The Shadow Side of the Sunshine State

It has been more than a year since I posted on this site. I wish I had good reasons for this lapse. Laziness is most to blame, but there is also the embarrassment factor. I still live in Tallahasee, Florida, the capital of what Governor Ron DeSantis likes to call “The Free State of Florida.”

It’s one thing to admit that you live in the home of “Florida Man,” the butt of jokes who garners headlines by doing outlandishly stupid things. It’s another to admit that you live a couple of miles from the Governor’s Mansion, where resides a different Florida man who should be a joke, but isn’t.

Make no mistake. Ron DeSantis is no joke. He and his colleagues in the Florida Legislature are a clear and present danger to academic freedom, the freedom of the press, public education, and democracy itself. Backed by a super majority in the Florida House and Senate, Mr. DeSantis is doing his best to turn back the clock — and he is succeeding.

In the “Free State of Florida” public school librarians live in fear that they will lose their jobs should a child take home a book a parent finds offensive. Teachers are forbidden to teach a full range of ideas about American history. Words which used to connote noble aspirations — diversity, equity, inclusion — have suddenly become anathema.

In Governor DeSantis’ lexicon words take on new meaning. Education means compliance, freedom means submission, and to teach history means to maintain a meta-narrative that keeps white folks comfortable.

As for dissent, that is to be kept far away from the ears of lawmakers. I have lived in Florida’s capital for almost 38 years. In that time I have participated in many marches and demonstrations on the grounds of the capitol and in the building itself. I joined farmworkers lobbying for better labor laws, Dream Defenders insisting that black lives matter, and students reeling from the slaughter of their classmates at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School. On February 24 I took part in a memorial service at the “Great Seal of Florida” in the entrance to the capitol. Opponents of the death penalty gathered there to mark the execution of Donald Dillbeck. As we prayed and sang, our voices echoed through the corridors of power. New rules which went into effect on March 1 now prohibit almost all expressions of dissent within and in proximity to the capitol.

Mr. DeSantis says Florida is the place where “woke goes to die.” In emerging practice, it’s where dissent goes to die.

People of faith can’t let that happen. We can’t let the purveyors of toxic resentment, historical denialism and educational imperialism prevail. For the moment, they have the votes, but they cannot claim the moral high ground. There is “a still more excellent way,” a light to shine in the darkness.

The biggest challenge to life in Florida these days is not embarrassment. It’s despair.

5 thoughts on “The Shadow Side of the Sunshine State

  1. Encouraged to hear from you again. On Saturday evening at Church of the Palms, Sarasota, the Choral Artists of Sarasota presented the Florida Premiere of “The Children’s March.” It was commissioned in 2012 by ‘Singing City” of Philadelphia. It’s the story of slavery, segregation and the Children’s March in Birmingham in May of 1963. It’s a story that brings tears to our eyes and encouragement to our spirits. When a choir of young voices sang Mama Tell Me Why (they hate us so), there wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary. Tally would be the perfect place for a second performance.

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