Boycott Florida: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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    In a recent article I called for economic sanctions against Florida to compel business and political leaders in that state to change the “Stand Your Ground Law” that provided the basis for the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.  There are times when there is a convergence of ideas, a meeting of minds, such that a particular strategy has the potential to galvanize a movement. This appears to be one of those times.

    The idea of boycotting Florida is not a Ron Daniels idea or Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) call. Rather, it is one that is on the minds of many Black people all across the country.

    Dr. Patricia Newton, president emeritus, National Association of Black Psychiatrists,was so outraged by the Zimmerman verdict that she walked away from a $1 million dollar contract she was about to sign for a conference in Florida.

    I met an elderly Black professional couple I met at Penn Station in Baltimore,[who were returning from a conference in Jacksonville, Fla.. When I asked if they would be going back to Florida next year, I had hardly gotten the words out of my mouth when the wife said  that they discussed the murder of Trayvon Martin at the conference and had already resolved that they would not hold another convention in that state until there is significant change.

    Of course, music legend Stevie Wonder said at a concert in Canada, “Until the Stand Your Ground Law is abolished, I will never perform there again.”   Since his pronouncement Eddie LaVert, Stephanie Mills,  Dionne Warwick and Mary Mary are among the artists who have publicly stated they will follow Stevie’s lead.

    While celebrities add credibility for the boycott, it will be the actions of the multitude of conscious, committed convention-goers, vacationers and consumers who will make the campaign effective. Economic sanctions against Florida is an idea whose time has come.

    Just as Katrina ripped the scab off and exposed the raw naked structural/institutional racism in distressed Black neighborhoods in America murder of Trayvon Martin has ripped the scab off  the persistent phenomenon of the criminalization of young Black men, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk  and the structural/institutional racism in America’s criminal justice system.  The problem is that despite episodic protests and periodic mobilizations, there has not been a persistent sense of urgency in Black America about these issues. The murder of Trayvon Martin may be a decisive turning point.

    One week after the Zimmerman verdict, rallies and prayer vigils were held across the country to demand that the Justice Department bring criminal charges against George Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.  While we agree that this is a correct strategy, there is little likelihood that this will happen.

    At the end of the day, not only must we seek a conviction of Zimmerman, we must also indict and fight to change the law that is so flawed that it would permit an armed adult to pursue an unarmed teenager deemed “suspicious” and permit a grown man to kill a kid who fearfully sought to stand his ground against a menacing stranger.

    Fighting to change this flawed law is about justice for Trayvon Martin, but it is also about all of the Trayvons in the state of Florida and across the nation who are victims of criminalization and racial profiling.  It is about Black people consciously and collectively standing our ground against the attacks on the gains of the civil rights/human rights/Black power movements, the abandonment and disinvestment in distressed Black communities and the daily indignities we have quietly suffered for far too long.

    The major component of the campaign should be to shut off tourism to Florida. This means Black organizations should not schedule conferences/conventions in that state until the law is changed.  Groups that have already scheduled conferences six months to a year out should seek to cancel the agreements and notify the venues that Black people no longer feel safe to travel to Florida, particularly with their sons. An option is to hold conferences/conventions at a Black College/University or Black owned retreat centers.  In the event that your conference is already scheduled in the next few months, resolve to spend as little money/cash in the state as possible. This campaign requires that kind of discipline.

    Do not schedule a vacation in Florida until victory is won. Do not travel to an amusement park in the “tragic kingdom” or golf tournament until victory is won. And don’t purchase or drink any Florida orange juice.

    IBW has posted a petition on its website www.ibw21.org  where organizations, leaders and individuals can sign a pledge to boycott Florida. Finally, while this campaign is spearheaded by Black people, we obviously appeal to and welcome the support of our friends and allies of all races and ethnicities who believe that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” that “an injustice anywhere to anyone is an injustice to everyone everywhere.”

     

    Ron Daniels is president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, he can be reached via email at info@ibw21.org

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