SILICON LOUNGE: Dems Wage Online 'Boycott Florida' Effort

I have a confession: I have a secret crush on Florida. In a weird way, Florida is home. I was conceived there back in early 1961. My mom and dad had gone to Hollywood from our Mississippi hometown for back-breaking factory jobs assembling aluminum chairs that, nevertheless, offered them a charmed life in their off time: barbecues under palm trees and long weekends lolling in the hot sand. But they returned to Mississippi before I was born; years later I would return on a high-school graduation trip to Fort Walton Beach up in the panhandle -- truth be told an area culturally like central Mississippi, but with beaches: not exactly progressive or exotic.

Until this year, my opinion of Florida was based on a collage of news reports, stereotypes and ill-informed impressions. It was a distasteful profusion of humid landmass filled with tacky retirees from the upper Midwest, concealed-weapons-toting paranoids, dumb surfers, angry Cuban capitalists and lots of tan-damaged, face-lifted, bleached-haired Upper East Siders and their wives. It was a stinky armpit of the country in need of some Arrid Extra Dry. I thought.

Then my partner's mother moved to Broward County, near where my parents gave backyard fish-fries 40 years ago. She, though, lives in a spacious house behind gates, complete with a pool that adorable mini lizards dart around -- and our old roadster in her double garage. South Florida was suddenly back on my radar; it'd be worth a few chuckles, I rudely thought.

I was in for two pleasant surprises: 1) South Florida is strangely delightful (during the non-scorching season), and 2) the diverse nutballs are fascinating. Yes, there are the RV bandits, the cool-man beach bums, the shrill Elian Gonzalez extended "family" of thousands. But also enthralling are the beautiful, couture-clad South Beach guys and dolls, the Coconut Grove-born black intellectuals, the Haitian immigrants eager to be (and vote) American, the Key West expatriate fisher(wo)men, the Jimmy Buffett-singing Parrotheads, the non-Cuban Hispanics whose voices grow louder by the year, the intercoastal boat culture, a vibrant gay and lesbian community, successful (for now) technology entrepreneurs, artists and writers inspired by saltwater and their own state's naked diversity. The visuals are arresting: My first night glimpse of the neon-streaked Miami skyline, an Art Deco masterpiece in its own right, gave me shivers. In November, there to cover the election, I admired the sparkly trail of intercoastal homes and boats, already punctuated by Christmas colors, forming Florida's own little Venice, albeit with satellite dishes and windsocks from Wal-Mart. Donald Trump's West Palm castle glowed like a gaudier Emerald City a few miles east of all the vote wrangling.

And there's always more: alligator wrestlers, professional vote stealers, horrendous margaritas made from white wine, orchid thieves. New Yorker writer Susan Orlean has said of the eccentric state: "Florida is less like a place than a sponge."

I'd argue, gulp, that Florida is the ultimate American state, a crossroads of everything quirky, blissful, sexy, inspiring, annoying, bigoted and dangerous we face as a country. It is a hotbed of immigration; it is the home of more white-supremacist groups per capita (and, seemingly these days, of smug white Republicans) than any other state in our union. Driving along Interstate 95 to West Palm soon after the election, passing gas-slurping SUVs, itty-bitty sports cars with vanity plates (one reading "The Ladd") and low-riders glowing purple and green, I realized that if America is going to have a cultural showdown, it would happen in Florida.

Florida is unpredictable, disorganized and partisan; it has a long history of racism by its white power brokers. As I write, the GOP-majority Florida Legislature is considering picking its own electors, just in case Gore manages to prove what most Americans must at least secretly know already: Minorities helped Gore draw more votes there.

Gore supporters (and/or Bush opponents) feel helpless as the GOP poses what hopefully will be the Rich White Man's Last Stand, should -- pray -- minorities be empowered by this election. What to do? Some Democrats are waging on online campaign (www.trustthepeople.com) to urge non-Bushies to boycott Florida, to hit below the economic belt by canceling Florida travel and even forgoing the state's citrus products for a while.

"The goal of our boycott is to send a message from the citizens of the United States and the entire world that we will not stand by and watch the Republican leaders of Florida deprive American citizens of their right to vote, and to have their votes counted," said boycott organizer Bob Fertik in an e-mail.

Yes, but Florida? Boycott Space Mountain? Sunset and (real) margs in Key West? I just learned to love the damned state.

But Fertik has a point, especially if that dissolute Legislature denies its own electorate's rights. Remember Boycott Colorado, after the state passed its anti-gay initiative? A lot of boycotters sure missed Vail, but chose a cause over its own pleasure. I believe in boycotts, even personal ones that may not make a difference: After all, how can you dis the Wal-Martization of small towns and still buy your shave cream there? In addition to most chain retail stores, I try to forego products produced by Philip Morris (including Kraft stuff), Coor's (easy) and, recently, Nike, to name three.

Sometimes pocketbook activism is all we've got left. The sea breezes will be there long after the Bush clan is but an embarrassing footnote in the history annals. New Year's Eve in Venice Beach, anyone?

E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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