Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just unveiled a new anti-critical race theory bill he’s calling the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” and cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech while doing it.
Alongside students and a prominent right-wing anti-critical race theory activist, DeSantis on Wednesday introduced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act. In a pre-released statement, DeSantis referred to the right’s new bogeyman against anti-racism as “state-sanctioned racism.”
During a press conference later, DeSantis took his rhetoric a step further: He referenced the most visible hero of the civil rights movement who worked against actual state-sanctioned racism, including in Florida.
"You think about what MLK stood for,” DeSantis said. “He said he didn't want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character.”
“You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don't talk about that,” DeSantis said to applause.
It goes without saying that Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, and life’s work, was dismantling segregation and winning civil rights and liberties for Black people that had been denied for much of the existence of the United States.
DeSantis’ bill, on the other hand, is consistent with ongoing efforts by the right to use the power of the state and courts against the push to confront racism and inequality in American history and society, an effort that followed George Floyd’s murder last year.
The bill, according to DeSantis, would create a “private right of action” for individuals (including students, parents, and employees) to sue schools and employers who force them to learn critical race theory, similar to provisions found in the recent Texas abortion ban and later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s gun control efforts.
“Honestly, the parents know best what’s going on, and they’re in the best position to be able to do it,” DeSantis said, stressing that lawsuits could result in discovery and, according to the governor, uncover “all this information that [schools] are doing it.” DeSantis also said parents would be able to recover attorneys’ fees.
Additionally, the law would ban public school districts and secondary institutions from “hiring woke CRT consultants.”
In reality, the new laws and regulations against critical race theory around the country will have a chilling effect on free speech, according to a report released last month by PEN America.The report calls them “attempts to legislate constraints on certain depictions or discussions of United States history and society in educational settings; to stigmatize and suppress specific intellectual frameworks, academic arguments, and opinions.”
DeSantis introduced the bill alongside Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who has explicitly said he wants to weaponize critical race theory as a tool of liberal indoctrination. DeSantis introduced Rufo as someone “who has done more than anybody else in our country on exposing CRT.”
Rufo said CRT teaches white people to “apologize for their whiteness” and referred to critical race theory as “the dominant ideological orientation in elite institutions everywhere.”
DeSantis’ new proposal was slammed by critics Wednesday, including the editorial board of the Miami Herald, which called the move “a cynical, and effective, calculation by a politician with presidential aspirations.”
“Unlike Martin Luther King or John Lewis, DeSantis doesn’t seek to unify the country behind the call for equal rights,” the editorial board said. “He seeks to divide it by stoking resentment of racial-equity efforts at schools and workplaces, which he equates to critical race theory, the new enemy in the GOP’s culture wars.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.