed and simply not working and demand for them has cratered. Its performance (the economy) has collapsed from bad management. An outside force (a pandemic) could have been mitigated or controlled early on but wasn’t because of poor assumptions and delusional reactions. The references are terrible, with former executives uniformly denouncing and exposing the CEO’s shortcomings and crimes. Other than the media controlled or co-opted by the CEO, coverage is uniformly and unrelentingly bad. The market is trending against the company with all market research indicating its competitor is going to dominate. The spreadsheets are unavailable or those provided are of very questionable reliability. The likely prospect is that a bankruptcy declaration will come Nov. 3.

This is the company that Ivanka Trump will be coming to Naples to sell on Wednesday.

People who can afford a $15,000 per plate meal did not qualify for sitting at that kind of table by being stupid.

But for those who buy in: Enjoy lunch.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Floridians mobilize caravan, protest to stand up to Trump, support Biden

A “Ridin’ with Biden” caravan in Collier County in August. A similar caravan is scheduled for tomorrow in Fort Myers. (Image: WINK News)

Oct. 15, 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Floridians of all political persuasions will be showing their support for decency, democracy and Joe Biden tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 16 in a “Ridin’ for Biden” caravan through Fort Myers, Fla.

The caravan comes as President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a private event for donors and selected invitees.

According to NBC2 News: “The president will land at Southwest Florida International Airport around 1 p.m. then will be escorted to downtown Fort Myers to discuss his efforts to protect our country’s seniors at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center.”

The caravan is being organized by Southwest Floridian activists rather than specific organizations. It is endorsed by The Paradise Progressive.

The caravan will assemble at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater’s North Parking Lot, 1380 Colonial Blvd, Fort Myers, at 11:00 am. At that time cars will be decorated and signage and banners will be available. Participants are encouraged to bring their own signs and decorations.

Masks, social distancing and health precautions will be observed. In the interests of safety there will not be speeches or crowding of any kind. The event is intended to be peaceful, patriotic and law-abiding.

The caravan is expected to begin rolling between 11:30 am and noon. Participants can join or depart at any time.

There is no set route but a lead car will be designated. There is also no set duration for the caravan.

The Southwest Florida Indivisible organization is also organizing a “Dump Trump” rally on the street near the Luminary Hotel on 2200 Edwards Dr., where Trump was initially scheduled to speak. It is scheduled to begin at 10 am and last through much of the day. The organization is requesting that demonstrators respond in advance (which can be done here).

Three sitting presidents that have previously visited Fort Myers, according to the News-Press are: Gerald Ford, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. After their retirements George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt also visited.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Editorial: ‘Ridin’ with Biden’ caravan should greet Trump in Fort Myers on Friday

A “Ridin’ with Biden” caravan in Collier County on Aug. 16. (Image: WINK News)

Last night, Oct. 13, Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson (R) alerted local media that President Donald Trump would be visiting Fort Myers in some capacity on Friday, Oct. 16.

The exact nature of the visit is unclear as of this writing: whether it will be a rally or just a visit, a drive-through or a meeting with local politicians. Also undetermined is the exact location of Trump’s appearance and whether it will be an event that will be held indoors or outdoors.

Whatever the final disposition, there’s little doubt that it will be a COVID-19 super spreader event. If a rally or speech, the president’s supporters will no doubt gather unmasked in tight groups. Lee County will be dealing with coronavirus fallout for weeks to come—if people are infected on Friday, they will likely become symptomatic around two weeks later. Any rally or gathering has the potential to create a wave of infections that could overwhelm Lee County medical facilities.

At the same time, a Trump visit provides the potential for Southwest Florida Democrats and supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden (D) to show their support for him and register their disapproval of Trump.

A “Ridin’ with Biden” caravan through Fort Myers on Friday would be a safe, peaceful and appropriate response to a Trump visit, demonstrating the spirit and determination of Southwest Florida’s democratic community—and showing that local Trumpism is neither monolithic nor unchallenged.

A similar caravan in The Villages of Florida on Saturday, Oct. 10, gained national attention when it greeted Vice President Mike Pence’s arrival.

Southwest Florida can do its part for American democracy and a Joe Biden victory. The time is short but the stakes are high and the need is great.

(This story will be updated as new details become available.)

