By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
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By New Times Staff
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Jeannine Ross felt a familiar rage roil through her when she picked up the newspaper on Sunday a few weeks ago. The 36-year-old artist and filmmaker read an account of a Democratic fundraiser in Broward County that was attended by bigwigs the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Mario Cuomo. An unseemly feud, however, had erupted between Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, both of whom are vying for Bob Graham's U.S. Senate seat. Deutsch boycotted the event because Penelas was to receive an award, and that didn't sit well with the congressman, who, like many Democrats, believes that Penelas didn't help Al Gore get all the votes he had coming during the recount of the contested 2000 election.
In a war of words that appeared in the Miami Herald on June 29, Deutsch told a reporter, "This is a guy who helped elect George W. Bush, who is trying to destroy Medicare and everything the Democratic Party stands for."
Deutsch had no claim to such high ground, Ross seethed to herself, thinking back to an April 2001 town meeting in Davie at which she had asked Deutsch a few questions about that very same election.
"We're asking for a federal investigation of voting fraud in the state, and I want to know why the Democrats are doing nothing about it," she had demanded, seated in the front row of the auditorium. "George Bush is president," Deutsch replied gingerly. "I acknowledge him as president. On a personal basis, I consider him a legitimate president. I could have cosponsored legislation to create national standards in the election process. I hope that happens."
Ross interrupted him: "I'm talking about the election that already happened."
"I think at this point, from a legal standpoint, the election's over," Deutsch summed up, though later that evening, while casually chatting with two attendees, he declared that "it isn't even debatable that more people in Florida intended to vote for Al Gore when they went to the voting booth than intended to vote for George Bush."
The exchange between Ross and Deutsch became one of the many compelling scenes in Florida Fights Back, an hourlong documentary she and Bruce Yarock have just released and are selling on their website, www.floridafightsback.com. They began filming when the U.S. Supreme Court handed Bush the presidency over Gore on December 12, 2000, by overturning the Florida high court's decision for a complete recount. Angry voters rallied defiantly against the decision. Although the protests were largely ignored by the mainstream media, the filmmakers captured dozens of those demonstrations on film. The protest footage is a backdrop for the film's Michael Moore-like quest to find a politician -- any politician -- to spearhead an official investigation into the 2000 election. Ross and Yarock found no takers among elected officials, all of whom just wanted to "move on."
But Ross and Yarock have found acceptance elsewhere: The documentary has been selected for the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival this fall.
As demonstrators took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands this spring to protest President Bush's intent to invade Iraq, some media accounts compared the rallies to those against the Vietnam War. Ross, however, sees a much more recent antecedent.
"I don't think the people have moved on one bit from the election," she declares during an interview at the Pembroke Pines home she shares with Yarock. "And that's part of the reason there were so many people out there protesting the war. People are still angry about Bush stealing the election. They've taken it personally. They feel powerless because the politicians who are supposed to be representing them are not helping them at all."
Ross possesses long black hair and a wide smile -- an expression she most definitely did not display during the Deutsch confrontation. Yarock is a trim, soft-spoken 55-year-old with gray-tinged hair and mustache. They've only recently moved into this house, and they're still painting and refurbishing some rooms. The garage, however, has already been converted into a sound studio, where Yarock records, among other things, satirical political CDs that he self-markets.
The pair consider themselves more artistic than political. Ross is originally from Chicago, moving to South Florida in 1979. She received a master's degree in political philosophy in 1988 from the London School of Economics, though she has never been a political activist or been involved in a campaign. Besides filmmaking, she's into computer animation and drawing portraits. While Yarock had protested the Vietnam War while attending Hunter College in Manhattan, where he majored in music, he was, by the new millennium, light-years away from such activism. After a go at the export business in the Northeast, Yarock moved to Florida in 1978 and operated a motorcycle sales and repair shop in Fort Lauderdale.
"Over the years, I considered myself a liberal Democrat, but I wasn't really politically active until the 2000 election," Yarock admits. "That really got me pissed off. I just saw what a vicious machine that whole Bush crew was in trying to stop the recount."
"When I heard about the Supreme Court decision, I thought I just had to do something," Ross says. "I felt so powerless." She heard on the radio that a protest was planned at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale. She told Yarock that this was the kind of lengthy film project he'd been looking for. "Here was history in the making," she says. "Plus, with all the events I started going to, there was no media there, for the most part."