If democracy dies in darkness, we need to pay attention to what our political leaders are doing in the daylight. Gov. Ron DeSantis has launched a culture war to stage a run for president to distinguish himself as an alternative to former President Donald Trump, and Floridians are taking the brunt of his draconian actions.
The governor’s culture war is turning into an outright war on culture itself. The fight aims at racial justice, inclusion, equality, LGBTQ rights and freedom, the public education system, voting rights and public health. The impacts of his policy decisions have reverberating effects.
DeSantis’ quest to make the great state of Florida the freest state in the union has focused his attacks on these areas, which is bad for Florida and, if he is successful, will lead to bad outcomes for America. He unveiled his Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act, better known as Stop W.O.K.E. Act, in 2022, and the results have been nothing short of wrong for students, employees and employers across Florida.
The W.O.K.E. Act aims to prohibit public schools, institutions of higher education and private enterprises from teaching anything that could cause anyone to “feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.”
The broad nature of the law and ambiguity has produced a chilling effect across the state. I ask myself why DeSantis is doing this and I think it comes back to it serving his political agenda.
These attacks on public education have hit close to home. The recently elected, DeSantis-backed Pinellas County School Board caught the attention of the public when they ushered in a review of books and instructional material, resulting in the banning of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eyes” from all high schools. School boards across the state are following suit with book bans and scrutiny of student clubs and associations to girl sports teams.
DeSantis also signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, which was designed to focus on the state’s youngest students, but the impacts can be felt at all levels in the public schools. Its growing and silencing effect is being felt by students and teachers alike, resulting in serious harm, particularly for LGBTQ youth.
As the country starts maneuvering out of pandemic posturing, DeSantis has introduced destructive policies related to public health, including creating the Public Health Integrity Committee. The committee includes several firebrand anti-vax COVID deniers under the guise of being scientists. Further, DeSantis is using instruments of the state to impanel a Grand Jury to investigate pharmaceutical companies and government officials who promoted COVID-19 vaccines.
There are disturbing news reports that the Florida High School Athletic Association is weighing a recommendation from an advisory committee to start monitoring the menstrual cycles of female student-athletes. While a determination has not been made, it follows along with the anti-trans agenda of the DeSantis administration. The governor is doing this in front of cameras and microphones at highly politicized press conferences, and we need to start paying attention.
We also can’t forget that DeSantis has established an elections police force to investigate election fraud. In a pure abuse of power, the governor dispatched teams of police officers who made highly tactical arrests of mostly Black Floridians accused of violating the state’s elections laws or committing voting fraud.
An overwhelming majority of the people targeted, arrested and charged by the election police force believed they were eligible to vote. That’s because county election officials and voter registration groups told them that they were eligible to vote as part of Florida’s voter rights restoration amendment, a project that a majority of Floridians supported in 2018.
Trump gave us the license to say the quiet things out loud and into a microphone and camera, and we need to start paying attention. The far-right agenda now plays prominently on the Pinellas County School Board and County Commission and, with the help of DeSantis, is using the instruments of government policy to dim the daylight and introduce more darkness in our democracy.
If there was ever a time to get off the sidelines, show up to meetings and demand clarity from our leaders, the time is now. Do yourself a favor and google Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s speech on civil ignorance. It will give you the sense of urgency that we all need right now.
Johnny Boykins is a Democratic strategist and organizer in Pinellas County, a husband, bow tie aficionado, amateur chef, and U.S. Coast Guard veteran. He also serves as a Board Member of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Learn more at PinellasDemocrats.org.