Today my guest is Ida Eskamani, an activist and Chief of Staff to Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. Ida is a Central Florida Native who graduated from UCF and has been working towards social justice issues her whole career. She is a wonderful source of inspiration to anyone who is interested in activism work, what it looks like, and what it means to take action.

Trust me, Ida is definitely not one to sit on the sidelines. She is out there every day taking action on the things she finds important in this world. Sometimes the work is messy and even dangerous, but that doesn’t stop Ida to strive for the things she cares about. I hope you gain some inspiration too, and that hearing Ida’s story will help motivate you to take action about the things you care about. 

1) Ida took action in times of crisis

When the Pulse shooting happened last year, Ida was working for Equality Florida. She had just come back from a week-long international vacation the day before. Tired and jet-lagged, she was up at 3 AM when she saw the news break. While at the time there wasn’t a lot of information being reported, Ida jumped into action. She first checked to see if other staff members of Equality Florida were safe.

Then Ida knew they needed to take action as quickly as possible. By the morning, Ida started a GoFundMe for the Pulse victims. Eventually, that page raised over 9.5 million dollars for the victims and their families.

Ida said that through her career as an advocate and activist, that is what she does – she jumps into action to help those who need it. “My way of healing and dealing with the grief was focusing on this mission and blocking everything out,” Ida told me.

She had a lot of experience in Equality Florida with fundraising, and while they didn’t know how much money at the time families and victims would need, she knew they would need some type of financial support. Plus, she was representing Equality Florida, which is one of the most trusted LGBTQ organizations in Florida with over 2,000 members. Citizens were reaching out to them, asking how they could help. This fund gave people a trusted source to donate to.

According to Ida, “the Pulse victims fund was one of the most important things I’ve ever had to do in my career.”

2) People can come together to help each other and need to continue to do so to help those affected by the tragedy.

On the GoFundMe page, they kept setting financial goals they wanted to reach. They started with small goals, but would quickly reach them, and before they knew it, they were setting goals to reach multiple millions of dollars.

Ida saw firsthand how people all over the world came together to help support those victims in Orlando. Communities everywhere reached out to offer support in the immediate days and months after the tragedy.  “Over 100,000 people from 200 countries across the world [donated money],” Ida told me. “From just the smallest gifts like kids having bake sales and donating the money to big corporations and celebrities donating money. It was really in a time that still haunts me and was just so heart-wrenching and hard, the GoFundMe page was just a ray of sunshine.”

Although 9.5 million isn’t enough to heal hearts, it was something to help those families through this rough time. Plus, Ida and Equality Florida were extremely adamant that the definition of victims of the incident was anyone who was inside the club the night of the shooting.

Even over a year later, there are still people who are affected deeply by the Pulse shooting, and their path to healing will take a very long time if they are even able to heal completely at all. The trauma and PTSD are still very real for these victims.

The trauma to the community is huge. It’s like a ripple effect. People who weren’t at Pulse that night but are part of the LGBTQ or Latinx community felt like their communities were under attack. There were survivors who left early or decided to go to a different nightclub that night. All of those people are deeply affected by what happened in some way. “The survivor community is much broader than what we think, and we need to be aware of that and take care of each other,” Ida said. “Part of that is support mental health initiatives because a year is not a long time, and it takes a while for those wounds to heal.”

3) Activism can be scary, but there’s work that needs to be done

Ida and I spoke about getting more involved with activism and how it can feel scary in today’s climate. Ida told me that there have definitely been situations where the opposition has gotten really aggressive, and she has felt threatened. However, Ida told me that there is typically a policy of non-engagement when on the streets protesting. She knows it’s a scary world, and there are definitely people coming to protests armed, so there is no way to be 100% sure of safety.

However, there are ways that can help keep you as safe as possible while protesting.

  • Protest with organizations that are trained in doing the work, and then listen to their organizers at the protest.
  • Define really clear roles at the protest, including marshals assigned for security purposes and to communicate with law enforcement.
  • Report anything that looks threatening.
  • Practice nonviolent engagement as much as possible.

