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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rally

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a rally at the OCC Road House and Museum in Pinellas Park, Fla. on March 8, 2023. | Source: The Washington Post / Getty

As it now stands, all bets are that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will run for president in 2024.

And DeSantis’ antics in Florida – starting with his pounding cultural shots (replete with divisive barbs like “the woke left” “indoctrination” “fake narratives” and ”Critical Race Theory”) – are always coupled with laws that are slowly, surely, eroding the very foundations of our democracy.

Some of our most basic freedoms are being legislated away by DeSantis and friends, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to protest and gather peacefully. The supermajority he now holds in the legislature is the result of strategic “redistricting” that wiped out at least four majority Black districts, according to a recent investigation by ProPublica.

As an African American, woman of God, LGBTQ+ ally, and native Floridian who actively fights against inequity in education, voter suppression, police and gun violence, mass incarceration, and the fact that no human being is “illegal,” I want to clearly sound the alarm – Ron DeSantis presents a clear and present danger not only to historically marginalized communities in Florida but to America as a whole. Full stop.

Nearly every morning, when I open the paper or turn on the news, there is another law being passed in the state legislature which attacks another one of our fundamental rights.

On Tuesday, a Republican state senator in Florida introduced a bill to mandate that bloggers who criticize DeSantis sign up with the government, and disclose who they’re working for or be fined up to $2500. Even Newt Gingrich called the idea “insane.” This is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

What’s next? Are journalists going to have to run their copy by the government before it’s printed?

And just last month, Black History Month, no less, DeSantis called a new Advanced Placement high school course in African American studies “indoctrination.” It is a clear erasure of Black history, which goes rich and deep in both Florida and America.

Ironically, this man knows the value of history. He was a history major at Yale and taught history at a private school in Georgia before going to Harvard Law School. Some of his students remember his not-quite-accurate take on the Civil War. So exactly what kind of history is acceptable?

The fact is that Gov. DeSantis is focused; on eliminating our rights. He specializes in speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He bullies and intimidates his so-called enemies. And he’s no Donald Trump.

Pardon the pun, but Trump is an angel compared to DeSantis. Trump, clearly irrational, mercurial, at times scattered, and vindictive, is DeSantis’ opposite – a man who is deliberate, strategic, cunning and also, very, very, vindictive.

Look at what happened to Disney. Or the substitute teacher who was fired because his video of his daughter’s school library with no books went viral. Or how about the Special Olympics vaccine issue? He throws around the weight (and purse) of the state to punish those who dare disagree with his mandates.

And let’s not forget about the  “don’t say gay” bill, signed into law last year by DeSantis, prohibiting public schools from any teaching on sexual orientation or gender identity,  unless they are considered “age or developmentally appropriate.” It is actually the law that teachers can be fined, arrested and/or jailed for even talking about gay people. And they have left the profession in droves.

How about the requirement to have female high school athletes document their menstrual cycles to play sports (what many see as an attempt to bar transgender students from participating)? This was thankfully nixed.

All of this is quite scary.

He believes he is winning. As Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver’s recent episode pointed out, he basically has carte blanche to say what he wants on Fox News.

Again, the irony is rich: a former history teacher only wants one type of history to be taught. He is a “freedom lover” who strips away our basic freedoms at every turn. He is a man who speaks of “false narratives” but doesn’t seem to want to hear or see any narrative but his own.

And the blueprint has been laid for other states and the entire nation. In fact, DeSantis has already coined what he calls, “The Florida Way,” a new vision of conservatism that is spiteful, narrow and not inclusive of all citizens of this nation.

True defenders of democracy have our work cut out for us. But with faith, honesty, and determination, we can create a table of sisterly and brotherly love and stop this assault on the freedoms our ancestors died for. We have more in common than what separates us.

We must keep our hearts open though men like Gov. DeSantis want to fill them with fear. There’s much to do. Start locally and organize. And do not believe for one second that true power doesn’t rest with the people. It always has and it always will.

Rev. Rhonda Thomas is the executive director of Faith in Florida and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.


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The New York Times headquarters along 8th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York City
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