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Florida is not a red state. We are a blue state where Democrats have given up

The 2016 Pulse massacre had a profound impact on my state. Everyone memorialized the dead, and the Pride flag was flown everywhere. It seemed Florida finally came to a reckoning with its sorry history against homosexuality. That was just six years ago, right before the Trump era. Now Florida conservatives are scrambling to return to the old stereotypes of gay and trans people trying to “indoctrinate” children. Conservatives pushing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill strongly imply that most teachers, who get scapegoated for everything in our state now, are ”inclined” toward pedophilia.

Co-founder of Sister District, Gaby Goldstein, joins The Downballot to discuss what Democrats in the states are doing to protect abortion rights

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill bans any discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary schools. If a kid has two same-sex parents, they better not bring them up in class. DeSantis and his legislative cronies have a pretty frightening way forward for ensuring compliance: fitting Florida classrooms with cameras and microphones. This was a bill that was actually debated and moved forward. It died in committee in March, but I was disturbed by the lack of backlash. You can bet you will see it again after the midterm election. Keep in mind that if a teacher is caught mentioning homosexuality in class, the law allows any parent to sue.

No teacher is trying to “indoctrinate” kids, but not being allowed to address issues with children can be deadly. The suicide rate among queer kids is four times higher than it is for straight kids. If a child is teased or even suicidal from gay bullying, not only will a teacher have to risk everything to do the right thing by comforting them, but the way the law is written, a teacher wouldn’t even be allowed to tell the class to knock it off because there is nothing wrong with being gay.

The teacher torture continues with other vulnerable minorities. Last month, the legislature literally tried to ban any lesson plan that makes “white people feel discomfort.” That gave way to the “Stop Woke Act,” which is as dumb as it sounds. This allows parents to sue schools for purportedly teaching the “principles” of critical race theory. (To be clear, CRT has never been taught in any public schools, it’s a method of examination taught in law school.) The act also bans requiring an employee to go through any kind of diversity training.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 07: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announces that he wants to raise the minimum starting salary for teachers during a press conference held at Bayview Elementary School on October 07, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The Governor’s proposed 2020 budget recommendation will include a pay raise for more than 101,000 teachers in Florida by raising the minimum salary to $47,500.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
School districts are already canceling workshops for teachers on the civil rights movement due to Governor Ron DeSantis’s “Stop Woke Act.”

This new law makes teaching history quite difficult. Teachers in Florida will now have to teach Black History Month without addressing racism and how it impacts African Americans. If they mention the Holocaust or Japanese Internment camps, they cannot address the underlying bigotry that caused it. Since teachers don’t want to be sued, it would be safer for them to avoid these topics altogether.

If that wasn’t enough, DeSantis has also viciously targeted migrant children, created the dubious “Office of Election Crimes” with a staff larger than most police departments have to solve murders, and signed a bill that allows any member of the public to remove school library books they find objectionable. He also signed a law banning abortion at 15 weeks with no exception for rape or incest. Now that Roe v. Wade is on the chopping block, expect a full ban with criminal penalties. 

In a complete assault on freedom of speech and academic freedom, DeSantis signed a law that requires all public colleges and universities to survey their students and professors on their political beliefs and hinted that loss of funding might be at stake. He claimed that this was to prevent “indoctrination,” yet this is hard to believe since he also signed another law requiring students to be taught that certain ideologies, like communism, must be taught as “evil.” (Fascism wasn’t on that list, unsurprisingly.)

DeSantis has run the state like he has a Trumpian mandate, despite the fact that he only won in 2018 by 32,463 votes. Yet DeSantis has been building a permanent structure in Florida to protect his own power. In addition to the Election Crime police force, DeSantis has been trying to build his own personal “civilian military” force that he alone would control. Former governor Charlie Crist accused DeSantis of trying to have “his own handpicked secret police.” DeSantis already abused the Florida National Guard by sending them to political hotspots, like the Mexican border or to Minneapolis to confront BLM protesters after the murder of George Floyd. (However, he refused the Biden administration’s request to send the state National Guard to Washington, D.C.)

Besides his design for creating his own “SS,” DeSantis has demanded that the Florida legislature surrender their constitutional duty to draw the congressional district lines and let him do it. They did just that, and DeSantis went out of his way to eliminate two Black majority districts in direct violation of the state constitution, which explicitly states it is illegal to draw a district that diminishes the ability of a minority to elect the candidate of their choosing. State Rep. Angie Nixon led a sit-in on the floor of the Florida House, but the law ultimately passed.


If one is looking to the judicial system to save us, it won’t. Unfortunately, DeSantis has turned the Florida Supreme Court into the most right-wing court in the entire nation. He’s not only counting on them to approve his power grab, but to strike down our constitutional amendment on requiring fair districts.  

Nothing DeSantis has done has been to serve the state citizenry. Everything he has done has been singularly focused on endearing him to conservatives. During 2020, he took a bizarre approach to COVID-19 by attacking masks and pandering to the anti-vaxxer crowd. This caused over 74,000 deaths in Florida from COVID-19 so far. Yet DeSantis threw a massive tantrum when kids were simply wearing masks in his presence.

For the second year in a row, he attacked voting rights. Voting rights groups who file registration forms late now face a whopping $50,000 fine. Cash-strapped elections administrators are now forbidden from accepting grants outside the legislature. Helping a neighbor turn in a mail-in ballot will now give you prison time. The earlier law passed eliminated drop boxes and banned giving water in long lines, but both were struck down. DeSantis expects to win those back on appeal.

