In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is leading a concerted political attack against working people, gutting democratic institutions, and further marginalizing people of color and LGBTQ+ people. The dangerous and regressive campaigns in Florida are just some of the most visible in the nationwide advance of the far right.
In a panel earlier this year on fighting the right in Florida, hosted by DSA’s Bread & Roses caucus, St. Petersburg City Councilor Richie Floyd, United Faculty of Florida (UFF) member Katie R., and University of Florida (UF) YDSA organizer Allan Frasheri discussed the challenges of organizing the left in their state. Between DeSantis’ blitz of union-busting legislation and removal of elected officials from local office, to censorship of school and workplace discussion around race- and gender-based oppression, to racist election police — the left faces serious threats around every corner.
The panel made it clear that what happens in one part of the country is never isolated. The right-wing offensive can spread quickly, and in many cases what is blatant in Florida is already latent in other states. Conservatives are organizing nationally to connect these offensives in state after state. It’s going to take a political strategy beyond the anemic liberal injunction to “go vote” in order to defend democratic rights, build militant labor unions, and organize students to become lifelong socialists. The lessons these socialist organizers shared are more relevant than ever as the odds of a Trump presidency in 2025 increase.
Local Left Under Siege
Richie Floyd, B&R and DSA member, elected to the St. Petersburg city council in 2021, noted how DeSantis is extending state power to halt progressive, and even basic liberal, advances at the municipal level. Recently, Florida passed legislation making it easier for individuals and businesses to sue municipalities for lost profit that local ordinances might impose through workplace or environmental regulations. Texas passed similar laws this year.
Floyd also expressed his city council colleagues’ fears of being undemocratically removed from office for advancing progressive policies. Using a Florida law that allows the governor to suspend officials for various kinds of wrongdoing, DeSantis has removed democratically elected officials, from a chief prosecutor to multiple school board members. These moves are raising the alarm as unconstitutional power grabs.
DeSantis’ newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security have also instilled fear in voters. Police targeted and arrested Black voters and publicly posted videos of the arrests during the 2022 election.
Unions Under Fire
Public office and elections are not the only democratic institutions threatened by Florida’s right-wing wave. Katie, a teacher at Florida International University (FIU), described DeSantis’s assault on unions. “The Florida State legislature has long been trying to eliminate opposition to their antidemocratic measures,” Katie said. Two recent union-busting rules come out of Senate Bill 256, signed by DeSantis in May 2023. Namely, public sector unions are now required to maintain 60% dues-paying membership. If they fall below that level, the union must petition for recertification, or face decertification within 30 days. On top of this, the law prohibits certain public sector unions from collecting dues directly from workers’ paychecks, creating a big logistical hurdle for unions to collect dues.
Katie, membership chair of her UFF local, said union-busting attacks have escalated recently, but union leadership has long failed to create a proactive, statewide plan to organize members. “It’s important for socialists to condemn the right while talking about how higher ed has been underfunded, especially majority POC schools,” she said. UFF represents faculty, but not adjunct professors or graduate students. Floyd, a former teacher who is married to a teacher, also shared deep concerns about the very existence of unions for public school educators in the near future.
Gutting Higher Education
Campuses are the sites of important labor struggles in Florida, but students’ free speech and access to good education are in jeopardy too. Katie listed some of the teach-ins, rallies, and class walk-outs organized to energize faculty and students alike. “The Stop WOKE Act is worded so vaguely, and it has looked like teachers removing all books from their classrooms,” UF YDSA organizer Allan Frasheri reported.
The public university system in Florida is essentially controlled by DeSantis, Frasheri explained. Members of the universities’ Board of Trustees and the supervisory Board of Governors are largely appointed by, and/or are donors to, DeSantis. Top university appointments have been handed over to conservatives with little experience in higher education, including Florida’s anti-trans and anti-vaccine surgeon general.
Although students across Florida have built coalitions to fight back against DeSantis, the right-wing element of the state government is largely unscathed. Frasheri hopes that, if these coalitions and their campaigns can’t topple the right at the state level today, they can at least develop more students’ left-wing politics and identify some lifelong socialists. While the current protests by themselves are unlikely to drive change, Frasheri noted that given educators’ structural power in the state economy “getting people to industrialize, especially as teachers, will be effective.”
Learning From Florida
Developing a new crop of socialists who are committed to taking rank-and-file jobs, leading the labor movement, and contesting state power is crucial. YDSA chapters are crucial for this development. Frasheri was inspired to organize a YDSA at UF after Floyd, then a candidate for council, visited his high school. DSA members in Florida are connecting the dots between campus organizing, militant unions, and electoral campaigns. Our national organization needs to support them in this pivotal moment.
All three panelists noted the need for greater investment in YDSA in order to develop more lifelong socialist organizers. Meanwhile, DSA is building the For Our Rights Committee, based on a resolution passed at the 2023 convention to develop a socialist strategy for fighting back against the right ahead of next year’s presidential election. DSA also increased its budget for supporting chapters who want to run candidates in local school board elections.
We need to be in conversation with one another beyond the confines of our local or even state-level DSA work, because the Right is on the rise all over. Far-right Republican Lee Zeldin came much closer against Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul in New York last year, riding a remarkable rightward shift across the state. Nurses on strike in New Jersey this year faced a retaliatory restraining order tampering their picket line. Book bans are rampant in Texas, Missouri, Utah, South Carolina and more. The neo-Nazi rallies in Florida are not just made up of Floridians — right-wing activists from Georgia, New Jersey, and beyond are protesting loudly and proudly.
Fascist advances in Florida may not only spread beyond the state, but are indicative of other right-wing threats already present. Infamous Floridian Donald Trump remains the towering figure in the national Republican Party and is bent on dehumanizing and destroying the left, further criminalizing immigrants, and undermining democratic elections. Democratic socialists, student organizers, and union workers have our work cut out for us to fight the right in Florida and stop its spread nationwide.