Ron DeSantis — his cruel bigotry threatens everyone

A billboard in Daytona Beach, Florida, dares to speak the forbidden word. Similar billboards have been sprouting up all over Florida. PHOTO: Cedar Key Progress
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The governor of Florida and 2024 presidential candidate may seem a long shot for the White House, but a lot can happen in 16 months. During his reign, Ron DeSantis approved an anti-protest, pro-police law prompted by massive demonstrations against the cops who murdered George Floyd in 2021. He mocked the fight against Covid, declared war on LGBTQ+ folks, and cancelled African American Studies and diversity practices in public schools. He continues to eject immigrant refugees into northern cities. In short, DeSantis has been steadily turning Florida into an autocracy run by white supremacists.

Some grim details. In April 2022 he signed the Stop WOKE Act. It bans the teaching of critical race theory and limits discussion of U.S. slavery and the Holocaust, on the theory that these topics may be “upsetting” for students. The same law also muzzles LGBTQ+ folks by forbidding any talk of gender identity or homosexuality. Stop WOKE also prohibits higher education from using any funds for diversity, equity, and inclusion. DeSantis is now reducing tenure for college professors.

Stop WOKE has also ushered in censorship by banning books. Forbidden reading includes LGBTQ+ topics, works by people of color and books that depict sexuality. Teachers have been threatened with criminal prosecution for displaying or recommending the “wrong” book. The governor has consistently backed right-wing reactionaries on school boards.

DeSantis is nothing if not a bully. His treatment of trans folks and people of color is particularly abhorrent. He signed legislation that prevents trans children from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. His latest law prohibits gender-affirming medical treatment for minors and for Florida trans adults on Medicaid, which denies them crucial hormone therapy. Openly attacking Black residents, he dissed basketball players as “freaks of nature,” during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. His sexist, homophobic rants against drag performers are infamous.

DeSantis’ treatment of immigrants is also reprehensible. In September 2022 he arranged for a private company to fly 50 immigrants out of state with promises of work and a place to live. This was a lie. They were unloaded in Martha’s Vineyard with no prospects, and far from courts that would hear their asylum cases.

His latest series of laws regarding immigration includes strict new rules like the requirement to reveal one’s immigration status before receiving care at a hospital. SB 264 was signed into law in May 2022. It bans most Chinese immigrants from buying a home in Florida and targets other refugees — from Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. It went into effect July 1, 2023.

Then there’s corruption. DeSantis rails against “woke” corporations. Yet since he took office, Florida corporations have gained $5 billion from tax cuts, and 99% of them pay no taxes. But when the state’s unemployment fund dried up, average workers were taxed $1 billion a year for online sales.

Floridians fight back. As DeSantis continues to bash the First Amendment, the rule of law, and human decency, resistance is mounting. Trans people are coming together, organizing themselves for mutual support. Recently they won a court injunction against his law denying gender-affirming medical care for three families with trans youth. The judge ruled the law is unconstitutional. For some, just being visible and out is a form of fighting back. Students are organizing walkouts to protest the draconian limits imposed by the Stop WOKE Act.

In fact, there are several cases currently before Florida courts. Students are suing the state over the cancellation of Advanced Placement African American Studies. Teachers are suing over free speech. And an elected District Attorney sued DeSantis after he was illegally fired for a disagreement over abortion. Sadly, his case was dismissed on a technicality. He is considering his options.

Lawsuits are good, but decisions can be reversed and enforcement can be problematic. What’s needed is a united front, a coalition of all groups under attack. This is beginning to happen. The NAACP recently warned its members not to travel to Florida. Women are organizing to push back against extreme anti-abortion laws. Most importantly, these groups and many others are beginning to coordinate together. Florida’s labor unions need to join other groups in the struggle. They can provide critical backup for the movement.

DeSantis is a dictator who needs to be stopped. Already his toxic and dangerous ideology has spread to other states in the shape of anti-trans legislation and attacks on academic freedom. The governor has told us this is his plan for the U.S. — to “Make America Florida.” We cannot let that happen.

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