“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” (Harry S Truman)
No, I’m not talking about fluoride, the naturally occurring mineral added to local water systems to fight tooth decay. I’m talking about the southern state whose governor and legislature are bent on promoting truth decay.
A few years back, under a different governor, the lawmakers of the great state of Florida banned the use of the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability” in any official communications, emails, or reports. Now, they have passed what is being called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which forbids discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary classrooms.
In recent days, the Florida legislature has also passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” designed to protect its sensitive residents from being made uncomfortable by the truth. Thus, it prohibits the teaching of history about race, identity, events, or circumstances that some might find unpleasant. Further, it restricts private corporations or businesses from offering diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings, as well, potentially, as sexual harassment trainings, if they cause discomfort.” Wounded employees could actually sue their employers for the distress. (And they call us snowflakes? Just sayin’.)
Having nixed critical race theory, and surely turning their attention now to Covid denial and sea-level-rise repudiation, conversational topics in the Sunshine State are becoming limited.
Pretty soon, Floridians will find approved conversation limited to orange juice (a wholesome breakfast beverage, as long as it’s made only from Florida oranges, and not those progressive California upstarts) and Mickey Mouse. Actually, they’re on the fence about Mickey. Despite his ambiguous voice, he is almost certainly a heterodent, but his Disney handlers are expressing some quasi-liberal sentiments, to the discomfort of Florida’s repressive regime.
Six thousand miles away, Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned the terms “war” and “invasion,” sanctioning only the phrase, “special military operation” to describe his full-scale aggression and war crimes against Ukraine. Those who disobey—journalists or private citizens—could face lengthy jail sentences. And last year, Putin signed a new law banning individuals designated as “extremists” from running for public office in Russia, and threatening prosecution of Russian citizens who participate in protests, retweet opposition posts, or donate to opposition groups.
Putin has already limited conversation about gay or trans citizens in Russia with his infamous 2013 “gay propaganda” law, which bans all mention of LGBTQ+ issues in any places accessible to minors. He went so far as to label the movement for transgender acceptance “a crime against humanity” and to equate homosexuality with pedophilia. Over the last twenty years, Putin has conducted an all-out offensive on his country’s LGBTQ community, couching it as necessary to protect Russia’s “traditional culture.”
When words and ideas are considered so dangerous that they must be regulated by legislation or decree, it’s a sure sign that those doing the legislating are: 1) seeking to restrict the free will of people they see as inferior to themselves, and 2) very, very afraid. Instead of conveying strength, Florida’s governor and Russia’s president have succeeded in demonstrating to the world just how weak they are and how feeble their positions are if they can only be upheld by guns and threats.
When we police language, when we legislate what words may and may not be used, and what conversations may and may not take place, we take away the basic human right to think for ourselves. We give power to those who seek to impose their will and their bigotry on others. We threaten freedom everywhere.
I’m not telling you anything new, anything you don’t already know. But we need occasionally to remind ourselves that we are not the resistance. They are. And that we must continue to do everything in our power to keep those who are standing in the way of justice, equality, and a safer world from spreading their lies or restricting our thoughts and our words.
Words have power. I have written before and will surely write more about how words have the capacity to wound and to heal, and how we need to choose our words with the awareness that they both convey and create the world as we want it to be.
Florida is a beautiful state. I have friends who live there and love it. I probably wouldn’t take kindly to their criticism of my own state’s politics. But like so many things we are seeing today, these examples of escalating prejudice and creeping fascism are too important to ignore, or to flick away with a wave of the hand and that dangerous old phrase, “It can’t happen here.”
“A terrible thing is happening … attention must be paid.” (Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman)