Many Americans, and many people worldwide, likely have a clear and defined mental image of what Florida is like. Alligators, Jai-Alai, Disney World, Shamu, Spring Break, Colombian drug lords, South Beach, the Golden Girls, Miami Vice, racist side-road attractions, orange groves, the 2000 recount, pretty corrupt local politicians, NASA, Key West, Jimmy Buffett, Cuban exiles who really want the Castros dead, Mar-a-Lago, the Dolphins, the Marlins, the Heat, and all our other fairly mediocre professional sports teams (Tampa Rays and Lightning being a clear exception) and wealthy millionaires with beach homes on Fisher Island, Palm Beach, and the Gulf Coast. Florida is America’s armpit, Margaritaville 24/7, paradise eternal, a novelty to the outside observer and honestly just plain weird.
Having grown up in Florida, I can’t disagree with some of these characterizations of my home state. Honestly, a lot of this single story is true, but of course, as the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would remind us, that’s true of every single story. After all, as she famously said, “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
The media likes to cover one version of the Florida story. It loves to exploit Florida’s ridiculously open public records laws and the organic tomfoolery that occurs in our halls of power to portray the state as a luxurious and chaotic place that can easily elicit a quick laugh. It ignores the complex dynamics occurring in the state right now and the looming changes that merit serious observation and study. And unfortunately, with an election like no other approaching, the national media will likely fail to fully grasp the gravity of some of these big picture trends and focus on the tropes. Already, folks want to discount Florida in 2020, which I very pointedly rebutted in my first piece as a staff writer on this site just five months ago. And this is deeply ironic because both parties’ actions in Florida during this cycle could set the stage for a decade of deeply impactful political shifts going forward — shifts that could completely change the electoral math and the power map in Washington.
With Texas’s exception, no other state is growing as quickly or diversifying as fast as Florida. Florida is home to an often-neglected Caribbean-American voting bloc growingly more splintered between Miami’s famed, but now politically-evolving, Cuban community and the growing Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Haitian and Antillian immigrants communities taking up shop in Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. Florida is also seeing Nicaraguan, Colombian, and Venezuelan immigrants’ continued arrival, many of whom vote more conservatively than other Latinx immigrants. Add to this lots of movement to Florida from the Rust Belt and other formerly industrial metropolitan areas, the potential implementation of Amendment IV (which automatically restores the voting rights of over a million non-violent felons). It’s clear that the dust, ideologically and demographically, is far from settled in Florida.
And beyond just demographics, Florida is experiencing the existential threat of climate change, and the ever-more-powerful hurricanes and tropical storms, floods, heatwaves and droughts that accompany it, head-on. Florida was one of the states worst-affected by the Coronavirus and our response was nothing short of catastrophic this past summer. And Florida’s tourism industry will take years to recover and adjust from these significant disruptions.
Enter the Florida Project.
Sound familiar? Yes, it was the name of a critically acclaimed movie chronicling the lives of children living in poverty who called the motels surrounding Disney World home. But even that title was an allusion to something else: the codename Walt Disney and the Disney Corporation used early on to discuss their efforts to build a one-of-a-kind resort in Central Florida. And it’s precisely what I wanted to call this column. Because this effort is far from just a simple attempt to report on the situation, it’s also my attempt, perhaps a little Quixotically, to charge against the windmills of Florida’s single-story and shine a light on what’s happening on the ground. It’s not just reporting from the eye of the storm; it’s a genuine project and endeavor for this column to present a different side of Florida politics.
As we approach the election, we’ll obviously talk about Trump and Biden. We’ll go through the down-ballot races and talk about how Democrats and Republicans are preparing and organizing. We’ll engage in some mild horse-race discourse from time to time. But beyond this election, we’ll also talk about 2022 and 2024 and how Florida Democrats and Republicans are planning for an election where they could be the deciders of the nomination and the general election more than ever before. We’ll also talk about QAnon, voter suppression, climate change, growing income inequality and to be quite honest, probably another hurricane (after all, it’s only September and this hurricane season already went into the Greek alphabet naming, meaning we may still have a while to go). With the news that a former Florida Supreme Court justice, Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit, is near the top of the shortlist to replace the late Justice Ginsburg, we may even cover a Supreme Court confirmation.
It’s going to be an exciting ride, and I’m excited to take you all along for the journey. Buckle up, because, in Florida, it can all change in an instant.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a second-year student in the School of Foreign Service studying Latin America and Africa as a Regional and Comparative Studies major. A native South Floridian and a proud Cuban-American, Eric’s column “The Florida Project” appears biweekly in “On the Record.”
Originally published at https://ontherecordgu.com on September 22, 2020.