By Florida Policy Institute Staff – October 19, 2022
We all lose when policy decisions limit who can thrive. But when Floridians come together to pursue a better future, everyone wins.
The Florida Timeline shines a light on the discriminatory policies of Florida’s past — policies that harm Floridians and entrench inequities even today. Systemic racism, or racism ingrained in laws and policies, is integral to the story of Florida, and our policy past teaches us difficult lessons about injustice. But just as integral to our shared story is the deeply rooted legacy of resilience, resistance, and solidarity.
Throughout Florida’s history, people have come together across racial, ethnic, and economic lines to pursue racial justice — not just to benefit Floridians of color, but to expand equity and opportunity for all Floridians.
As Heather McGhee describes in her 2021 book, The Sum of Us, when people come together across differences to create equitable laws and policies, all of us reap the benefits. Below are just a few examples of the good things that have happened when Floridians worked together.
Florida Teacher Walkout, 1968
Under Florida’s Constitution, education is a right of all Floridians and it is the “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” While the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) formula was created in 1973, Florida laws and policies going back to the nineteenth century set the groundwork for how the state approaches taxation and education spending, often establishing a deeply disparate treatment by race and family income.
In 1968, in the first statewide teacher strike in the United States, an estimated 27,000 teachers protested the longstanding underfunding of Florida’s public schools by handing in resignation slips and walking out. Black teachers and white teachers joined together to demand higher pay and improved school budgets — then-Governor Claude Kirk had promised improvements, but the teachers protested after it became apparent that his campaign promises were just empty rhetoric. The strike ended on March 8, 1968, after two-and-a-half weeks, when the recently integrated Florida Education Association and the state agreed on increasing investments in education.
Community Health of South Florida, 1971
The World Health Organization has long considered health and access to health care a basic human right. In Miami, Doris Ison established Community Health of South Florida Inc. (CHI) to achieve just that. She saw that there was a huge disparity in care for Black and Mexican residents in South Miami-Dade due to several factors, including the fact that many were uninsured, and that there was no access to a hospital close by where people of color could receive care.
Doris organized a coalition of people from different organizations and her church to start a health center for Floridians of all races. She convinced doctors to volunteer their time and work from double-wide trailers to bring care to the community. She received federal money from the Office of Economic Opportunity and a supplement from Metropolitan Dade County to open CHI in the 1970s. Today, Doris’ vision has grown into 11 health centers and more than 30 school-based health centers with comprehensive services and programs. CHI has implemented free transportation to and from appointments and extended its hours to include evenings and weekends. Today, it is no longer just a place for the indigent. Now, the uninsured and insured get quality health care at conveniently located health centers throughout South Dade.
Voting Rights Restoration (Amendment 4), 2018
Prior to the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018, the Florida constitution permanently stripped the voting rights from citizens that had been convicted of felony offenses. The only path that returning citizens had to restoring their voting rights was to appeal to the Clemency Board, which had significant discretion in judging the character of applicants and determining whether a person’s right would be restored or not. In addition to a severe backlog of applications, the clemency process was rife with racial disparities and many Black applicants never saw their rights restored. Despite completing their sentences, these citizens were disenfranchised and barred from exercising their fundamental civil rights.
In 2018, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice, drafted Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights for most Floridians with past convictions. Years of tireless advocacy of FRRC, a nonpartisan, multiracial coalition of Floridians with past convictions and advocates, led to a groundswell of support from all corners of the state. That November, Floridians made their voices heard and passed Amendment 4, with 64 percent of voters approving the measure. This was a historic expansion of voting rights, making a big dent in the state’s long history of disenfranchising people of color and expanding voting rights for all people with past convictions, of every race and in every corner of our state.
Fight for $15 (Amendment 2), 2020
In November 2020, Florida voters made the historic decision to move an estimated 2.5 million working Floridians closer to a living wage. Under Amendment 2, the state minimum wage gradually increases each year until it reaches $15 per hour in 2026. Amidst lawmakers’ refusal to increase worker pay, Florida voters reclaimed their power by passing the $15 minimum wage via ballot initiative with a 61-percent majority. The initiative made the ballot thanks to support from the Floridians for a Fair Wage coalition. Once the measure was on the ballot, coalitions like Fight for $15 – Florida, composed of workers of all races and backgrounds, shared their stories, mobilized voters, and successfully made the case to lift the minimum wage in the Sunshine State.
Amendment 2 will raise the pay floor for workers with the lowest income, and eventually benefit all Floridians, by:
- Directly raising pay for more than one in four working people.
- Helping lift over 1 million households out of poverty, as couples and parents bring home more income.
- Reducing longstanding pay inequities among Black and Latina/o and immigrant workers, as the racial pay divide is at its highest level in 43 years.
- Indirectly raising pay for an additional 600,000 non-minimum wage working Floridians, as these more senior or specialized employees earning above the minimum wage get raises to keep them above the new minimum wage.
Collectively, the positive impacts mentioned above will manifest in increased spending power for consumers, which keeps businesses afloat and increases tax revenue to support public goods and services. Over time, it should also lead to a reduction in public benefits usage, costly emergency room visits, and other economic burdens that poverty causes.