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Marches, demonstrations show SWFL vitality, determination

01-18-20 Fifth Ave.Marchers in Saturday’s Women’s March fill Naples’ Fifth Avenue.            (Photos: Author)

Jan. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

Today, marchers in Naples and Fort Myers will commemorate the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This past Saturday, Jan. 18, activists marched in support of democratic values, liberal causes and to protest the Trump administration’s corruption and assault on women and their concerns.

Saturday’s Women’s March to Win in Naples and the march in Fort Myers were vigorous, enthusiastic and exuberant. The same spirit will likely pervade today’s marches.

But do such marches and demonstrations make a difference, especially in broadly conservative and predominantly Republican Southwest Florida?

The ultimate results won’t be known until the election in November. However, the robust turnouts for the women’s marches demonstrated that liberal political activism in Southwest Florida is alive, well and energetic—and poised to make a difference in both election results and people’s attitudes.

Organizers of the Naples march, formally titled Women March to Win, included Collier Freedom, the Collier County Democratic Party and its Environmental Caucus, SWFL Justice for All, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Collier Students for Change. The Fort Myers march was hosted by the Alliance and Women’s March Fort Myers, a 501c3 non-profit organization.

The Naples March was significant in that it was the first time since the marches began in 2017 that organizers received a permit to use the street rather than just the sidewalks. Marchers started and ended in Cambier Park.

Both local marches were part of demonstrations that took place around the country.

The historical context

IMG-8354Women’s March participants take the stage at Cambier Park to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage.

Marches and parades probably began when humans started walking upright. They’ve always been expressions of enthusiasm and triumph but in the current context they’re also important for marking critical historic occasions.

This year’s Women’s Marches commemorated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and in a more recent context, the outpouring of protest in 2017 against President Donald Trump’s racism, bigotry and misogyny.

The MLK parades celebrate MLK’s commitment to non-violence, peaceful resistance and his efforts to achieve equality, fairness and justice.

So such parades and demonstrations serve the purpose of passing on a legacy to the next generation, honoring the struggles that have gone before and remembering the values that powered the movements.

A show of strength

IMG-8332Some of the groups hosting the Women’s March in Naples.

Turnout at demonstrations is always a measure of the strength of a movement and the broadness of its appeal.

In 2017, an estimated half million people turned out in Washington, DC for the first Women’s March, vastly eclipsing Trump’s paltry inauguration crowds. In Naples, 2017 turnout was unexpectedly large, with several thousand people filling Cambier Park and surrounding streets. It was especially surprising in light of Naples’ seeming somnolence, its apparent conservatism and its reputed indifference to politics. Organizers had expected a crowd of around 500 people; ultimate participation was orders of magnitude larger.

This year, an estimated 3.000 people participated in Naples based on a count of wrist bands provided by March organizers in an effort to get an accurate tally. The count may actually be higher, according to Cynthia Morino-Clark, a March organizer, since not all volunteers attending the march received wristbands. In Fort Myers, WINK News estimated that over 2,000 people marched from the Alliance for the Arts to Centennial Park.

Turnout should be good in this year’s more traditional, more officially organized MLK parades.

In addition to their other purposes, demonstrations of this type also forge solidarity among demonstrators. Particularly in Southwest Florida where liberal activists may often feel that they’re struggling in isolation, demonstrations are an expression of common purpose and wider support.

Electoral exposure

01-18-20 Holden and supporters cropped and adjustedDemocratic congressional candidate David Holden and supporters.

Parades, marches and demonstrations are always an opportunity for electoral candidates to show support for the cause and greet people.

Democratic candidates for office appeared at both Women’s Marches this year: congressional candidates David Holden in Naples and Cindy Banyai in Fort Myers; Sara McFadden and Maureen Porras for state legislature in Naples and John Jenkins, a candidate for Collier County Commission.

01-18-20 Cindy Banyai Ft. Myers Women's MarchDemocratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai (center) and supporters demonstrate in the Fort Myers Women’s March.                                           (Photo: Cindy Banyai campaign)

Voter turnout was a major theme of the Women’s Marches, which featured exhortations to vote and voter registration opportunities during the rallies.

Conversely, the Women’s Marches were also an opportunity to protest against Trump administration policies and prejudice.

01-18-20 Provocateur
The Trumper provocateur.

That sentiment wasn’t universally shared. A Trump provocateur inserted himself at the head of the Naples parade, although he was later separated by police from the main body of the march. He then posted himself outside Cambier Park. He has appeared to disrupt other events in the past, like gatherings of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors. Asked his name, he replied “Donald Trump Jr.”




