15 ‘Dream Defenders’ Arrested Outside Presidential Debate

Jacob Marshall

While presidential contenders Barack Obama and Mitt Romney argued during their last debate in Boca Raton on Monday night, a group of protesters staged their own confrontation with police outside the Lynn University venue. The Dream Defenders, a Florida collective of young people of color, organized a protest to highlight the youth issues they believe have been ignored throughout the election. According to a report from New Times Broward-Palm Beach, the group held a 120-strong march toward the heavily-policed debate venue, holding signs that read Education Not Handcuffs” and End the Wars, Fund Education.” At the end of the march, 15 young activists sat down and staged a roadblock. All 15 were arrested when they refused to move.

Phillip Agnew, one of the arrested Dream 15,” told In These Times that all activists were released this afternoon on recognizance after being charged with unlawful assembly and trespassing.

The group began organizing in response to Trayvon Martin’s murder, and works to combat mass incarceration and the criminalization of youth.

An issue of particularly importance for the group, private for-profit prisons, came to the forefront due to the debate’s location, as Sarah Jaffe reported last week at Truthout:

One issue especially close to them, as they’ll be in the hometown of private prison company GEO Group, is the for-profit incarceration industry. The more prisons get privatized, the more money they’re making out of bodies,” [Dream Defenders organizer] Zamudio said. They just want to have more people in there to make money. They’re trying to find any and every reason to get us to go to prison, just to have that one-night stand - they’re making $80 or $100 bucks off of you.”

GEO Group is the nation’s second largest private jailer, making $842 million from corrections contracts in 2010. The Dream Defenders wanted to draw attention to the growing problem of for-profit prisons and its ironic absence from the debate despite being held in one of the industry’s capitals. 

Dream Defenders were also the group behind the Twitter hashtag #changethedebate, and Agnew said that the protest was an attempt to take our issue from Twitter into the streets” after a culmination of a month’s work of effort through social networking. When asked about GEO Group, he responded:

GEO is one of the lowest of the low, a company that makes money off of the labor and incarceration of innocent people… a company like that should have their names in the media every day.

In addition to the problems with the nation’s prison system, the Dream Defenders’ protest also called for the candidates to take more seriously issues such as immigration and also climate change, which was not mentioned in any of the debates for the first time in decades.

Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.