Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday a measure creating a “Victims of Communism Day” at Florida’s public schools, though much of the discussion centered around what state officials believe to be a rise in communist sympathies at Florida’s college campuses.
The bill in question, HB 395, establishes ‘Victims of Communism Day’ in Florida’s public K -12 schools, with specific efforts in high school, such as 45 minutes of classroom instruction in 2023-24 about various communist governments and their leaders.
But at a press conference Monday in Miami-Dade, DeSantis switched over to talk not about K-12 education but rather college campuses, which the governor tends to view as liberal bastions.
He claimed that a lot of young people “don’t really know that much about what communism meant in practice” and “there are probably more Marxists on college faculties in the United States, than there are in all of eastern Europe combined.” The governor did not provide specific data on those numbers during the press conference.
He added: “You can see, at a college campus, students flying the hammer and sickle, from the old soviet union flag,” DeSantis said. “You will have students, who have T-shirts with Che Guevara on the T-shirt. You will see students who idolize people like Mao Zedong. That to me speaks to a tremendous ignorance about what those individuals represented and the evils of communism inflicted on people throughout the world.”
As to the Victims of Communism bill, DeSantis said, “We want to make sure, every year, folks in Florida, particularly our students, will learn about the evils of communism, the dictators that have led communist regimes and the hundreds of millions of people who suffered and continue to suffer under the weight of this discredited ideology.”
When HB 395 was heard on the House Floor during the 2022 legislative session, bill co-sponsor Rep. David Borrero sited a 2020 poll from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation that noted growing favorability toward socialism and communism among younger voters, such as Millennials and Zoomers.
According to the key take-aways from the survey: “40% of Americans have a favorable view of socialism, up from 36% in 2019. Socialist sentiment is increasing among younger generations with Gen Z’s favorability at 49%, up from 40% in 2019.”
The Phoenix asked about particular data for students and professors that appear to have communist leanings, but the Board of Governors has not yet responded. The board oversees the state university system.
Keep in mind that is legal to be a Communist in America.
“And so our goal here is to stand for the truth,” DeSantis said. “It’s to make sure that Florida, every year, will be able to speak the truth about the evils of communism and recognize those who have fought under the yolk and have escaped to freedom.”
The legislation establishes that Nov.7 be dubbed ‘Victims of Communism Day’ by the Florida Governor, which shall be “suitably observed” by Florida public schools to honor the “100 million people who have fallen victim to the communist regimes across the world.”
Specifically, starting in the 2023-24 school year, high school students taking United States Government course will have at least 45 minutes of classroom instruction about various communist governments and their leaders, such as Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro, and “how victims suffered under these regimes though poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence, and suppression of speech.”
DeSantis was joined by Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nuñez who echoed his talking points about positive associations of communism on college campuses.
“And sadly, as the governor mentioned, throughout college campuses and throughout this country, we are seeing communism and socialism being romanticized,” she said. “Positive attitudes are at an all-time high, here in this country. But, not here in Florida. Because freedom, not Marxism, has a home here in the free state of Florida.”
She also spoke on other efforts by the state administration to limit what topics are taught in schools, such as banning critical race theory — an effort examining the role of racism, including slavery, in American society — and the New York Times’ 1619 Project from Florida classrooms.
“And by the actions we’re taking today, along with the actions we’ve already taken – like removing CRT, woke ideology from our classroom … to empower parents to make decisions for their children – we will always ensure that our students are getting the best education. Free of socialist ideology, and CRT and woke terms that we will not allow,” Nuñez said.
Miami-Dade Sen. Manny Diaz, the upcoming Florida Commissioner of Education, said that recent COVID restrictions were akin to communism.
“You know, when we talk about communism, victims of communism, we think about it over-shores. But, what’s happened during COVID is a lot of these governments across the United States have tried to lock people down – a version of communism,” Diaz said. He was the Senate sponsor of the bill.
He continued: “And so I am very lucky, to not only have sponsored this bill with my colleagues in the House, but also, hopefully have the opportunity to implement this bill and make sure that every one of our students that goes through a government class in the state of Florida will have a lesson on the perils and evils of communism, and that we will have a day every year to commemorate those victims.”
DeSantis also signed into law a bill, SB 160, changing the names of street signs to names of some people who dissented against Fidel Castro’s government.
–Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix