Don’t let Louisiana become the next Florida

OPINION: Florida is not just where “woke goes to die,” but also where a sense of social obligation takes a back seat to weaponizing culture wars for political gain. That is the future that awaits Louisiana if it continues down the path of division in the mold of the Sunshine State. 

Louisiana, anti-woke, Ron DeSantis,
(Adobe Stock Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

There’s an effort afoot to make Louisiana the next Florida.

Namely, there are some public officials who would see fit to introduce a climate of fear, suspicion and reprisal to our public institutions, schools and universities, all as part of a cynical power play that will do nothing to address the real challenges we face as a state.

In April, Louisiana Republican Party officials voted to prohibit the study of racism at colleges and universities. Quickly thereafter, Louisiana GOP state Rep. Valerie Hodges submitted House Resolution 13, which “requests school-level reporting by public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools relative to programs and activities related to critical race theory; diversity, equity, and inclusion; or transformative social emotional learning.”

From a purely procedural perspective, mandated reporting is an unnecessary burden on schools, especially those already facing significant resource constraints. Additionally, the resolution will discourage schools from implementing important programs that are crucial to creating inclusive learning environments. The resolution is nothing short of an attack on education in our state and an attempt to silence important conversations about race and equity in our schools.

It’s also an attempt to deflect attention and resources from the other big and important issues that urgently need to be addressed by our state government. Rather than dealing with the actual challenges we face, including ranking dead last among all 50 states for public health measures, addressing a crime rate that is second-highest nationally, or addressing long-standing economic and social inequities that are dragging down our economy and its future, the Louisiana GOP wants to distract and divide with a do-nothing agenda driven by white grievance.

Instead of developing policies that make our state more competitive, the state Republican Party is attacking social emotional learning as if the real barrier to a more prosperous future was children feeling too good about themselves. Instead of fixing aging school buildings, the state GOP is attacking programs focused on diversity, equity and inclusion just like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as if leaking roofs and broken air conditioners are caused by students and teachers having rational conversations about these topics.

The point for Republicans of this MAGA-DeSantis mold is not to govern in order to make life and our communities better; it is to fan the most base flames of intolerance in order to stay in power. It’s that simple.

So what does the future of Louisiana look like if we follow the path of Florida?  It’s grim.

Florida is not just where “woke goes to die,” but also where a sense of social obligation and care take a back seat to weaponizing the culture wars for political gain. Book bans and curricular whitewashing are the education topics of the day rather than addressing learning loss and achievement gaps. Political operatives are being put in charge of state colleges and universities, forcing out highly qualified staff and faculty, barring work to improve diversity and equity, and remaking these public institutions in the MAGA-DeSantis images.

Even vaunted local employers like Disney are not immune to the culture war steamroller that is the MAGA-DeSantis agenda. The company has faced a virtual armada of public attacks since it opposed DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. So far it has endured these broadsides and recently sued the governor for his “targeted” campaign of personal vengeance. As the company said in its lawsuit, Disney is “fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the state’s retaliation — a stand smaller businesses and individuals might not be able to take when the state comes after them for expressing their own views.”

That is the future that awaits Louisiana if we continue down the path of division and manufactured crisis in the mold of the Sunshine State. But it doesn’t have to be the future of the Pelican State. As Kerri Landry-Thomas, associate vice chancellor for equity, conclusion and Title IX at Southern University Law Center recently told The Advocate, “Louisiana has always walked its own line, and I just hope the legislators in our communities and state continue to walk their own line and do not fall in with what others are doing.”

Following the state Republican Party’s embrace of the MAGA-DeSantis agenda would amount to Louisiana abandoning what makes it uniquely rich and verdant culturally and socially. We are a state that is made better by the multiplicity of our people and traditions. The MAGA-DeSantis agenda would flatten that varied social topography and extinguish the very essence of what makes us Louisianans.

The votes by the state GOP and the corresponding legislative resolution are focused on our schools, but their shared ambition is much, much wider. Standing up and speaking out against these early efforts is essential if we hope to stop that broader agenda from further advance.

Daryl Joy Walters is a Democratic state central committee member and works to shape restorative justice policy.

Keith Bradford is a veteran educator and leader. They are both Leaders of Color Louisiana fellows.

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