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DeSantis Is DeClaring Nationally, But in Florida Progressives Are Hitting Back
Gov. Ron DeSantis is making it official: He is running for the GOP nomination for president in 2024. His announcement will come on Twitter during an interview Wednesday evening with fellow awkward racist Elon Musk, which is just so on brand for both of them.
In the years since DeSantis first began serving as governor of Florida, the state has taken a hard lurch to the right. And DeSantis appears to relish the adoration of the unwoke extremists; he clearly has chosen to keep doubling down.
DeSantis has overseen a flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation, from targeting drag shows, to signing Don’t Say Gay or Trans laws governing K-12 education, to banning the provision of gender affirming care, even to granting state courts the authority to take trans kids away from any parent who permits medically-approved treatments.
He has targeted education by granting extraordinary power to parents to remove books from circulation. He’s eliminated diversity, equity and inclusion programs in state schools. And he’s attacked the teaching of actual racial history if it makes white students uncomfortable.
He has suppressed African American votes using intimidation and unjust “voter fraud” arrests. He has redefined the law around “rioting” to stifle public dissent and protest. He put a target on migrants with draconian identification and employment verification laws. And he has brazenly split African American districts to reduce Black congressional representation.
DeSantis’s oppression is mind-numbing in its scope and cruelty. Now he wants to export that to the rest of the U.S. That’s a frankly terrifying prospect.
But today I take heart. Across my news feed, I see growing resistance to his rule. In addition to the upset victory by Democratic candidate Donna Deegan in the Jacksonville mayoral race, which I wrote about last week, I want to highlight other notable developments in the state of Florida, just this week, that are giving strong reasons for hope.
A coalition of civil rights groups hits back
The NAACP made headlines on Saturday when it announced a travel advisory for the state of Florida, after a unanimous vote of its national board. The organization cited DeSantis’s “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”
The fact of the advisory was newsworthy by itself. But even more noteworthy and historic was its inclusiveness of other targeted groups:
Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.
Indeed, the NAACP advisory followed similar advisories from the League of United Latin American Citizens and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida. On Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, joined the advisory and cautioned against relocating to or visiting the state.
The travel advisory comes on top of calls for boycotts of the state by Latino truck drivers in order to support migrants targeted by Florida’s harsh new employer rules. In time, the cumulative effect of these boycotts and advisories may cast a pall across the state’s economy and its tourism business.
Predictably, the travel advisory drew the scorn of GOP leaders. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—who isn’t even from the state—claimed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be “ashamed” of the NAACP today. But he was quickly fact-checked by historian Kevin Kruse, who noted, “In 1965, Dr. King called for a national boycott of the state of Alabama, saying that Democratic Gov. George Wallace’s policies constituted ‘a reign of terror’ against Black Americans.”
Indeed, Dr. King would have been leading the charge against Florida were he alive today, as his daughter Bernice King made clear. “What my father would be deeply concerned about is the harmful, discriminatory legislation in Florida,” she said in response to Cruz.
Drag queens file suit
In Orlando, and since 2008, the popular restaurant Hamburger Mary’s has hosted drag shows, including a family-friendly version. Since DeSantis’s anti-drag bill passed, however, it has had to prohibit children from attending its popular Sunday brunch show out of fear of fines and license revocation. This has caused it to lose 20 percent of its customers and future bookings.
The restaurant had had enough. On Monday, it sued DeSantis and the state of Florida in federal court, claiming the new law is too vague, is over broad, and violates the First Amendment. It argues that the law has a chilling effect on free speech, and that drag is an art form that the law is inhibiting. Hamburger Mary’s notes that its show was suitable for children, because there was “no lewd activity, sexually explicit shows, disorderly conduct, public exposure, obscene exhibition, or anything inappropriate for a child to see.”
Earlier this year, the state had targeted the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation after the group hosted an all-ages “Drag Queen Christmas.” Florida alleged that the show was explicit and, per reporting by Politico, even sent undercover agents to assess it. The agents who attended the show “did not witness any lewd acts such as exposure of genital organs,” and “the performers did not have any physical contact while performing to the rhythm of the music with any patrons,” according to a state incident report.
Nevertheless, the threat of license revocation sent a chill through the LGBTQ+ business community. Hamburger Mary’s has now decided to fight back with a federal complaint.
(Florida has been hit by a number of lawsuits lately. On Monday, the ACLU also filed suit to block a state law preventing foreign nationals from certain countries such as China and Venezuela from owning property in the state. Yes, there is actually such a law now on the books in Florida.)
An acclaimed poet uses her voice
Amanda Gorman delivered a stirring and acclaimed poem at President Biden’s inauguration entitled The Hill We Climb. Now that poem has been restricted in Florida’s Miami-Dade County for children under the 6th grade. This occurred after a parent complained that the celebrated poem contained indirect “hate messages.” Here were the allegedly offending passages:
According to reporting by the Miami Herald, the book containing the poem was removed from the K-8 Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes after a parent, Daily Salinas, complained back in March that it “is not educational and have indirectly [sic] hate messages.” The same parent listed four other books and misidentified the author of the poem as “Oprah Winfrey.” (You cannot make this up.) The school materials review committee withdrew four of the five books from circulation, including The Hill We Climb.
Gorman took to Twitter to voice her protest.
I wrote The Hill We Climb so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment. Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems. Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.
The banning of the inaugural poem by a National Youth Poet Laureate like Gorman is already garnering widespread attention on the absurdity and danger of Florida’s book ban laws, drawing focus to how a single extreme parent can ruin the educational experience for other children. Gorman’s response has already garnered over 5 million views on Twitter and 300,000 likes on Instagram.
The disproportionate impact of radical groups on educational curricula is also being exposed. Salinas, the parent who filed the complaint, is not just some concerned mother, as many might assume. According to an investigation by the group Miami Against Fascism, Salinas is a member of the extremist organization Moms for Liberty and has joined others from that group to disrupt school board meetings. She is also a supporter of the Proud Boys and has stood beside leader and convicted seditious conspirator Enrique Tarrio at local Florida protests. She is also allegedly a member of the Christian Nationalist group CCDF, and, according to her social media feed, a purveyor of antisemitic conspiracies online.
Will it be enough?
The above examples are admittedly just a handful, but they are the beginnings of what likely will be a long battle for the soul of that state. This fight mirrors what we are seeing in Texas, Tennessee, Montana, Missouri, South Carolina and everywhere else where the GOP has abused its political power, targeted communities, and stripped away the constitutional rights and freedoms of women, gay and trans people, and racial minorities—the traditional base of the Democratic Party.
Florida bills itself as the “Sunshine State,” and DeSantis boasts that Florida is where “woke goes to die.” But sunshine, in the form of national attention and greater transparency, has a way of cleansing out rot. And rather than woke going to die, it appears DeSantis woke up whole communities who aren’t willing to just roll over and die. They’re taking him to court, boycotting the state and organizing to win elections.
Bottom line: It isn’t nearly over for progressives and Democrats in Florida. On the contrary, the battle has only just begun.