11/20/2012 04:37 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2013

Awaking the Sleeping Giant: Curry Sparks a Resurgence in Social Activism

The most powerful black person in the state of Florida is arguably the Senior Pastor of New Birth Baptist Church in Miami, Bishop Victor T. Curry. Curry, who also serves as the National Action Network Miami Chapter President, was the driving force behind the non-partisan get out the vote effort known as "Operation Lemonade." The name was coined by Curry as a response to the bushel of "lemons" that was delivered to the state in the area of ballot box access.

The "lemons" were a metaphor for the formal and direct voter suppression strategy employed by Governor Rick Scott and the Republican dominated State Legislature in the form of making it significantly more difficult for former felons (1.5 million in Florida) to get their voting rights restored by requiring them to wait five years before they are allowed to apply for the restoration of their voting rights, the placement of burdensome restrictions on organizations like the League of Women Voters who conduct voter registration drives, the shortening of the early voting period from 14 to 8 days, the purging of thousands of individuals from voting rolls, and the prohibition of early voting on the Sunday before the election. Additionally, voters in Miami-Dade County had to contend with a ten page ballot which took many people twenty to thirty minutes to complete causing voters to stand in lines of six, seven, and even eight hours to cast their ballots.

Curry was able to organize and galvanize churches, unions and other organizations like Florida New Majority across South Florida to get voters to the polls. The zenith of the Operation Lemonade effort occurred on "Souls to the Polls" weekend, which had to be moved back to the weekend of October 27 and 28 due to the prior early voting restriction on the Sunday before the election. Curry and National Action Network President Reverend Al Sharpton attended multiple rallies at voting locations across Florida's two most populous counties, Miami-Dade and Broward. Almost a quarter of the votes cast (23.7 percent) on the first two days of early voting in the state of Florida were by African-Americans. Operation Lemonade and other get out the vote efforts across the state certainly had a major impact on that number and the state's narrow electoral outcome.

The challenge for civic organizations and churches will be to sustain their vigilance in the area of social activism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and others stood up to segregationist Governors in the South like George Wallace of Alabama and Ross Barnett of Mississippi as they refused to implement federal civil rights laws. Similar efforts will be needed from our current crop of leaders to contend against Governors like Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana who have said that they will not comply with important provisions of federal healthcare reform legislation like the expansion of Medicaid for the poor and the creation of healthcare exchanges where millions of uninsured people can shop for health insurance. The efforts of Curry, Sharpton, and others in Florida during the Operation Lemonade effort illustrate the power and potential of what a diverse and committed coalition can do in the face of significant man-made barriers.