National NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, clockwise from top left; Domingo Garcia, president of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign; Equality Florida Co-Founder and Executive Director Nadine Smith receiving key to the city from then St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. PHOTOS COURTESY OF NAACP FACEBOOK, LULAC.ORG, EQFL.ORG AND THEM.US
The pushback against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ demonizing of minority groups has started, with three major civil rights organizations calling for a boycott of Florida.
On Saturday, the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) endorsed its Florida branch’s appeal for a travel advisory for the state, saying it is “in direct response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”
Describing the state as “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the nation’s oldest civil rights organization said, “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by, African Americans and other communities of color.”
Last Wednesday, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights groups in the U.S., advised immigrants and their families to avoid traveling to the state because of “the extensive impact of Governor DeSantis’ sweeping anti-immigrant, anti-Christian family rampage, harming the Florida economy and further marginalizing immigrant communities.”
On April 11, Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, accused DeSantis of launching a “sweeping anti-immigrant, anti-Christian family rampage” and told “individuals, families, entrepreneurs and students … that Florida may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence.”
And, this Tuesday, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ rights group in the country, joined the criticism of the state’s “dangerous policies,” The Associated Press reported. “Those who pick another place to work, to go to school or to spend their vacation should make clear why they’re not heading to Florida,” HRC president Kelley Robinson said in a statement.
It is not clear how the travel advisories will affect a state largely dependent on tourism, with 137 million visitors coming annually, most of them from other states, and whether it will impact DeSantis’ expected run for president in 2024. But African Americans, who look to the NAACP for civil rights advocacy, total 42 million or 14 percent of the population, Latinos are 62 million or 19 percent and about 20 million or seven percent identify as LGBTQ. Also, women, a majority of whom oppose draconian restrictions on abortions, such as Florida’s six-week ban, are 167 million or 50 percent of Americans and could play a crucial role in a DeSantis presidential candidacy.
But it is expected that the harsh criticism from the civil rights groups will have some impact on support for DeSantis, should he have to face President Joe Biden in 2024. The groups’ leaders used strong language in their separate statements.
"Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson said in his group’s statement. In an oblique reference to DeSantis’ motto, Johnson said, “We’re not backing down and we encourage our allies to join us in the battle for the soul of our nation."
LULAC President Domingo Garcia advised Latinos traveling in Florida with family members “to be cautious if they encounter law enforcement.” He added in the LULAC statement, "We do not doubt that if Abuelita (Grandmother) or Tia (Aunt) is with us and we are proﬁled, DeSantis’ enforcement regulations will treat us like criminals transporting a dangerous person who only wanted to visit family or enjoy Disneyworld." The state’s construction, restaurant, and agriculture industries will be “devastated” because they rely heavily on immigrant workers, Garcia predicted.
Equality Florida’s executive director Nadine Smith said that conferences are being canceled, top students are ignoring Florida and parents “are selling their homes and moving because school censorship, book bans and health care restrictions have made their home state less safe for their children.” DeSantis has “made extremist policies the centerpiece of his presidential campaign strategy, has weaponized state agencies to silence critics and imposed sanctions on large and small companies that dissent with his culture war agenda or disagree with his attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Smith said.
Businesses, too, may be looking closely at what is happening in the state, following DeSantis’ heavy-handed approach towards Disney World for criticizing his antiLGBTQ policies. That matter is in the courts but Disney has announced it is scrapping plans for a $1 billion investment in the state and hiring 2,000 workers. Businesses generally may not be happy that they are now required to abandon environmental, social and good governance (ESG) initiatives if they want to do business with the state.
DeSantis will also have to deal with the perception that he lacks original ideas, signing bills on issues that were ﬁrst promoted elsewhere, including making it a crime to teach American history and LGBT topics. Other Republican governors had already been adopting those policies which look similar enough to have come from central casting. The Associated Press said, for instance, that an analysis of the text of several bills that restrict or ban gender-afﬁrming care for transgender minors showed that they often “sprang not from grassroots or constituent demand, but from the pens of a handful of conservative interest groups, as seen in the texts of more than 130 bills in 40 legislatures.” What DeSantis has been doing is taking extreme positions on such divisive issues to set himself on par with, or ahead of, other Republican presidential hopefuls.
So it is also with laws that initially banned abortions after 15 weeks, instead of the previous 24 weeks, and then six weeks under a “Heartbeat Protection Act” which he signed at a private late-night ceremony. So too with permitting Floridians to carry concealed guns without a license and joining the Republican chorus praising the killer of New York subway rider Jordan Neely as “a Good Samaritan.” And, with Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott ordering his state to bus thousands of asylum-seekers from the border to Democratic cities. Without any mass influx into his state, DeSantis dispatched an aircraft to the border and flew 49 refugees to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Where the governor has shown some initiative, it has been racially tinged. A constitutional amendment which nearly 65 percent of voters approved to restore voting rights to ex-felons — who include tens of thousands of African Americans – was amended to require them to ﬁrst pay all court-imposed fees. That immediately excluded about 800,000 potential voters. A special election to ﬁll the vacancy left by the death of Democrat Alcee Hastings in April 2021 was delayed until the following Jan. 11, delaying congressional representation for 800,000 mostly African American voters. Two redistricting maps prepared by the Legislature were vetoed in favor of a third which the governor himself drafted. That gerrymander stole two of the four African Americans seats.
In response to the mass demonstrations nationally and abroad over the police killing of George Floyd, immunity from civil liability is available to motorists who drive into demonstrators, it is now a felony to block a highway or commit “aggravated rioting” and “mob intimidation.”
And even DeSantis’ much-vaunted popularity is likely to be questioned. He won re-election comfortably but it is doubtful that would have happened if Floridians had known, for example, that he will make it possible for almost anyone can carry a concealed weapon without a license and abortions will be banned after six weeks of pregnancy. The governor’s agenda was implemented not through popularity but through the deployment of monopoly state power used to create what activist and scholar Angela Davis recently dubbed a “heteropatriarchy.” Floridians are probably more concerned about issues such as the acute shortage of affordable housing and impossibly high home insurance costs.
Going after the presidency will be an entirely different game for the governor, with some analysts already remarking on his messiah complex, dour appearance, bullying tactics and vindictiveness towards perceived enemies.