Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2022 Student Action Summit at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.
Florida is in the middle of ‘Hurricane DeSantis’ but there will be a rainbow after the storm
Florida has become the ‘conservative experiment’ in the United States, and it is now hurricane season for progressives in the Sunshine State. From book bans to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, Florida is in the spotlight for eroding the principles of democracy.
A prominent testament to this drastic shift was the presence of swastika-brandishing far-right extremists at the Disney World amusement park, dubbing itself ‘the most magical place on earth’.
This environment of hostility and division was created by the Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who changed the social and political makeup of the state while chasing headlines to secure points in polls.
An environment that has left many wondering: “Is Florida worth the fight?”
How DeSantis rose to power?
The shift in Florida’s political landscape came as a surprise to many voters. Upon first taking office as the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis had an unclear stance on critical issues, which left Floridians unaware of the cyclone that was forming.
After a narrow victory in 2018, when he beat Democrat Andrew Gillum by only 0.4%, DeSantis obtained widespread support due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which he rejected mask mandates and vaccine requirements as well as forced closures of businesses.
In 2022, this translated to the most significant Florida gubernatorial victory since 1982, placing him 19% over the Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist.
What is DeSantis’s ‘legislative trifecta?
Since re-election, DeSantis pushed the boundaries of the governor’s executive power – something he explained in his book, ‘The Courage to Be Free’, as the result of his degree from Harvard, which in his opinion allowed him to have a deep understanding of constitutional government.
He also created a trifecta of the country’s most conservative policies – on abortion, education, and immigration.
After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (a Supreme Court ruling that had nationally safeguarded abortion rights since 1973) Florida’s legislative supermajority set out to restrict abortion access. In 2022, a 15-week abortion ban was enacted, and in April 2023, DeSantis signed the Senate Bill 300, which is a six-week abortion ban.
Before the passage of the 6-week ban, members of the superminority worked to soften the policy with amendments that aimed to reallocate funding from intentionally misleading pregnancy clinics to crisis centers and extend the legal abortion period for young people navigating the judicial bypass process. These amendments were struck down.
While passed, enforcement of the ban remains contingent on the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on an existing challenge to the 15-week ban. If enacted, the 6-week abortion ban would force individuals seeking abortions out of the Southeast entirely, disproportionately impacting people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and low-income households.
Also deterring Floridians is the state’s recent anti-immigration measures.
As stated by DeSantis, “[Senate Bill 1718] gives Florida the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration law in the country, fighting back against reckless federal government policies and ensuring the Florida taxpayers are not footing the bill for illegal immigration.”
DeSantis signed 1718 into law in reaction to the end of Title 42 border restrictions from the pandemic. The law designates penalties for businesses that hire undocumented people, sparking concerns by organizations like the Florida Policy Institute, which estimates that labor-intensive industries would “lose 10 percent of their workforce,” which could lead to a 12.6 billion dollar drop in Florida’s GDP.
These policies extend their impact beyond those classified as undocumented immigrants, affecting consumers and individuals lawfully present in the country.
Florida State Representative Johanna López has been a fierce advocate for immigration, emphasizing that immigrants are responsible for the luminosity of Florida’s economy. In a speech given at the Hope CommUnity Center, she stated that “…is anti-American…[and] it is time for us to unite beyond our political ideals.”
In addition to his anti-immigration rhetoric, DeSantis has also targeted diversity, equity, and inclusion (D.E.I.) in higher education. After publicly announcing his disapproval of D.E.I. in a press conference, Senate Bill 266 was introduced and passed–banning D.E.I. in all public colleges and universities in Florida.
Masked as an “anti-indoctrination” initiative, DeSantis has made removing “wokeness” from Florida’s school systems the number one priority for his second term as Governor.
Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani sees parallels between these targets on higher education and the actions taken to revise K-12 education in Florida. When asked to provide a quote for the article, Eskamani stated that “Republican politicians in Florida are keen on dumbing down our state, and a part of that is underfunding public education as they insert their own propaganda into the classroom.”
She added that “the bans on D.E.I. will not only censor free speech but will [also] make it very challenging for colleges and universities to meet the needs of diverse student bodies…creating a brain drain where faculty and students don’t want to work or study in Florida.”
When Eskamani refers to the “actions taken to revise K-12 education,” she is referring to laws like House Bill 1557, which deemed Florida’s “Don’t Say LGBTQ+ Expansion” by progressives. This law restricts all discussions of sexuality and gender in public schools, which negatively impacts queer students, with one in three LGBTQ+ young people reporting that recent politics has negatively impacted their mental health.”
While landmark in DeSantis’ efforts to combat “wokeness,” the ban on gender discussions was simply the onset of the storm. Subsequently, in July 2023, the Board of Education unanimously voted to revise Florida’s Black history curriculum to downplay the negative magnitude of slavery, despite overwhelming opposition.
Floridians are fighting back
Young people are bringing new energy to activism and politics in Florida by educating, campaigning, and running for office. Nate Douglas, a recent college graduate running for the Florida State House, provided a quote for the article stating that “through organizing coalitions, registering voters, and protesting for common sense laws, Gen Z’ers have the potential to have our voices heard, even when [the supermajority tries] to stifle it.”
He believes “we cannot allow the out-of-touch lawmakers…to decide what’s best for us without giving us a seat at the table.”
Another Gen Z’er, Congressman Frost, believes that “[DeSantis’ actions are] modern-day fascism, plain and simple.” So, he organized an emergency ad hoc hearing focused on “fighting back before fascism can fully take hold of our state.” Holding this hearing as the youngest member of Congress, Frost not only inspired people to take action nationally but showed the country that youth-led mobilization has power.
Petition Initiative is the power that Floridians are also using. In May 2023, Floridian’s Protecting Freedom, a reproductive health care advocacy coalition, launched their ‘abortion ballot initiative’ to get a constitutional amendment to codify abortion on the ballot.
Samuel Vilchez, the Membership Director of the Young Democrats of Orange County, Florida, is a passionate believer in “people power.” In a quote for the article, he expressed that “in just three months, the abortion petition initiative has already collected over 600,000 signatures from Floridians who understand the need [for abortion rights].”
He believes that “Floridians understand the need to take our government out of the reproductive decisions of women and families across the state.”
Progressives at all levels of government strongly believe in Florida’s revival through the efforts of younger generations. Ranking Member of the Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Jamie Raskin emphasized, “The only silver lining to this state-level nightmare is that a new generation of freedom-fighters has emerged.”
And Eskamani echoed those same sentiments in saying she is optimistic about Florida “only because [she] sees more and more everyday people, including young people, getting more civically involved.”
While Florida may serve as a global punchline, symbolizing a strained political atmosphere, internal divisions, and challenges to democratic values within the United States, the state holds profound significance for the individuals who call it home.
Beyond the surface perception, Florida embodies both the pitfalls of a two-party political structure and the infinite potential for a more progressive future. A fight for Florida transcends its designative, self-imposed “borders.” It is a fight for democracy, vital to upholding the values the United States symbolizes.
Floridians are fired up, and Americans should be too. There will be a rainbow after the storm, and with consistent persistence, Floridians have the ability to prevail in the aftermath of “Hurricane DeSantis.”
The movement is just beginning, and the struggle for a brighter tomorrow is undoubtedly worth the fight.