【AL】 Roy S. Johnson: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ people-as-political-pawns stunt backfired; it revealed our humanity – Alabama News

#Roy #Johnson #Gov #Ron #DeSantis #peopleaspoliticalpawns #stunt #backfired #revealed #humanity

This is an opinion column.

I just wish he cared. I truly do.

I wish Gov. Ron DeSantis cared about them. Cared even a scintilla about the 50 or so men, women, and children he blithely doled out Florida taxpayers’ money like pixie dust to fly from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last week because they could possibly, potentially, maybe, who knows come to Florida.

To the state he governs with a hardened heart.

Maybe he does care—though hard to know behind that mean mug. No matter. Actions speak louder than face, and his petulant stunt he pulled screamed indifference, shouted disdain, and howled apathy for the 50 or so men, women, and children who trekked miles upon miles and crossed our border to escape uncertainty and political upheaval in Venezuela, their home nation.

Who came here (did they read anything about this mess of uncertainty and upheaval we’re stewing in) and are legal while awaiting a court to rule on their asylum requests.

Who came here for more, more opportunity, more peace. For what we all pretty much want: A better chance.

Those 50 or so men, women, and children did not come here to be pawns in a petty ploy—to be (let’s be real) human trafficked for political gain.

Marthas Vineyard Migrants

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – September 15: Students from the Marthas Vineyard Regional High School AP Spanish class help deliver food to St Andrews Episcopal Church. Two planes of migrants from Venezuela arrived suddenly Wednesday night on Martha’s Vineyard. The students served as translators for the migrants. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)Boston Globe via Getty Images

Now, let’s be real real: It didn’t work. Yeah, it allowed DeSantis and his ilk to do TikTok dances over the justifiable criticism he engendered. It allowed him to high-five a dwindling cadre of Americans who also don’t care about anyone who resembles their own ancestors, men, women, and children who escaped to our shores to pursue what we all pretty much want: A better chance.

It may have even backfired, too. Put a pin in that.

Susanna Herlitz-Ferguson is a long-time friend who has lived in Martha’s Vineyard for four years, lives there year-round. She moved there from a New York suburb because she wanted to live her own life after her four children, now adults, began living theirs. She moved there and opened a salad restaurant and a shop that sells, among other items, her soon-to-be-big line of salad dressing. Like many businesses on the island, her restaurant is now shut down, for the off-season. It is the natural circle of life on the Vineyard, and it’s why she is incensed at how the island is being characterized by some.

“People assume you live here because you have a fancy vacation home,” she told me this week. “But no, there are people here who work very hard and who struggle in the winter—regular people with regular lives and lots of struggles. This is not an island of elite people. This is actually an island with a lot of people who work like crazy.”

DeSantis’ stunt backfired because most of us care. Because most of us—no matter our political party or policy leanings, no matter our race or whether—felt something for those 50 or so men, women, and children whom DeSantis lied to. Whom he used.

His childishness backfired because what those 50 or so men, women, and children found was not a place that rejected their humanity but embraced it. A tiny—relative, certainly, to the whole of Florida—island place that opened its arms and hearts to them.

An island that, yes, depends on elite tourism for much of its sustenance—like, oh, Florida. Yet an island whose leaders, unlike Florida, embraced its visitors. Whose residents embraced the visitors so much so, my friend says, organizers disbursed an email asking empathizers to stop.

It backfired because it revealed our humanity.

Marthas Vineyard Migrants

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – September 15: Marthas Vineyard residents line up in front of St. Andrews Parish House to donate food to the recently arrived migrants. Two planes of migrants from Venezuela arrived suddenly Wednesday night on Martha’s Vineyard. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)Boston Globe via Getty Images

“I got emails and texts nonstop [saying] not to bring more donations because they couldn’t take all this stuff,” Herlitz-Ferguson said. “People were running over there in the middle of the night, offering their services, translating from Spanish to English and vice versa, [offering] food, you name it. [Organizers] couldn’t take them because it was just so much. [They said,] We know you want to help, but please don’t.”

It backfired, too, because it reminded us of our past, our critical past almost six decades ago when racist white Southerners gave Blacks tickets for busses headed north—revered Freedom Rides, they were mockingly, and fittingly, labeled.

Related: Flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard reminiscent of racist reverse Freedom rides

It backfired because those 50 or so men, women, and children DeSantis splurged taxpayer dollars to fly to Martha’s Vineyard won’t save the state much more than pennies, really. if that, although the governor claims Florida can’t afford to be home to any more men, women, and children migrants—though the state, by some estimates, takes in about 325 migrants per day, 120,000 over the past year.

Fifty men, women, and children, please. DeSantis’ ilk may cheer all it wants. It backfired because most of us, like the good folks in Martha’s Vineyard, care about people. About men, women, and children seeking a better chance.

Martha's Vineyard migrants DeSantis

Edgartown MA – September 15th 2022: Rafael Eduardo (left) an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela hugs another immigrant outside of the Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, on Marthas Vineyard. Photo by Dominic Chavez
(Photo by Dominic Chavez for The Washington Post via Getty Images)The Washington Post via Getty Im

It didn’t have to backfire. I truly wish, too, that governors of our United States convened, left their elephants and donkeys at the door, and discerned how to best influx the men women, and children seeking a better chance—how they can be more equitably housed. Especially when employers in many states, including (ahem) Alabama, are in dire need of workers.

DeSantis and some—raise your hand if you remember Sanford & Son—railed again when the 50 or so men, women, and children the Florida governor pimped and paraded for his own personal political purpose boarded busses on Martha’s Vineyard headed for Cape Cod, 42 miles away, where an American military base awaited them. An American military base better prepared than tiny island Martha’s Vineyard to provide the housing and schooling and other needed services.

Such as legal access to the courts granted to them by their requests for asylum—access to a better chance.

To someone who cares.

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Roy S. Johnson is a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary and winner of 2021 Edward R. Murrow prize for podcasts: “Unjustifiable”, co-hosted with John Archibald. His column appears in The Birmingham News and AL.com, as well as the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Press-Register. Reach him at rjohnson@al.com, follow him at twitter.com/roysj, or on Instagram @roysj.

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