- Interview by
- Peter Lucas
After organizing for legislative victories in Florida, the growth of Pinellas County Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and within the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association (PCTA), Richie Floyd is running for city council in St Petersburg. While the campaign is preparing for the primary election on August 24, Floyd unexpectedly attained internet celebrity status — not in Florida or anywhere else in the United States, but in Brazil, after a viral tweet compared him to Brazil Big Brother fan favorite Gil Da Vigor. Peter Lucas sat down with Floyd to discuss running for office as a socialist and as a reality TV star lookalike.
Okay, I want to talk to you about your city council campaign. But first I have to ask you: You went from Florida public school teacher to Brazilian celebrity overnight. How did this happen?
Yesterday a local outlet shared an article about me winning the endorsement of the West Central Florida AFL-CIO. I’m a union member in the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, so naturally, I was proud to share the endorsement. It was retweeted by a few people, and late last night it was retweeted by a couple of people in Brazil because someone noticed I bore a resemblance to Gil Da Vigor, a famous Brazilian actor who was on Brazil’s Big Brother. We have a similar haircut and facial hair, similar complexion. But what really made the comparison uncanny is that my campaign headshot is in a salmon colored shirt similar to the one Gil is famous for wearing.
– pode copiar
– mas não faz igual
– ta bom pic.twitter.com/nhcWHP0tfJ
— Eixo Político (@eixopolitico) May 18, 2021
So once a couple of people from Brazil retweeted it, it just blew up. When I realized that this was gaining some traction, I leaned into it a little. I changed my name on Twitter to Richie Da Vigor and tweeted out “Tchaki tcha!” which is the dance that Da Vigor is known for doing. It was really funny, but also slightly overwhelming, with the amount of comments from Brazilians. My Twitter following basically quadrupled.
As you were blowing up, you tweeted support for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil and future presidential candidate against Jair Bolsonaro. Can you say a little bit more about why you support him?
Lula comes from the Worker’s Party (PT) in Brazil. Internationalism is key to socialism, so it’s important that the American left support people in other countries who are building worker movements and fighting for working-class interests.
Lula would have been president if not for his unjust persecution and imprisonment during his last campaign, which the courts in Brazil later ruled to be unjust. He’s spent a long time fighting for working people’s issues. I figured while I had the ear of a large population of Brazilian people, I wanted to spread the same message I’ve spread through my campaign: the need to fight for working people.
Speaking of your election, can you give us a sense of what the race is like at this point?
Right now we’re preparing for our primary election on August 24. Most people vote by mail, and the mail-in ballots are going to come out pretty soon. We’re preparing to talk to every voter. We’ve got a strong ground game in the district. We’ve seen support from small-dollar donors, progressive organizations and especially the labor movement. We’ve had a huge number of small dollar donations last month. We had the most individual contributions of anyone in the city, nearly tripling the most popular mayoral candidate in the election. Our average donation is about $21. So we’re really proud of the grassroots, working-class campaign we are running.
We are unabashedly democratic socialist, and we know what we’re up against. The big-money interests in Florida aren’t happy about socialist candidates. So we expect pushback, but right now, we’re getting a really warm reception from the people in District 8.
We come to them with a simple message: we can build St Petersburg as a city for working people, for poor people, for everybody. We’ve been getting a really positive reception at the doors, and we’re going to keep bringing that message straight to the people.
You said you are running for public office in Florida as an unabashed democratic socialist. The establishment and mainstream media does not consider Florida fertile ground for socialist politics. What has your experience been talking to voters about your politics?
The mainstream media has no idea what the working-class people of Florida want. In my recent organizing experience, we’ve fought hard for and won a $15 minimum wage here last year, the expansion of voter rights, and the legalization of medical marijuana. These all passed with more than 60 percent support. There’s a disconnect between what the politicians are calling for at the top and what the working people of Florida want. Our campaign is trying to bridge that gap and make it clear that we are proud to be on the side of working people.
We’re not ashamed of our values. We’re going to make sure that people in our district and in our city know exactly what we stand for. That goes a long way in a place like Florida, where politics has been controlled by big money for a long time. What unites everybody at the end of the day is our material interests. So we’re focusing on that as much as possible.
Our campaign is fighting for economic, environmental, and social justice. More concretely, that means: housing as a right, funding community land trusts and public housing, not subsidizing private [landlord and developer] profits, and strengthening tenants rights; raising labor standards through fair scheduling and creating good jobs through the use of apprentices; and holding the city accountable to our climate and environmental goals.
The Brazilian lookalike situation came in response to a tweet about the West Central Florida AFL-CIO endorsing you. What other support have you gotten from labor, and what does it mean to have labor on your side?
The local unions with the West Central Florida AFL-CIO are getting on board to support the campaign through communications, member support, and donating money. I am a union member; this campaign is by and for workers. The people working on my campaign most closely have been involved in labor campaigns more than they’ve been involved in electoral campaigns. We’re trying to uplift working people.
Before running for office, you were a teacher. How does your work as a rank-and-file teacher and union member relate to the work of socialist electoral politics?
All too often, labor has to compromise. This isn’t a criticism of labor — it’s because they need to be involved in the political process, and oftentimes the political process is controlled by spending from special interests and politicians who are trying to build coalitions between workers and bosses at the same time. One of the biggest things we’re trying to do right now is build a campaign with grassroots energy that takes donations from individual contributors, and show St Petersburg that there’s a different way to run a political campaign.
This campaign is just like in any other organizing: you raise people’s expectations, you get people to demand more. That’s one of the things I tried to do with rank-and-file teachers union members: get them more engaged in local political fights, including ones that don’t directly affect them. Pinellas County Schools is controlled by the county and the state, not the city. But the council does affect other local issues and conditions under which teachers and students live.
Being able to lean on a rank-and-file movement that we’ve put together over the last eighteen months has been helpful because it pushes the leadership of the union to engage PCTA members to push for things that go beyond our immediate shop floor demands and affect the whole community. That’s the model socialists should push for in labor.
DSA has seen massive growth and earned some impressive electoral victories over the past few years. What is it like running as a DSA-endorsed candidate?
DSA has a network of activists who have a lot of experience, which has been helpful. Locally, we have a core of activists that are very engaged politically and have been in the community for a long time. As socialists, we reject corporate pressure and special interests, and remain committed to the working class. When all of that is put together, you can build a campaign that’s independent of the establishment and goes beyond traditional politics.
I hear Gil Da Vigor is coming to the states soon. Are you guys going to meet up?
I heard that he’s moving to California to do his PhD at UC Davis. Through DSA, I know some organizers there with the graduate workers union. I definitely hope he joins his union when he gets here. Once travel opens up some more, we’ll definitely have to meet in person.
Gil seems like a really inspiring person. From what I’ve heard, he’s originally from a poor neighborhood in Jaboatão dos Guararapes, he was a Mormon missionary who then came out as gay, and he was a strong supporter of Lula. And as a socialist, I’m always trying to connect to the working class across the globe, because this is a movement for the workers of the world.