Florida has been a hot spot for many of the country’s polarizing social issues as legislators unleash a campaign of targeted assaults that includes voter suppression, politicizing bathrooms and classrooms, criminalizing gender-affirming care for minors, and decimating abortion access (Washington Post).
The ARD spoke with Moné Holder, Senior Director of Advocacy & Programs at Florida Rising, about the wave of attacks against human rights in the state. A people-powered organization working to raise and protect the political power of Florida’s marginalized communities, Florida Rising knows firsthand the impact of such attacks on the community. And how each policy is not isolated but part of a coordinated campaign from the GOP to secure a stronghold in the state by feeding on bigotry and racism.
Moné describes how recent anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation are not only dangerous themselves but “calculated” to help push through anti-abortion policies by uniting a conservative base through prejudices. “We know abortion access transcends across party lines but the Band-Aid to that situation was to attack folks from our LGBT community…They may not have agreed with [DeSantis] on abortion but were more conservative or deeply steeped in hatred against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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Q: Why has Florida become such a focal point for polarizing social and political issues?
Governor Ron DeSantis has made it his life’s work these past couple of years to tear down anything that not only expands but affirms democracy. So we’ve seen him do that in redistricting, diminishing Black representation in the state, expanding things like “Don’t Say Gay,” banning books, restricting Black history in schools, and the six-week abortion ban. Florida is the focal point of most things in the media right now because of how DeSantis has positioned himself in the attacks he’s waging on Black and Brown communities.
Q: How has the community responded to the flurry of anti-trans, anti-gay, and anti-abortion policies, and to quote the governor here, anti “woke” ideology?
We have seen an increase in folks wanting to take action, which is a beautiful thing, but it’s terrible that they are energized due to these circumstances. We’ve seen an increase in folks wanting to learn more about the legislative process, how it works, and how they can fight back and show resistance in a way they never had the time or the know-how.
We’ve seen folks trying to organize themselves to pass local resolutions or put things on the ballot. For example, in Orange County, rent stabilization made it to the ballot before a lawsuit struck it down. But that was the will of the people saying we see that the state legislature and the governor are not addressing the housing crisis, so what can we do?
We just launched a ballot initiative for abortion access. Floridians Protecting Freedom is the name of the coalition driving that work. Our governing body includes Florida Rising, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, other reproductive justice groups and organizations, healthcare providers, and grassroots community members who have jumped on board and said having abortion on the ballot in 2024 is important. And that’s from polling voters across the state on both sides of the aisle and listening to folks in communities say they want this to stop. We want healthcare access. We want abortion access. What can we do? And ballot initiative was the only thing.
Q: If successful, how will it change reproductive health in the state?
It will restore people’s right to make decisions about their healthcare and their bodies. It’s giving Floridians a chance to ensure that their personal medical decisions are theirs and theirs alone. And I believe it sets a precedent not only for how people control their own lives but also for what happens in Tallahassee. Regardless of the political party in power, the people ultimately have the final say.
For so long, the will of the people has been ignored. So not only does it restore access to abortions, your privacy and choice to make healthcare decisions for yourself, but I think it also serves as a wake-up call in the state that people have the power to control their own lives. And if the legislature or the governor chooses not to listen, we will use our power at the ballot box.
Q: DeSantis is poised to be a presidential contender in 2024. What does that mean for folks on a national level?
We can’t afford to sit this one out. Unfortunately, what we saw coming out of the 2022 elections is that there wasn’t a huge or even adequate investment in organizations like ours in Florida that do electoral work and voter turnout, especially during gubernatorial cycles. It costs money to put boots on the ground, to educate folks about what’s at stake in an election, who’s on the ballot, and where their early voting locations are. We know there are folks who spend their time trying to disenfranchise voters and turn them away from the ballot box.
Q: What can people do?
Donate and get involved with organizations like Florida Rising. We have volunteer canvases, phone bank shifts, and text banks throughout the year. If you’re in Florida, connect with our organizers who are on the ground and get plugged into our monthly’s people’s assemblies. Share information about the attacks, the current legislation, and the importance of voting. And then I always just throw in a shameless plug about people considering running for office: do it. We need you. So many times, we’ve seen races in which there’s no opposition, and we need to jump in there. We can’t rely on any party to put folks in the race. We need people from the community to represent our community. But I think it all starts with getting out there in the field, learning about the issues, and volunteering to knock on doors or talk to your neighbors or neighbors in the neighboring community.
DeSantis’ aspirations are inciting fear amongst communities and communities of color. And I always tell people, even my children, that when people see you as a threat, they want to take you out of the game. My son just turned 10. He plays basketball and is so passionate, and people know that. If he misses a shot and somebody laughs in his face, his whole game would be messed up. They know, “If I can upset him, I can win. I can get him off his game. And that’s what DeSantis is doing to Black folks, Latinx folks, and queer folks. We have the power. If we come together and we turn out, we do the things. DeSantis doesn’t exist, and the others like him don’t either. So, it’s fear tactics, intimidation tactics, all the things, and we just have to see it for what it is and stand in the paint against it.