Orlando, it is very easy to fall into hopeless despair after Florida's 2021 legislative session. In the midst of a global pandemic, a global movement for racial justice and a climate crisis, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led legislature used our tax dollars to make it harder to vote, to pass local laws and even to protest and demonstrate. They passed billions in new sales tax collection on us, to be given away as kickbacks to corporate donors. Legislative leaders rejected countless opportunities to support working people and build a more equitable state, choosing instead to ban transgender kids from sports and protect confederate monuments.
But dear readers, we contend that the closer we are to victory, the harder the fights will get. It doesn't feel like it right now, admittedly. But amid all of this horror, we are on the cusp of something incredible. Before the 2022 legislative session kicks off in the fall, here are just a few ways to help and organizations to link up with to make the state a better place, starting here in our sweet City Beautiful.
Know Orlando's Black History: Gov. DeSantis is working hard to erase Black history from our schools, criminalize Black Lives Matter protests (with new "anti-riot" law HB1) and bring back Jim Crow voting laws. This is not the time to let up. This is the time to double down in defense of Black lives and anti-racism work. May 20 is Florida's Emancipation Day, and Juneteenth is right around the corner. Educate yourself on Central Florida's Black history. Start with the Orange County Regional History Center, the Wells'Built Museum in Parramore, the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum in Eatonville, and the Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park.
Honor Them With Action: It's hard to believe that we are nearing five years since June 12, 2016, when we lost 49 beautiful souls at Pulse Nightclub. Mostly LGBTQ+ and people of color, the victims and survivors of Pulse were already marginalized members of our community. Countless incredible LGBTQ+ organizations in Central Florida have formed in the wake of that night to address these systemic inequities. To name just a few worthy of your attention, Gender Advancement Project is a transgender-led grassroots movement; Del Ambiente centers LGBTQ+ Puerto Rican leadership; and The Bros in Convo Initiative promotes and protects the health equity of Black LGBTQ+ men living in Central Florida.
Act on Climate: Have you acquainted yourself with the good people at Central Florida Climate Action yet? It's a strategic alliance of organized labor, worker organizations, community groups, faith-based groups and other frontline communities unified in building a climate movement in Central Florida rooted in justice and led by those most directly impacted by the climate crisis. They are committed to tackling climate change by putting people and the planet over corporate profits, unlike the Republican majority in the state legislature.
Housing Is a Human Right: A 2020 study showed that evictions exacerbate COVID-19 cases and death. Yet Republicans permanently cut state affordable housing dollars by over 50 percent this year, even after 47,484 evictions were filed in Florida alone during the 2020 pandemic. The Florida Housing Justice Alliance is a movement of renters, mobile homeowners, people experiencing homelessness, advocates and allies calling for housing justice. Florida Rising and the Florida Public Service Union are two Orlando-based members of the statewide effort. Together, the alliance aims to protect renters, promote community stabilization, and ensure healthy, affordable housing for all.
Protect Abortion Access: The Florida Legislature is always going after bodily autonomy, and that includes inserting themselves in personal decisions that should be made by you in concert with your faith and your doctor, not a bunch of politicians. Florida Access Network is on a mission to protect our rights by building a mutual aid network of volunteers and partner organizations to eliminate barriers to abortion access in Florida. They accept volunteer applications on a rolling basis to help them build pathways for reproductive rights through tax-deductible donations from community members and foundations. You can learn more and donate at flaccessnetwork.org.
Essential but Excluded: Our farmworker communities have carried this pandemic on their backs since the beginning, yet many are excluded from federal stimulus, and residency requirements have made vaccine access difficult too. Hope CommUnity Center and the Farmworkers Association of Florida continue to organize and empower these frontline heroes keeping us fed.
Support Puerto Rican Liberation: For over a century Puerto Rico has lived under American colonialism, also experiencing catastrophic natural disasters and blatant government corruption. In Central Florida, we are enriched with a massive and growing Puerto Rican diaspora, and they are organizing in unison with the community on their beloved Island. Diáspora en Resistencia is one such organizing force, a statewide effort with members in the Greater Orlando area working towards collective liberation.
Help Save Local News! Local newspapers are fundamental to our freedoms. We keep the public informed and hold the powerful accountable. But local journalism is at risk. The beloved alt-weekly you're reading right now almost lost it all following the pandemic, and our less-cheeky cousin the Orlando Sentinel is facing a potential buyout from Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known for destroying newspapers. Become a member of the Orlando Weekly Press Club, donate to WMFE, and support the unionized workers of the Sentinel Guild in their efforts to save local news.
Stop Asian Hate: How can you stop Asian hate where you live? Orlando has an incredible and diverse Asian community, and there are several ways to get involved. One such organization is REACH (Recognition and Experience of Asian Cultural Heritage), which provides many wonderful programs to foster young leaders in the Central Florida community through cultural performances, festival activities and volunteer opportunities. The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum also has an active Orlando chapter, and the Orlando Queer & Trans Asian Association embraces intersections and empowers the more marginalized of the community through civic engagement, collaborations and production of educational resources.
Get to know your elected officials — and vote! Your local elected officials are here to serve you, never forget that. And coming this summer — like all the worst disaster moves — state lawmakers will begin the redistricting process and drawing new district lines. There will be public forums around the state and your voice must be heard. Update your voter registration and get engaged! If you don't know, find out who your State House Representative and State Senator is and ask them where they stand on the issues that matter to you. Far too many of them are counting on you not to be watching. Let them know you're watching and you vote! Calls and emails might not change their minds instantly, but they make much more impact than silence.