Then there is DeSantis’s war on Disney. His decision to attack Disney came after nonstop coverage of their opposition to the law by Fox News hosts. Taking his cue from Fox, he announced he would rescind a half-century-old provision that allowed Disney to establish a special governing district when it decided to build in Florida back in 1967. Once again, he made the decision without thinking through the consequences or legal ramifications. As it turns out, he can’t simply revoke the status without paying off the district’s billion-dollar bond debt. The mayors of Orange and Osceola counties aren’t happy with the added tax burden, nor the fact that Disney’s municipal service responsibility would be shifted entirely to their cash-strapped counties.

FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2019 photo, Agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried speaks at a pre-legislative news conference in Tallahassee, Fla. Fried, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida, upbraided Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, May 28, 2020, for keeping the state Cabinet “in the dark†by failing to convene the panel to discuss the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)
Nikki Fried, the only statewide-elected Democrat, said the state GOP has “descended into fascism.”

DeSantis’s reelection is by no means assured. He is very vulnerable, yet donors and major outside groups are balking at spending time and money to commit to Florida in the wake of our party’s defeat in 2020. By not investing in the opposition and not punishing the business leaders in our state who support and help DeSantis, the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions will be horrifying. The culture wars that the GOP wants to inflict upon us will grow tenfold. Citizens like myself do what we can, but we are drowning here.

I watch the reaction to conservative tyranny in other states. When Arizona passed their immigration law many years ago, it triggered a fierce backlash with national organizations organizing an economic boycott that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Eventually, the law was thrown out, but the economic impact blunted future efforts for hateful, bigoted legislation. The backlash against the North Carolina bathroom bill and the Indiana legal discrimination law was instantaneous. Yet in Florida, people just roll their eyes and let it go.

After Florida’s worst legislative session, defined by bigotry and hatred, little happened. A few people protested in awesome ways but corporations and organizations were largely silent. Musicians, sports teams, and entertainment acts still flock here. I freaking live here, and as much as I would hate for my favorite acts not to come, I realize that allowing a state to willfully harm children just to score points with a sadistic Trumpy base is a damn good reason not to show up.

Not standing up to DeSantis and his crew will have real consequences, and not just here in Florida. More than a dozen states are now considering “Don’t Say Gay” bills. Georgia and Arizona are now trying to create their own election intimidation forces. Florida’s first in the nation bill forcing corporations to limit talk on diversity and identity is part of a nationwide push to turn back the clock on tolerance. Each week, DeSantis proposes a new law to attack decades of hard-fought civil rights or something that claws back democracy. The more he gets away with it, the higher his stock rises in conservative circles. They want him to be your next president. Try to imagine Donald Trump, but with less humanity and more competence.

Seriously, just don’t come to Florida, and tell everyone, including Visit Florida, exactly why you aren’t coming here. It took just one artist on Spotify, Neil Young, to take a stand against misinformation and bigotry on Spotify. That ballooned into a movement, but somebody had to start it.    

Do you like orange juice? Don’t drink ours. We are the top exporter of orange and grapefruit juice in the nation. If that’s not drastic enough, the reddest areas in Florida, such as the panhandle, have a range of manufacturing industries in wood products, plastics, textiles, and chemicals. Check if the products you are buying are from Florida, and if they are, skip them this year.

If you have a Publix in your town, don’t use it. They are among the worst anyway in making this state so awful to live in. Stop eating at Darden restaurants, like Longhorn or Olive Garden. Don’t buy our computer manufacturing equipment. Don’t buy our produce. Skip our cruises and parks entirely this year. The districts that inflict America with people like Matt Gaetz should be forced to pay a penalty. Companies are sensitive to their bottom line, and if we lean on them just a little, maybe Florida’s children can stop suffering a little less.

Floridians aren’t bad people, just beaten down. I did a whole story on why we keep losing, and how we can change. People here aren’t as hopeless as you think they are, nor as dumb as they are portrayed. What they are is demoralized … and tired. Their apathy is bred by this demoralization, which has been the long-term plan of the GOP. This is why there is a seemingly nonstop onslaught of bigoted legislation that always targets the most vulnerable, innocent people—it’s a way to encourage silence. Our state GOP is not unlike a kidnapper who beats the weakest in front of the other hostages to promote submission. We are a statewide-abused population.

We are sliding into fascism here, and dissent isn’t often tolerated. Right before the Disney fiasco, our lieutenant governor openly threatened anyone who dared to criticize their oppressive laws.

Yet this is exactly why activists should be advancing boycott plans. A boycott and travel ban would get our legislature’s attention. The apathy might break when people see personal consequences for DeSantis’s political ambitions.

No one should support a state that tries to control women and pregnant people, suppresses marginalized minorities, and forces the LGBTQ+ community back into the closet. Others don’t want to come here because they fear being killed by our ridiculous Stand Your Ground law, or they fear catching COVID, where Florida still leads the nation in infections and death.

DeSantis desperately wants to be someone like Putin, who has unlimited power and no dissent. He’s not there yet, but he’s trying. If he wants to be Putin so bad, I say we treat him like Putin. Let’s put a ton of sanctions on DeSantis and his circle of cronies, and give the Florida economy the Russian treatment. I can call for that because I live here and I will feel the impact. Just like I don’t mind paying a little more for gas so Ukraine can be free, I’m willing to endure some pain for my neighbor’s children. All I’m waiting for is the necessary collective outrage to get things started.

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