So, my home state has not been getting very good press lately. Granted, it’s entirely deserved. The state’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law is either a legitimate defense or a means to justify homicide, depending on your race. Two different juries composed of eligible citizens acquitted George Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin near Orlando in “self-defense,” while convicting Marissa Alexander, a black woman living in Jacksonville, to 20 years in prison for discharging a gun into the air to scare off an abusive ex.
Oh and there’s more (so much more). The voters elected a governor (albeit by a razor-thin margin) who admitted that his healthcare company committed Medicare and Medicaid fraud while he was CEO. During his stint as governor, Rick Scott turned down $2.3 billion from the federal government to develop high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, which would have created jobs and eased the nightmare of traffic between the two cities. He passed a law requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug screenings, though the measure has been stalled by the courts. When an activist group called the Dream Defenders staged a sit-in at the state capital asking for a repeal of the “Stand Your Ground” law, Scott refused to call a special session to review the law. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if one day Scott revealed himself as the real-life Lex Luthor.
There are blatant displays of racism and conservatism to be found. I had the misfortune of being at a Hank Williams, Jr concert when the Zimmerman verdict was announced and if the plethora of Confederate flags wasn’t enough to make me ill, the reaction to the verdict by my fellow concertgoers drove me outside so I could rage without starting a fight. And while Florida has not enacted the kind of anti-choice legislation that has passed in Texas, Ohio and North Carolina, it’s hard not to worry that similar measures could show up during a legislative session.
There was also the 2000 presidential election, but no one talks about that.
There’s hellish traffic, even outside the major metropolitan areas. Three Florida cities were ranked in the top five of having the worst drivers in the U.S.,with Miami at number one (Tampa and Hialeah were the other two). Development has turned the Florida of my childhood to someplace I barely recognize and the last vestiges of historic Florida are being torn down while corporate interests are polluting the ocean and fresh waters. It’s miserably hot most of the year, the jokes about the mosquitos being the state bird aren’t really jokes and the state seems to attract a substantial amount of weird as evidenced by this Twitter account. It’s hard to not echo John Oliver’s joke about Mickey Mouse wanting to get the fuck out of Florida during a recent episode of The Daily Show (the bit is at the very end). We really are the worst sometimes.
Yet, even as I’m laughing at the truth stated in the above clip, I can’t help but feel sad and a little defensive. Florida is my home. My family on my mother’s side has been here for at least four generations, if not more. In Florida terms, that’s like having ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. I love the ocean and beaches, especially on the Atlantic side (except Daytona Beach and Miami. Sorry). My godparents own a tract of land outside of Gainesville, surrounded by horse ranches and it’s my second home and acted as my refuge when I was incredibly homesick during my first semester at college. I even love the heat, though there is that special time in August that’s occurring right now where even I curse the sun and humidity.
Yes, there are things that have happened in the state that make me weep and want to tear my hair out. Many friends have fled and officially disowned the state; settling in places that on the surface are more liberal, less racist and have four seasons. I’ve even left the state (for South Korea, for crying out loud) and plan on leaving again, albeit for grad school. I am sick of the conservative politics and views of my family’s friends and my old church circle. It’s an easy thing to pack up and make good on my version of “marrying up,” which entails falling in love with a Canadian and taking advantage of free government health care once we settle in Vancouver. There I will bask in my socialism and magically transform into a woman who loves hiking, skiing and hockey.
I don’t want to have to leave and yet my ability to even contemplate starting over someplace new speaks to my privilege. As a college educated, middle-class white woman with a good amount in savings, I can afford to relocate to a blue state. Most of those who live outside of my suburb of Orlando cannot, and as those of us who can flee move out of state, where does that leave the rest? I don’t blame anyone for leaving a place where they can’t thrive or where their safety is compromised, but the flippant response of, “Just leave and move to insert hip, liberal enclave” is not helpful. A woman in Texas working two jobs to support her child cannot easily move to a state with better access to reproductive healthcare just because Governor Rick Perry and his cronies are misogynistic assholes. A young black male from Florida can relocate to New York City, but he would still be subjected to the “stop and frisk” law of that city. A mass exodus doesn’t solve the underlying problems.
As with many things, sometimes it takes choosing to change circumstances where you are in the best way you can. For me, it’s applying the lessons learned from the Texas, Ohio and North Carolina debacles and paying attention to local and state elections so those who would seek to dictate what I do with my own body have a harder time rising to power. I donated to the campaign of a local woman and former teacher whose running for the State House and I plan on donating to my local Planned Parenthood once I get paid for some recent work. I’m also seriously contemplating becoming a clinic escort and using my experience as an ESL teacher to volunteer as a tutor in my area. Maybe for someone else it’s raising kids who are kind and generous or just telling off racist family members at Thanksgiving. It’s whatever you can do at the time.
So despite the weather, politics and the antics of the general populace, I’ll always be a Floridian and claim the state as home, despite the opinions of outsiders and media types. Even if life circumstances lead me elsewhere, I have a feeling I’ll end up back here eventually and I’d like to leave the place a little better than I left it.