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Local activists make waves

Sitting around and complaining doesn’t change anything.

Fortunately, North Florida has a lot of people who don’t sit around.

Eye on Jacksonville would like to recognize a few people who might be called “activists” because they follow and try to influence public policy, at all levels.

One such is Sabrina Wheeler, who describes herself as a “low-information voter” – up until Sept. 11, 2001.

She had voted for Jimmy Carter and for Ronald Reagan, and a Bush or two. “I even voted for Al Gore!” she said. “What was I thinking?”

“9-11 changed everything,” she said. She had been a Democrat since 1975 but within two years she switched to the Republican Party.

“I educated myself,” she said. She listened to talk radio and people such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

In 2009, she joined the burgeoning Tea Party movement. In 2013, she retired from her job and “ramped up” what she calls her “passion.”

Wheeler became something of a “citizen-journalist,” she said. “I learned what was on TV and what really was happening were different things.”

She attended Donald Trump rallies here and in Washington, including the one Jan. 6. She also attends Conservative Political Action Conference meetings and stays active in social media.

Esther Lyle Byrd is another local woman who doesn’t let grass grow under her feet.

She literally makes waves. Byrd was largely responsible for the high-profile boat flotilla for Trump last summer that put hundreds of boats in the Intracoastal Waterway.

She was born in Palm Bay and gravitated to Jacksonville in 1997. When the 9/11 attack happened, she left college to join the Marine Corps

Dedicated and focused, she knows where she is and where she is going.

“The Information (and misinformation) Age of 140-character Tweets, 30-second soundbites, and memes galore – most brimming with snark and lacking in substance –  has made for an inpatient electorate with quicker fingers and slower minds,” she said.

“The polarization of politics and resulting frustration only drive us to what we want to hear, rather than meaningfully considering any other point of view. The complete and intentional failure of the education system to teach history, civics and Americanism have hindered many citizen’s ability to understand and interact with our government. Add to that the proliferation of wild conspiracy theories by unscrupulous actors and it makes for an electorate with plenty of patriotism and passion, but not always enough knowledge. The only solution to this societal problem is more voter education. That is my singular goal as a conservative activist.”

She has been married since 2010 to Cord Byrd, a lawyer who was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016 and just filed to run for an open seat in the Florida Senate.

 “Since getting involved in state government through Cord’s work, I’ve become a source for many people on a wide variety of topics, so it was a natural progression to expand my network. In February 2020, I was frustrated that so many patriots in the Beaches area wanted to support President Trump but couldn’t find ways to get involved and were always looking for good information about issues. I started a Facebook group (Trump Supporters Network, Duval & Nassau) with a few local friends, which quickly had a thousand, then 3,000 then 6,000 members around the state. They came for the boat parades, sign-waving and MAGA Happy Hours, but together we were able to educate countless people on issues, legislation and voting.  

“With the 2020 election in the rear view mirror, I continue my same goal and mission within the community, the Republican Women’s Club of Duval Federated and the Florida Federation of Republican Women. Through a variety of programming and speakers, we will educate ourselves, advocate for our values and help shape legislation that furthers conservative values. As we watch the undoing of all that President Trump did to make America great again, we have to build-up our electorate with the education to match our passion, so that we are even smarter, even stronger and even more ready to fight for America in the next four years!”

Emily Nunez is a Jacksonville native and graduate of Forrest High School. She has an undergraduate degree from Auburn University in business and an MBA from the University of Florida, and is a veteran of the Navy and Marine Corps, which included a tour with the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron – the Blue Angels.

Later, she was commissioned as a communications officer with the U.S. Marine Corps. She is currently a chartered retirement planning counselor assisting small businesses with designing, implementing, and managing qualified retirement plans throughout Florida. She also is a contributor for OpsLens Media Group and senior research editor for FloridaDaily.com

After returning to Jacksonville in 2016 she became involved with the Jacksonville Young Republicans as a way to get involved with the local community and advocate for conservative ideals. Recently, she joined the board of the Republican Women’s Club of Duval Federated as club secretary.

Jenny Smith of Ponte Vedra explained what motivates her to act.

“I think some people are just born to question everything. As a child I was always seeking out truth and reason on various matters or topics that didn’t make quite sense. I’ve for the most part been health conscious and noticed pretty early on in life that conventional medicine, while advanced and necessary in certain circumstances, was actually for acute care. Prevention became more serious when I saw my sister suffer and pass from breast cancer when she was 29. I was 25 at the time. Fast forward to 2021 in the age of “COVID”, among the many advocacy groups that I am active in, we try to piece things together to make sense. We’ve known for years that preventative medicine is demonized while everything phama-backed is glorified. The role of the parent is encroached upon whether it’s by advertising to our children or in legislation. It’s is my job (not a passion; I never wanted to do this), to educate others to take note of what is going on in society and government and then empower them with the tools to make positive change.

“One of the organizations I really like and am a chapter leader for is the John Birch Society. It is non-partisan and diverse, although is considered quite conservative due to its foundation of being defenders of our Constitution. Through JBS I am intertwined with many other freedom keeping groups, some that focus on parental rights, others religious protecting advocates along with health experts. I’d like to say that this is a passion for me but I see it more of a necessity for survival.

“God has a plan for all of us, so far that is where he has directed me to spend my time. I have a wonderful husband that is supportive and shares my values, along with a 16-year-old and 10-year-old that we must protect to the best of our abilities.

“Whether it’s attending committee meetings or calling on legislators I am one of many that take part in influencing favorable laws being passed and stopping ones that infringe upon them.”

Jack Knocke of Fernandina says “I had never been an activist, and never wanted to be.”

Then, one night he was walking with his wife in downtown Fernandina, and found all the welcome center public bathrooms were locked.

Curious, he called a local politician and he said he was told, “It’s a matter of resources and funding.”

That was such obvious nonsense – leaving the bathrooms unlocked longer costs nothing – Knocke started looking at the Fernandina budget.

Knocke is no novice. He is a certified public accountant with an M.B.A. in finance, who has been involved in financial matters in the private sector for many years.

What he found was that the city commission was increasing the tax rate by 32 percent that year. There was no lack of resources.

Knocke spoke to the city commission. They wanted the county commission to pay whatever cost was entailed. Getting a higher level of government to foot local costs is a favorite game of politicians everywhere.

One commissioner also suggested creating an advisory board on financial matters and putting Knocke on the board. Knocke declined. Such boards are used as a ruse to demonstrate citizen participation, he said, when in fact their advice often is ignored. A park advisory board voted 5-0 against a proposed park and the commission voted 5-0 to build it, Knocke said.

Instead, Knocke formed Common Sense for Fernandina Beach, a group that focuses on local issues such as taxes, spending and local elections, although Common Sense is non-partisan.

One big issue is the repair of the city’s marina, which was heavily damaged in a storm. Knocke wrote about it recently in Eye on Jacksonville. Knocke blamed the city manager of Fernandina for blundering into a huge expense that left the city $15 million in the hole.

That flap got into the headlines of the local newspaper in Fernandina.

Knocke has become an activist, even though he didn’t seek the job.

Note: this is just a sampling. There are many more local citizens who are not content to see and accept the world as an unreliable partisan media paints it, but prefer to root out facts and bring them to their fellow citizens in order to promote qualified candidates for political office and sound public policy.

We salute them.

Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

Lloyd Brown

Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.


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