Antisemitism on display. This is not new to Florida. There have been similar occurrences downstate, most notably in Orlando, even more notably because Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, refused to condemn the neo-Nazis involved and left it to his spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, whose interpretations and propaganda on behalf of DeSantis boggle the mind, to posit that they weren’t really Nazis, they were people pretending to be Nazis to embarrass the governor.
But this is in Jacksonville on the Chaffee Road overpass that carries traffic over I-10 as it begins its long journey from the St. Johns River to Los Angeles.
This particular overpass has seen this type of activity before. A few years ago, some people decided a display of Confederate flags would be appropriate.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) lives eight miles west of the overpass in a small town that could be described as Old South and there’s no conditional verb needed to note it is Trump country. The 2024 flags break out every so often.
Thus, this is no surprise to GOT but it is a momentous event in our current lives and trajectory into our country’s future.
This is no 1960s Nazi parade through Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a large number of Jewish residents that the ACLU would defend as free speech, offensive as all would perceive, but free speech nonetheless. Those were attention-seeking events that made noise in the media, but were otherwise ignored. The fringe was seen as fringe, sore losers in a great conflict that had been decided a few decades earlier.
But this is something different. This is American racism, as old as the country itself, believing it is time to appear publicly once more with its targets being Black people, Jewish people, Spanish-speaking people from other Western Hemisphere nations, and most recently, the LGBTQ community.
This is American racism directed against our Jewish friends and neighbors with old, tired tropes like the Communist symbol that disappeared with the Soviet Union, a political entity not known for its love of the Jewish people. This is what evil looks like when it appears among us. It goes by many names, you already know them, there is no reason for GOT to give hate groups free publicity.
There is no place for antisemitism in America and that includes Florida. But this is what we get when a political party becomes the home for a desperate minority who fears losing their power and their privilege. That party now bases its political fortunes on indulging the worst fantasies and prejudices of white supremacy.
This is the broader societal trend that manifests itself in new laws and regulations that shut down free speech and the integrity of academic inquiry in our schools with the bans on discussing race, American history that is anything but a white-washed version of actual history, and understandings of gender identity. Understand that these vague laws intend not only to sanitize classroom lessons so only the approved version is explored, but also to chill all expression, school clubs, even private conversations with trusted adults.
It is a waste of time to argue with these hateful people. To tell them that their words and actions are causing higher rates of mental illness, especially depression, in young people with higher incidences of self-harm and suicide will not persusade them. They don’t see this as a problem.
What they do see as a problem is an attempt by public schools to teach the truth. Thus, at the behest of Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida legislature passed bills to stop schools from addressing racism or issues of gender identity. One is infamously known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The Governor’s idea is to stop the indoctrination of children by mandating his version of indoctrination.
But there are many more grumpy teachers than GOT, many of whom may be willing to buck the law and carry on as they always have. They will soon be out of a career.
Florida law mandates that the Holocaust is taught in our schools. This has been a huge political talking point for the party that has controlled Tallahassee and the Governor’s mansion for over 20 years, the same party referenced above that provides cover to white supremacy who feel entitled to display anti-semitic banners on an interstate overpass.
But that same party won’t condemn these displays. Ironic, isn’t it?
In the LOTR movie The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Gandalf sit together and Frodo laments that he wishes the ring had never come to him and none of it had happened. Gandalf responds that all wish that who live in times of trouble, but that is not for them to decide. What we must decide is what to do with the time we have.
It is time. Time to stand up and call out evil for what it is. Time to eradicate racism in all its forms, including the hatred of Jewish people. This is wrong and we must speak up. We must take action against this.