By virtue of being born, each of us has the absolute right to safety, shelter, food, education and health care. This is the agenda of the organization I co-direct, the Dream Defenders. It is also the agenda that Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis has attacked as being too “radical” for the Sunshine State and proof that Mayor Andrew Gillum is unfit for governorship.
Through conversations with thousands of everyday Floridians and backed by dozens of Florida organizations, we built “The Freedom Papers,” a left, populist vision for the future of our society — a future that prioritizes the needs of everyday people over the profits of big corporations. Rather than debate the substance of this agenda, or present an alternate plan, DeSantis stoked fear over the Freedom Papers to keep voters divided so that he and his corporate bakers can continue to do their dirty work behind the scenes.
In Florida and across the country, the right has been using scare tactics, stirring up a racist frenzy and promoting extreme white-nationalist violence, steering people away from what’s best for everyone and in favor of a right-wing, pro-corporate, and anti-people agenda.
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Campaigning on Racist Dog-Whistles With Corporate Backing
Straight from President Trump’s playbook, DeSantis has run a campaign full of racist dog whistles. During the primary, he ran an ad in which he was teaching his son to “build the wall” with toy blocks. The day after the primary, he went on national television and told Florida voters “not to monkey it up” by voting for Andrew Gillum. In October, Florida voters received a series of pro-Desantis racist robocalls, one of which featured a minstrel-style voice and had jungle music playing in the background. In last week’s gubernatorial debate, DeSantis went on a tirade about our organization, founded after the killing of Trayvon Martin to fight for the safety and dignity of all people, stating, “It doesn’t get more divisive than the Dream Defenders.”
Not only is DeSantis using racist dog whistles to win votes; he’s owned by those who profit from racist rhetoric — the private prison industry and the gun lobby — and both bank on a future rooted in division and fear.
These industries have been central to building a society that always imagines itself at war with ambiguous enemies like “illegals,” “criminals,” “terrorists,” “drugs” — all code words for people of color — to turn a profit. This is not a new phenomenon: Before starting the Corrections Corporation of America (now, CoreCivic), an $1.8 billion private prison corporation, Terrell Don Hutto ran a cotton plantation the size of Manhattan.
Together, these corporations, alongside politicians like DeSantis, spread lies about who we are, what our problems are and what solutions should be put forward to address these problems. They profit from a culture of violence that presumes that Black people, Muslims, Jews and immigrants are innately corrupt, criminal and terroristic; that resistance is aggression; and that death, control, militarized borders and incarceration are the only solutions to the problems we face.
Right now in Florida, these industries are behind the steering wheel of the DeSantis campaign. They are banking on the fact that the campaign’s racist rhetoric will get their candidate elected and translate into a policy agenda in which even more people are locked up, even more families are separated and everyone possesses a gun and is ready to use it, all while making sure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. These donors could end up determining what Florida looks like in the next four years, and masses of people are already being killed everyday at the hands of their agenda.
DeSantis has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from GEO Group, one of the world’s biggest for-profit prison companies, and their CEO, George Zoley. GEO Group brought in $2.62 billion in revenue last year off of locking people in prisons, immigrant detention jails and through the entire deportation machine. GEO pours millions of dollars into our electoral process — through candidate contributions and lobbying — to influence policy.
Just like DeSantis, GEO Group wins when we are scared of each other. When we see immigrants and Black people as the enemy, they can build more prisons and make cash. There is maybe no clearer example of GEO’s hold on our political system than Trump. In 2016, GEO Group poured $275,000 into a Trump super PAC and another $250,000 to his inaugural committee while he went across the country, calling immigrants “criminals.” The day after the election, their stocks soared. In the wake of Trump’s tough-on-immigration policy agenda, they’ve also become Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) largest contractor.
DeSantis has criticized Gillum for signing our pledge but has refused to discuss the substance of this pledge — to stop taking money from the private prison industry and the gun lobby. He hasn’t mentioned that GEO Group sent the Dream Defenders a cease-and-desist letter because of our attempts to release their corrupt hold on our political system. They threatened lawsuit after we got 30 politicians to sign our pledge and the Democratic Party of Florida to pass a resolution in support of it — a remarkable win considering it is the political standard in Florida for Republicans and Democrats to take money from the private prison industry.
DeSantis doesn’t want you to know that he and his backers see disaster in our communities as an opportunity for profit. There is no incentive to stop locking people up at astronomic rates or for the state to be an asylum for refugees or for school shootings to end when corporate actors like GEO and the National Rifle Association are profiting off a future based on violence, conflict, war and poverty because they make money every time we sell more weapons and build more prisons, security walls and a larger deportation machine.
While elections come and go, the lasting impact of DeSantis’s racist rhetoric, and the violent corporations he is in bed with, will continue to wreak damage on our lives and our society.
They tell us that the real problem isn’t them; the real problem is Black people, undocumented people, Jews, Muslims or poor whites. This is a line straight from the Freedom Papers, talking about the fear-based propaganda we receive everyday — and it’s no wonder DeSantis never points to it in his attacks: it reveals his exact strategy: a strategy that has been used by rich people throughout history to thwart the efforts to bring everyday people together across race to join forces in shared struggle. In an atmosphere where people are struggling with growing poverty and isolation, the answer is not to turn on each other but to come together, so we can turn on the one-percent.
We can live in a society where everyone has enough food to eat and a home to live in, can go to the doctor when they need to, and live in safety without fear of being killed by a neighbor or by the police. This is what the Freedom Papers is all about. It is a vision for all those who feel jerked around, for anyone who has to work two or three jobs just to get by; for all those that have lost someone they love to a gun. This is our work and our vision, regardless of what Fox News favorites like DeSantis say about us.
We have a choice on November 6 in Florida, and we can’t chose the candidate tethered to the puppet strings of some of the most corrupt and abusive corporations in the world. But no matter who wins on Tuesday, the fight doesn’t end there.
We are in a battle for society against forces that are willing to destroy our planet and our communities in the name of a dollar sign. We are living in dark days and we need all people in this country to commit themselves fully to fighting back. The political acts one takes in this moment must be bigger than casting a vote. The deep structural change that is needed to transform our society to take down groups like GEO and the NRA and build a world that prioritizes people, not money, will not happen overnight or be won solely at the ballot box. It requires commitment to engaging in long-term struggle to build power.
To do so, we need organizations that bring people together across difference to build deeper understanding and unity in order to topple the existing power structure and build anew. So whatever you do, join an organization because we must keep fighting come November 7.