When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agreed to let a group of student activists spend the night in the Capitol last month, nobody expected they would stay long.
But three weeks later, the young protesters are still there, with the tacit approval of Gov. Rick Scott. Scott doesn’t support the protesters’ calls for a special session on the Stand Your Ground law, and has met with them only once. But he has allowed them to stay in the Capitol for an unprecedented length of time.
It’s a distinctly different approach than the one taken by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who quickly grew impatient when two lawmakers refused to leave the lieutenant governor’s office in 2000. Bush famously instructed his staff to “kick their asses out,” a quote he later said was directed at the reporters covering the protest.
Scott isn’t a fan of confrontation. He is also hamstrung by social media in a way his predecessors weren’t. The protesters currently in the Capitol are documenting their stay in real time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Any attempt to kick them out would almost certainly go viral — and resurface when Scott runs for reelection in 2014.
“The governor is in a tricky spot,” said Florida State University sociologist Deana Rohlinger, who studies mass media and social movements. “He doesn’t want to address [the protesters’] issues, but he also wants to come across as a consensus builder.”