Spreading the word

01-18-20 Women's March spectatorsSpectators at the Naples Women’s March show their support.

Demonstrations, marches and parades help spread a message. Though spectators were sparse at the Women’s March in Naples, the march did elicit spontaneous support from observers.

Coverage of the march by local traditional media was erratic. WINK-TV reported both marches with extended coverage. The Naples Daily News covered it with photos on page three the following day. NBC-2 television news did not mention a single word about the march in its 6:00 pm broadcast that night and only posted a short story prior to the march on its website.

The MLK Parade, since it is scheduled annually and is a more formally organized event, should receive at least some coverage in all Southwest Florida’s media outlets.

The usefulness of events

IMG-8338A very determined marcher.

The United States Constitution guarantees its citizens the right to peacefully assemble and petition government for a redress of grievances. As long as those rights remain inviolate, demonstrations, marches and protests will occur.

Demonstrations can make a difference—and in a place like Southwest Florida, where a single party dominates all government, they are particularly important as an expression of popular sentiment and peaceful dissent.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg


Women’s March organizers in Naples get permit to march on Fifth Avenue

01-17-20 Women's march

Jan. 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

Organizers of tomorrow’s Women March to Win in Naples, Fla., have received a permit to march down Fifth Avenue, Naples’ main street, in contrast to past marches, according to an organizer of the event.

In past years, marchers have gathered at Broad and Third streets in Naples and were only permitted to march on the sidewalk to reach Cambier Park.

This year the march will be shorter in distance, beginning and ending in Cambier Park. Participants will gather at 9:00 am in the park and step off at 10:00 am. Following the march, speakers will address the crowd in Cambier until 2:00 pm.

In Fort Myers, marchers will gather at The Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd, at 10:00 am and rally until 1:00 pm.

Further details can be found at the Facebook pages of the Naples’ Women’s March and the Fort Myers Women’s March.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

It happened here: The 1924 Fort Myers lynching, 95 years later

05-21-19 black-neighborhood-fort-myers-med

The African-American neighborhood of Fort Myers in an undated photo.

May 22, 2019 by David Silverberg

Saturday, May 25th, will mark 95 years since two African-American teenagers were seized by a white mob and lynched in Fort Myers, Fla.

The anniversary comes amidst a rise in hatred and racism in the United States and serves as a stark reminder of where bigotry ultimately leads. It’s also a demonstration of what happens when the rule of law breaks down.

It can happen here—and it has.

It’s also worth remembering; history does not have to repeat.

What happened

This account draws from two sources: One is an article in The Fort Myers News-Press on the event’s 90th anniversary. That article, “Lynching history spurs call for closure, 90 years later” by reporter Janine Zeitlin, was published on May 21, 2014. The account drew on people’s recollections and the work of Nina Denson-Rogers, historian of the Lee County Black History Society, who pieced together fragmentary information on the incident.

The other is the original, unbylined article that appeared in the Fort Myers Press on May 26, 1924, headlined, “Negroes pay penalty for horrible crime committed yesterday.”  (Referred in this article as the “1924 account.” The article is posted in full below.)

According to Zeitlin, on Sunday, May 25, 1924 two black teenagers, R.J. Johnson, 14, and Milton Wilson, 15, (given as “Bubbers” Wilson and Milton Williams in the 1924 account) were spotted by a passerby swimming with two white girls on the outskirts of Fort Myers, then a segregated city of about 3,600 people. Lee County was home to about 15,000 people.

“The lynchings happened after R.J. and Milton went swimming at a pond with two white girls on the outskirts of town,” according to the Zeitlin article. “They were said to friends with the girls, maybe more. Perhaps they were skinny-dipping. There were rumors of rape, though one girl and her brother denied it.”

The two boys and girls lived near each other, were long familiar and played with each other as children, states Zeitlin. The swimming was reported by someone as a rape. The 1924 account simply states that the boys “attacked two young Fort Myers school girls.”

The black community first learned that something was amiss when evening church services were canceled. Just before sunset the rape report resulted in white residents on foot, horseback and in cars gathering at a white girl’s residence. From there they began invading black homes and yards in a search for the two boys.

During the evening, chaos spread through the city as the search continued. At one point a gas truck was driven into the black community with the intention of burning it down if the boys weren’t found.