If you are an advocate for a cause and want to do more for the causes you care about, organizations like Jobs for Justice, Organize Florida, and Equality Florida will train you. These organizations want to train more leaders in the movement. They have training sessions where you can learn the ins and outs of protesting. You will also learn how to share your story, and become a leader in the movement.

Ida told me, “One of my greatest passions is empowering people.”

She believes that more voices to the movement will really be what affects change. Ida explained that storytelling is critical. “The most effective way to talk to your lawmaker is about sharing your personal story and how their policies are impacting you and your friends and your family,” Ida said. “So learning how to share your story is one of the most powerful things you can do.”

However, Ida also understands that “the hardest part in advocacy [work] is just making the first step,” she told me.

Now more than ever though, Ida understands the need to increase our social justice army. She encourages you to sign up with organizations you believe in, and bring friends with you.  “If you have the privilege and the bandwidth to do the work, we need people to do the work,” Ida told me.

4) Sometimes you have to press the limits to stand up for what you believe in

After the Pulse shooting, many people were angry with the lack of response from Senator Marco Rubio towards the victims of Pulse and how he then used the tragedy for political gain. To Ida and many others, Rubio represented what a lot of politicians were doing – using Pulse as a political prop. So with Equality Florida, they organized a sit-in right in front of Rubio’s office. “The goal was to sit for 49 hours for the 49 lost,” Ida said, with a lot of the focus of the protest on equality, gun safety, and justice.

There were over 100 people there. Many of the individuals who participated were not activists and had never done anything like this sit-in before. However, they felt affected. Many of them had lost friends and family members and knew this was important work to be done.

After about 10 hours at the sit-in, law enforcement told the protesters to leave or be arrested for trespassing. The activists were in contact with law enforcement the entire time. Soon, it was very clear that if they didn’t leave, everyone would be arrested. However, Ida along with others decided to leave on their own terms. So 10 people, including Ida accepted arrest on behalf of the entire group.

Ida said she didn’t realize it until she was in that moment. She was in the back of a police car, where she was wondering to herself, “What the heck am I doing?”

However, she understood that being arrested is part of the advocate toolkit, even if it’s one of the last tools. The goal is to get attention for the cause you are fighting for. Ida felt that being arrested was a small sacrifice to make because 49 people were killed and nothing was being done by the politicians.

5) Opportunity is not scarce

“Women are taught that there are scarce resources of opportunity and we have to fight for them,” Ida told me.

However, she doesn’t believe that’s true. “There is opportunity for all of us, and we are stronger when we lift each other up,” she said.

She explained that it is really important to find more people who are willing to share, tell their stories, and step up for what is right. In fact, the activist community is extremely inclusive, and you will find a spot for yourself there with a group of people who care about many of the same things you do. According to Ida, activist spaces are intentionally inclusive spaces in order to welcome so many types of people.

According to Ida, the work is more fulfilling if we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Plus, there  is always room for more leaders to step up and do the work that needs to be done. The more people that are out there fighting for the causes they believe in, the more opportunities we have to be impactful.

“Our success is collective,” Ida said.

About Ida Eskamani

Ida V. Eskamani is a first-generation Iranian-American and a native of Orlando, Florida. Ms. Eskamani earned dual degrees in Political Science and Sociology, with extensive experience in both academics and activism. She has served on top political campaigns, advocacy organizations, and institutions including the Obama White House, Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election campaign, and Equality Florida. Following the tragedy at Pulse, Ms. Eskamani launched the Pulse Victims Fund, raising $10 million dollars for Pulse families and survivors, and played a key role in victim service and advocacy efforts following the tragedy, with a focus on intersectionality and empowerment. Ms. Eskamani earned her Master of Public Administration from UCF in 2016, and currently serves as Chief of Staff to State House Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Organize Florida and on the Greater Orlando Steering Committee for Equality Florida.

This year, Ms. Eskamani was named one of Orlando Weekly’s “People We Love,” and one of Orange Appeal Magazine’s “Central Florida’s Women of the Year.” She has also been recognized by UCF’s “30 Under 30” Alumni Awards, as well as the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy Award.

Links from the Show

Equality Florida
Organize Florida
Jobs for Justice
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