Let’s just say it takes one to know one.
For the expert of grabbing attention by shipping unsuspecting migrants to an island, launching high-profile battles against Disney, gender pronouns and drag queens, every grievance is a chance to make Gov. DeSantis the topic of conversation.
It’s just plain ironic that DeSantis and his office called it a “stunt” that one of the nation’s most prominent civil-rights organizations issued a “travel advisory” in light of Florida’s targeting diversity efforts at state colleges, LGBTQ people and immigrants. Puh-leeze.
The NAACP issued the advisory on Saturday cautioning visitors about coming to Florida because the state has engaged in an “all-out attack on Black Americans.” The document listed laws limiting classroom discussions about race, banning abortions, targeting the LGBTQ community, as well as a “culture of fear, bullying and intimidation by public officials.”
“This is a stunt to try to do that. It’s a pure stunt and fine, if you want to waste your time on a stunt, that’s fine. But I’m not wasting my time on your stunts,” DeSantis said in March when the NAACP Florida State conference voted unanimously to ask the national organization to issue the advisory. After the NAACP’s Saturday announcement, DeSantis’ press secretary tweeted a GIF of his remarks.
Other groups issue call
Last Wednesday, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights group in the United States, issued another warning. The group advised immigrants and their families to avoid the Sunshine State after DeSantis signed a bill that, among other things, cracked down on people who transport undocumented immigrants into the state. In April, Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group, issued a similar alert.
These organizations are unlikely to persuade the thousands of visitors looking forward to trips to Florida over Memorial Day weekend to change their plans. Successful boycotts — which is what the advisories appear call for without spelling it out — are laser-focused and well organized, if not organic.
In the early 1990s, Black businesses and organizations led a three-year boycott of Miami after elected officials snubbed South African leader Nelson Mandela’s visit because he expressed support for Fidel Castro. Many Black-owned businesses refused to come to Miami and the National Bar Association’s 1993 convention was among the events canceled. The boycott cost Miami about $50 million, according to The Washington Post, and forced white and Hispanic leaders to respond to demands for more representation from Black citizens. It worked because Black Miamians had specific goals and it ended when boycott leaders declared they were met.
By comparison, asking for visitors to avoid the nation’s third-largest state — anywhere from rural North Florida to South Florida communities like Miami Beach that often are at odds with the governor and the Legislature — looks like a bigger lift. It also begs the question: How and when will these organizations declare victory or lift their advisories given that the laws DeSantis signed aren’t going to be rescinded anytime soon, if ever?
Perhaps DeSantis has a point. This all could be a “stunt.” But it is small potatoes given the extremes to which DeSantis has led Florida. The real problem is how our governor has antagonized any group deemed the “other,” how he stoked racial animosity, appropriated a word long used by African Americans, “woke,” and transformed it into an enemy that America must destroy. The real stunt is how he has successfully distracted Floridians from issues that impact them the most, like skyrocketing property insurance premiums.
If anything, these so-called “stunts” are a sign of exasperation, a sign that there’s no compromise or empathy in DeSantis-land. They pull a page straight out of his own playbook: Do something over the top to earn a spot on prime time. If anything, they remind Americans still learning about DeSantis what Florida has become under this presumed presidential hopeful.