A Woman Yelled At Florida’s Governor At A Starbucks — & It Went Viral

Cara Jennings had something to say. And by now, much of America has heard it loud and clear. When Jennings saw Florida Gov. Rick Scott enter the Gainesville Starbucks she was sitting in, she knew she had to give him a piece of her mind. Her words rang out over the din in the coffee shop and soon hit a chord with people across the country. “Rich people like you don’t know what to do when poorer people like us need health services, you cut 'em,” she told the Republican governor. “Shame on you, Rick Scott. You’re an embarrassment to our state.” Video of the exchange, which included Jennings calling her state’s chief executive an "asshole," went viral, attracting national headlines and more than 1 million views on YouTube. Video shows Scott trying to defend his record on jobs before leaving the Starbucks sans coffee. He reportedly struck back after the confrontation, issuing a statement that called Jennings a “self-proclaimed anarchist” with “radical views.” His office has not responded to a request for comment from Refinery29. The subject of Jennings' ire was a new law passing stringent abortion restrictions and limiting access to women’s health care. Scott signed the bill in late March, and it is slated to take effect July 1. It would require all physicians to hold admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — close to impossible in Florida’s rural areas — and cuts all state funding to facilities performing abortions, which could force many clinics to close. The decision affects lower-income women the most, as they have more trouble finding time and money to travel for health services. Many, like Jennings, don’t have adequate insurance coverage. Anger about the state of health care and other issues is bubbling up across the country. Disappointed constituents might have previously opted to write, call, or visit elected representatives, lobby at the state capitol, and vote to make their voices heard. But Richard Scher, a political science professor at the University of Florida, says this year’s bombastic —and often cruel — election cycle is changing the state of political discourse. The public has witnessed those vying to become commander in chief throw insults at each other, bullying and attacking, not policy, but personality, he said. And it’s possible that it’s rubbing off in a less than ideal way. “Instead of taking politics seriously and engaging in public discussions about public matters, we’ve created campaigns as a sort of secular ritual and entertainment ranging from low comedy to high drama,” Scher said. “It’s a smoke screen or diversion, a way to cloud decisions about what happens next.” Refinery29 sat down with Cara Jennings, now infamous for her public dress-down, and asked her why this moment was important and why she felt shouting at the governor was an effective tactic.

Photo: Darlena Cunha.
Cara Jennings shortly after her exchange with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Why did you shout at the governor when you saw him at Starbucks?
"Living in Florida and experiencing the bad policies of the state have given me this voice. I’m living the reality of what it’s like under a very conservative governor who is not responsive to public input. He’s comfortable sitting in his office signing a law that has a negative impact, and when he’s confronted, he won’t speak to the issue. If there were another avenue to meet with him, I would have used it. I have tried to go through Tallahassee, and it never happened. This was a moment where his entourage wasn’t completely blocking him off, and I took advantage of that." How do you feel about your actions going viral?
"Honestly, of all the things I’ve done in my life, I’m surprised that this is the thing that resonates. The video starts with me swearing at him, but before the camera was rolling, I engaged him about health care, and he told me to go to the county’s health department, which made me angry. That’s what escalated things. He shouldn’t have any opinion or thought about how to access my health care, but he feels comfortable with that authority because that’s what that bill says. "The whole video would have been a lot different if Gov. Scott had taken a moment to talk to me about the bill. Instead, he tried to give me healthcare advice, then changed the topic to jobs, which had nothing to do with what I was talking about, and then he left. It would have not been worthy of going viral if he had taken a moment to be honest with me, but instead he tried to confuse the issue."
In initial interviews, you said you were a stay-at-home mother, working part-time, and didn’t mention that you had previously held a public service position in Lake Worth as a member of the Green party. People are calling you a plant. Can you explain your former role and how it plays into this?
"I was Lake Worth’s City Commissioner from 2006 to 2010. I ran as a total long shot after becoming engaged on some local issues. I had very little money and very little experience, but I won because people are frustrated about the pace of development, and I came in on a platform of preservation. I won re-election, served two terms, and then I decided to pass the baton off and let someone else have a turn. It is paid; you make $15,000 year, but I worked so much in that role, I didn’t supplement my income at the time. "After I left public office, I had full-time employment working on an effort in South Florida with Stand Up Florida. Since having my child, I’ve been working part-time in an administrative role for the Service Employees International Union and enjoying being a mom."

I’m just one voice of many trying to compel the governor to try to combat this assault on women’s health care.

Cara Jennings
This topic is certainly at the top of the minds of many in the country. Do you feel like you gave others a voice through this?
"It’s odd to me that this went viral because the issue is way bigger than this video. On this issue specifically, people have been speaking out against this bill for months. It’s great that the message went viral and maybe will help people be more aware of the national effort to defund Planned Parenthood. I’m just one voice of many trying to compel the governor to try to combat this assault on women’s health care. "I’ve gotten a lot of comments thanking me for showing up, and I think what this says is that, nationwide, Planned Parenthood has a lot of support and people are happy when someone pushes back on such a sweeping measure."

More from US News

R29 Original Series