Stay in Your Lane?

“Stay in your lane.” If you work in a competitive field, especially if you’re a woman or a young person, you’ve probably heard this phrase. It means, “You don’t know enough about this to have an opinion. This isn’t your business. This isn’t your problem.”

I’ve worked in an official capacity on six political campaigns now, and I’ve had managers and advisors tell me to stay in my lane every time. Except one. In my current role as Director of Volunteers and Engagement for the Sunny Gettinger for City Council District 14 Campaign, I’m given room to be creative, to plan and execute without asking permission, to make mistakes and learn from them. I’m given that space because Sunny doesn’t believe in “stay in your lane.”

Sunny’s success is in no small part due to her ambition, her ingenuity and her drive to find solutions to complex problems and implement them quickly and efficiently. When she moved to Jacksonville 10 years ago, she jumped head first into leadership positions in Riverside Avondale Preservation and Riverside Arts Market. She didn’t wait for someone to ask. She saw where she could be helpful and got to work. Sunny believes that when you live in a community, you’re not just a resident; you’re an active participant.

With recent reports showing violent crime at its highest local levels in 13 years, we need strong leadership to challenge the current administration’s inaction and its blatant disregard for the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. Fortunately, we have qualified Democratic candidates running to fill the seats of two of the districts that face the most crime and poverty in Jacksonville: Districts 8 and 10.

Running in District 10, Brenda Priestly Jackson currently serves as executive director of the Dynamic Education Foundation. She is also an attorney and a former school board chairperson with a passion for public education. She sued Governor Rick Scott for appointing Terrance Freeman—a Republican and “proud conservative”—to represent the residents of District 10, a majority Democratic district in which Freeman didn’t even reside until his appointment. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, but Freeman has since decided not to run for the seat. (Instead, he’s running for At-Large Group 1 against Lisa King, the incredibly popular former chair of the Jacksonville Planning Commission and the local Democratic Party.) Jackson’s opponent is a relative newcomer, Celestine Mills, a community leader with a promising political future.

In District 8, Tameka Gaines Holly, president and CEO of her own consulting firm, makes for a formidable opponent against incumbent Ju’Coby Pittman. Although some voters have concerns about Pittman’s appointment by Gov. Scott—and her independence of Mayor Lenny Curry’s political machine—many still admire her work as president and CEO of the Clara White Mission. Both women would do well. We are lucky to have them stepping up to bat for Jacksonville. Now it’s your turn.

In order to win in 2020, 2022 and 2023, we can’t stay in our lanes. Our party is only as strong as its members, and if only a few dozen of those members are actively engaged, we will continue to lose elections. You can look to blame the local Democratic Party leadership for not being able to field a mayoral candidate in March, but I’d like to ask: Where were you? If you thought your skills and expertise weren’t needed, you were wrong. If you thought someone else was going to fill that important role, you were wrong. Our local party is filled with some of the kindest, most compassionate—and, yes, driven—people in Jacksonville. But there’s simply not enough of us to fight back against the Republican machine.

If you believe in economic opportunity, quality education and transparency in government, we need you. If you have a vision of a Democratic Duval that we’re not living up to, we need you. If you’re a graphic designer or salesperson, a marketer or number cruncher, we need you. I took the skills I learned in the service industry and built the largest volunteer program of any campaign in the city. You don’t have to be an expert on policy. You don’t need a master’s degree in political science. You just need to care and show up.

We are days away from the runoff election. We’ve run out of time for hesitation. Get involved now. Vote. Help a local candidate who speaks to your values. Join a local direct-action organization like New Florida Majority or Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, or get involved in your labor union. Run for office, or elevate a leader in your community and give them the confidence and support to run. It will take all of us together to make a difference. If we get out of our lanes, if we act rather than complain, we will win.


Harper is a Democratic activist and campaign organizer.