Since the Zimmerman verdict was delivered many have taken up activism in the form of marches, rallies, prayer vigils and petitions. In two weeks the activism hasn’t let up but there is one method of activism we must think critically about, particularly because of whom it stands to impact.
Following the Zimmerman “not guilty” verdict, Florida became the site of many people’s hatred. I confess that I am a part of the faction who have spewed hateful words toward the Sunshine State. I lived in Florida from adolescence to early adulthood and some of my family and friends still live there. I’ve had some good times in Florida but over the years it has disappointed me. Whether it was the election recount or acquitting Casey Anthony, the young mother who seemed guilty of killing her child, Florida earned itself top-billing on my crap list. The Zimmerman “not guilty” verdict was another reminder of why I never want to call Florida home. And so, I openly cursed the state alongside those who call it home and those who call it hell. But people weren’t just cursing Florida; they were calling for a boycott of Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is overturned. The Moveon.org petition to boycott Florida states, “Your state is not a safe place to vacation if your citizens are able to kill anyone they deem suspicious.” Other parts of the boycott have encouraged people to not vacation in Florida, attend special events—such as concerts, support farming—Florida’s main cash crop is oranges, or do anything else that supports the Florida economy. As of the writing of this article the Moveon.org petition has nearly 13,000 signatures of their needed 15,000.
Supporters of the boycott have ranged from black political leaders to musical artists. Stevie Wonder stated that he will not perform in Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is overturned and gospel artists Mary Mary have followed suit in joining the artist contingency of the boycott. A longer list of artists in support of the boycott was circulating and has since been rejected, but the move toward the boycott is still going forward and this is discouraging. Why? Because while a boycott on Florida may hurt the economy, which might force the government to act, it will stand to hurt many innocent people before a change comes.
One of Florida’s largest industries is hospitality which includes all of the theme parks, hotels, restaurants and other attractions that pump money into the economy and create jobs. The people who work in those places look like Trayvon Martin and his family and George Zimmerman and his family. They are black, white, Latino/a, Asian, Native American, and Pacific Islanders. They are young people trying to pay their way through college from the University of Miami at the bottom of the state to Florida A&M University and Florida State University at the top, and all of the schools in between. They are college graduates who sometimes depend on jobs in hospitality to pay off their loans from said schools, pay their rent or mortgages, or to ensure their livelihood in general. They are middle-aged people who have fallen on hard times and found that a job at Disney World or a local restaurant is the only job they can get at the moment. They are senior citizens who made the decision to work because their social security and pensions don’t cover all of their living costs. They are foreign born citizens and immigrants who, as of 2011 represented 24.9% of Florida’s civilian working population. They work in one of the top three industries for immigrant workers in Florida, the arts, entertainment and recreation, and accommodation and food services industry. As you can see, a broad swathe of the population could be affected if a boycott goes forward. It would affect everyday people before it even begins to affect the “good old boys” in positions of power. The people who stand to be affected by a boycott on Florida are innocent bystanders given the fact that they had no control over the verdict. They had no say in determining the verdict—unless they were called for jury duty and made up an excuse for why they couldn’t serve. Now, the same people who had no say in the first place stand to be the ones who might be affected if a boycott does take place and this seems unfair and unjust. I agree with a that says,
“It should be obvious that to be just, criminal penalties have to be applied against the actual perpetrators, and they should be imposed, to the extent possible, equally and fairly against everyone caught committing the same crime and not just those who are especially unpopular or have a high profile. And just as a prosecutor or lawmaker has to determine what a sanction is supposed to accomplish, boycotters too should have some idea of what their purpose is.”
The story goes on to encourage boycotters to keep in mind that if this boycott is about the Stand Your Ground law, then they must focus their energies not just on Florida but on every state that has Stand Your Ground laws. The Los Angeles Times editorial board is encouraging critical thinking about the purpose of a boycott as political leaders and citizens in California mull over whether to support it. I’m encouraging the same here, that people on the verge of signing or disseminating the petition or those on the verge of boycotting Florida on their own consider what is at stake. As I said earlier, I believe a boycott will affect everyday people before it effects change on a bigger level. Indeed we want justice but we must consider how we attempt to acquire it and think about whether justice is “just us” or “just for all.” Who will and won’t benefit from a boycott on Florida, and will this bring us closer to or push us further away from getting rid of the Stand Your Ground law? To me, this seems like an integral question to answer before another step is taken or petition is signed.