05-20-19 Sheriff Ed Albritton Lee County lynching
Lee County Sheriff J. “Ed” Albritton in an undated photo.    (LCSO)

At some point R.J. Johnson was found. According to the 1924 account, he was arrested by Sheriff J.E. Albritton and put in the county jail.

“Hearing of this the armed citizens went to the jail and demanded the prisoner. The request being lawfully refused by the sheriff, he was overpowered, the jail unlocked and the negro led out,” states the 1924 article.

According to that article, once seized, Johnson was “taken before one of the girls” where he was identified and confessed. According to Zeitlin, however, one of the girls and her brother denied that there had been any rape.

In the Zeitlin account, Johnson was taken to a tree along Edison Avenue, hanged and shot. According to the 1924 account “his body was riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets to the Safety Hill section.”

The search then continued for Wilson, who was found at 4:46 am the next morning by a railroad foreman, hiding in a railroad box car on a northbound train. He was taken from the box car, hanged, castrated and shot multiple times. His body was then dragged down Cranford Avenue by a Model T.

“It was like a parade, some evil parade in Hell,” according to Mary Ware, a resident who was quoted in a 1976 article in the News-Press. The crowd broke up when the sheriff and a judge appeared.

05-18-19 lynchingclipOn Monday the afternoon edition of the Fort Myers News-Press was headlined “Negroes Pay Penalty for Horrible Crime Committed Yesterday.”

On the same day a jury convened and absolved the sheriff, attributing the lynchings to “parties unknown.”

“That the rape had taken place, the black community definitely felt never occurred, that it was prefabricated by this white man who came across them swimming,” said resident Jacob Johnson in a late 1990s interview with the Lee County Black History Society, quoted by Zeitlin. “Everyone felt … these boys had just been killed for no reason, other than they were there with these white girls.”

Commentary: Learning from history

As stated at the outset, this is where racism and bigotry lead.

But it’s also a lesson in the need for the rule of law. The two accused teenagers were never able to assert or prove their innocence, were presumed guilty from the outset, were never granted a public trial and were punished according to the whims of the mob, all violations of basic personal, legal and constitutional protections.

As the rule of law is eroded in this country, flouted from the president on down, every American loses the protections that law provides. The result can be something like the 1924 Fort Myers lynchings—and can lead to the deaths of innocents.

And as for false accusations and mistaken impressions leading to dangerous consequences, those are with us too.

The Sunday before last, on May 12, at the Off-the-Hook comedy club in Naples, Fla., when comedian Ahmed Ahmed made a joke about organizing a terrorist group with the Middle Easterners in the audience, a patron called 9-1-1 to report a possible terrorist incident.

Because of a joke. By a comedian. In a comedy club.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg


26 May 1924, Page 1 - News-Press at saved 5-18-19 cropped

Below is the full text, with original capitalization and usage, of the article on the Fort Myers lynching as published on the front page of The Fort Myers Press, on May 26, 1924:


Two negro youths, “Bubbers” Wilson and Milton Williams, met death at the hands of “unknown persons” early this morning following their positive identification as the two negroes who yesterday afternoon had attacked two young Fort Myers school girls.

Within a few hours after word of the happening had reached town a systematic search was started independent of the efforts of Sheriff J.E. Albritton who with his force was on the job immediately upon hearing of the crime.

A general round up of suspicious characters by the sheriff’s office netted Wilson, who was lodged in the county jail.

Hearing of this the armed citizens went to the jail and demanded the prisoner. The request being lawfully refused by the sheriff, he was overpowered, the jail unlocked and the negro led out.

Taken before one of the girls he was identified by her and then taken away where he confessed to his captors, following which his body was riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets to the Safety Hill section.

The search for his accomplice was then carried out with increased vigor, all outlets from the city being carefully guarded. The hunted man was located about 4:46 a.m., on a north-bound train pulling out of the railroad yards. Following his positive identification, he met the same fate as the first negro.

The following jurors were sworn in by County Judge N.G. Stout, coroner ex-officio, this morning: C. J. Stubbs, C.C. Pursley, Vernon Wilderquist, Alvin Gorton, W.W. White and Thomas J. Evans.

Charged with ascertaining by what means the two negroes met their deaths, the jurors reported as follows: “the said “Bubbers” Wilson and Wilton Williams came to their death in the following manner, to-wit:

By the hands of parties unknown, and we herewith wish to commend the Sheriff and his entire force for the earnest efforts made by them, in their attempt to carry out the duties of their office.”

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