It’s hard to know what will go viral in The Age of The Internet. Everything from cute cats to optically deceptive dresses and oddball political memes has the potential to reach millions. But while most viral videos are a lightning-quick flash in the too-saturated social media pan—and offer nothing more than a delightful distraction—every once in a while, something not only cuts through the noise, but truly inspires.
This week, that crystalline moment was Cara Jennings. She spotted Florida Governor Rick Scott enter a Gainesville Starbucks two days ago and took it upon herself to publicly berate the governor on behalf of disenfranchised low-income women around the state.
Scott had just signed one of the stricter abortion bills into a law that will go into effect on July 1—a law that restricts access to Planned Parenthood and other clinics that perform a small percentage of abortion services. Low-income women like Jennings may soon be forced to traverse long distances for their care and wait long periods to even schedule appointments. As the law will also cut all state funding to facilities performing abortions, many clinics will likely shutter.
“You don’t care about working people,” she shouted over the noise of the coffee shop at him. “You should be ashamed to show your face around here.”
The 40-second video has been viewed more than a million times already on YouTube, and national news outlets from The Washington Post to MSNBC have picked up the story. Furor around the country is such that Gov. Rick Scott has been forced to issue this statement:
“People with radical views tend to not like civil debate. A self-proclaimed anarchist rudely yelled and cursed at the Governor. She also refused to Pledge Allegiance to the flag. It’s a free country, but it’s not at all surprising that an anarchist prefers shouting over conversation.”
The Establishment caught up with Jennings to ask about the aftermath of her confrontation, the governor’s claims, and how she plans to make this moment last as long as possible to affect political change.
Darlena Cunha: When you went off on Governor Rick Scott, did you expect this kind of national reaction? Looking back, do you think you acted appropriately?
Cara Jennings: I did not expect to go viral, no. People think it was staged, but I didn’t know anyone at that Starbucks. I have never been able to reach him before, and when this opportunity came up, I took it.
Was it appropriate for me to yell and curse at the governor? In this context—where he has so much more power than I do—to say I should watch my tone doesn’t take into account who we both are as individuals. The power he holds gives him the ability to diminish the voice of his detractors. In his mind, I was just one upset constituent that he could dismiss and walk away from. The video gave me more power in our interaction, but if it hadn’t been recorded, I’d just be another tiny drop in the bucket for him. This idea that you’re not allowed to get upset with someone who has power over you is something that needs to be pushed back on. The people deserve a voice, and sometimes that voice is angry.
Darlena: Governor Scott has since dismissed you as an anarchist, and discredited your complaints based on your ideology. Can you tell us how that aspect of your life is relevant here?
Cara: Since I was in my early twenties, I have identified with anarchist ideology, just like I’m feminist and Catholic, and that’s just how I identify. I ran for political office twice (City Commissioner) with people trying to use the idea that I’m an anarchist to confuse voters and shield the issues, and my experience is that that doesn’t work. People care about where you stand on the issues, rather than your ideology.
Whether I say the pledge or not has no impact on the quality of people’s lives, but the policies he passes do. So for him to make this about my political leanings over his policies is just another attempt to sidestep the issue, which is right in step with how he always deals with critique of his policies. Instead of addressing the issues, he goes on unrelated attacks. His comments in response to the video is just more of the same, and for a governor to continue to refuse to address issues of concern to the public says a lot about lack of leadership.
Darlena: How do you feel this video illustrates the deeper issues at play and the distrust of the people toward their elected officials?
Cara: Governor Scott doesn’t represent me. His actions and policies represent very few people I know. He endorsed Donald Trump, who emboldens white supremacy across the country. That’s how the governor chooses to represent one of the most racially diverse states in America.
There are broader issues at play here. There is systemic change that needs to happen. In terms of our elections, there is voter disenfranchisement, and the ability for corporations to act as people, and Citizens United. So fighting these policies from the ground up will force politicians to change their rhetoric. We have to fight these policies day by day. Some people fight them just by surviving in this world. Some people have the privilege to fight in other ways.
Darlena: Do you feel like it was a privilege to be able to address the governor in this way?
Cara: It was a privilege, in that I have the comfort and right skin color to do this. My worst-case scenario is that I would have gotten arrested, and that will not ruin my life. These privileges allow me to engage in that way and not be scared for my life or my family. I remain secure, and there are many who are not afforded that luxury.
Darlena: What do you want to come from this experience?
Cara: What is really at stake are the policies he’s pushing, and the lives affected by them, and one viral video isn’t going to impact his policies. I’ve got to up the ante now.
I am going to send out a public statement inviting the governor to join me for coffee and create an opportunity for him to engage me in the civil debate he says I can’t have. On April 20, I will go to Tallahassee, and we can discuss the impact his policies have had on my life and on the life of so many other Floridians.
Our attempts to reach Gov. Scott for additional comment went unreturned, but perhaps the country will hear more from him on April 20. Or not.