The recent Florida bill signed by Governor Ron DeSantis to revoke the special tax status of Disney Corporation for its leaders speaking out against the new “Don’t Say Gay” law is less about DeSantis or Disney than it is about the decline of our “representative democracy.”
Here are 10 takeaways:
1. The revocation is blatant retaliation by Florida Republicans for Disney officials pausing political donations – much of them to Republicans – and for condemning the new education law that limits and prohibits discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools. The education law is part of a decades-long trend by the GOP to focus on issues that appeal to social conservatives to limit the basic rights of others, in this case, the LGBTQ community.
2. Disney Corporation was initially silent on the law, but was forced to oppose it following pressure from their employees and customers, who reflect society’s diversity. Disney’s action followed statements by other corporations over the last few years on the January 6 insurrection and laws in several states limiting voting rights. More corporations will undoubtedly issue statements if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade.
3. Florida granted Disney the authority to effectively self-govern the 25,000-acre theme park 55 years ago. One of many “special improvement districts” in the state, the corporation is in many ways the government of its zone – maintaining roads and providing fire and medical responses. There are tax advantages to the arrangement, but the real advantage is their power or control over virtually everything inside the park.
4. The Florida legislature and DeSantis possess the authority to create and dissolve these zones, just as state legislatures have the power, as they should, to create and dissolve corporate entities that are creations of the state if they break the law or the terms of their charter. DeSantis, acting like an autocrat, and the Florida legislature clearly abused and exceeded their power according to state law. It will surely be overturned if challenged by Disney. The dissolution doesn’t go into effect until 2023.
5. The popular narrative, even among some in the progressive media, is that Disney, like all corporations, needs corporate constitutional rights as protection to speak out as a bulwark to counter unjust proposed or passed laws. This is based on the flawed assumption that there are only two actors in the public arena: elected officials and corporations. Deferring our voices to corporations to protect and represent us is becoming increasingly normalized. This is a radical departure from the intended role of business corporations to be subservient to the public. Please take a few moments to reflect on and compare the instances where the “free speech” of business corporations overall benefited the public good vs benefited their bottom lines. The two sometimes overlap and are more common with certain types of corporations, but overall it’s more the exception than the rule.
6. Disney, like all corporate entities, doesn’t need and shouldn’t have constitutional rights to share their “corporate views.” All 75,000 Disney employees as individuals have free speech. So do all their stockholders and every person who works for any company that does business with or in any way is associated with Disney. Business corporations don’t need constitutional rights if they want to establish internal policies supporting racial, gender, LGBTQ or voting rights; or help employees who want to have abortions. If society collectively believes corporate entities should have the right to share their political views, they can pass appropriate statutes/laws, which are different from constitutional rights.
7. Political free speech is sacred, but it’s also regulated or prohibited in ways that we take for granted. No person has the “right” to speak on whatever they want for as long as they want before their city council, state legislature, or any Congressional committee. See what happens if you try. There must always be a balance between individual rights and those of others.
8. The ultimate problem isn’t DeSantis or Disney. It’s democracy – as in a lack of it. Our governing institutions aren’t representative and decreasingly transparent. Basic needs demanded by the plurality, if not the vast majority, of people aren’t met as elected officials increasingly respond to the interests of the mega rich and major business corporations. Many passed laws that people want have been preempted or overturned by corporations claiming any number of violations of their “constitutional rights.” Other laws can’t even be considered because of the “chilling effect” that they, too, will be overturned. Despite numerous laudable features, the U.S. Constitution’s inherent flaws in elections and voting, the Supreme Court, the lack of basic rights for all people, difficulty amending and emphasis on property rights are becoming more exposed, resulting in plummeting faith and trust in representative government. The cumulative effect has been the rise of want-to-be autocrats, like Ron DeSantis, using corporate media – especially social media – to exploit these conditions to concentrate power, enrich personal and corporate supporters and overturn laws they don’t like. Our initial very imperfect democracy is becoming even more like a Disney theme park with a perception of reality that doesn’t exist – feel-good features that provide a cursory sense of participation (e.g. voting), but is becoming less meaningful over time.
9. A peoples’ democracy movement is needed as the counterweight to the growing “Democracy Theme Park.” The movement must be authentically diverse to include individuals representing front-line communities, and be politically and economically independent. Its goal must be nothing less than to build power to oppose current unjust proposals and conditions and to create alternatives and to dismantle the mechanisms of corporate rule (i.e. by enacting our We the People Amendment), oligarchy and inherent constitutional flaws.
10. It’s ultimately up to us to make decisions affecting our lives, communities and planet. The only way to make the government and corporations accountable is if people come together to become more powerful. Move to Amend must be part of any democracy movement. One specific way to make the movement grow is to make Move to Amend grow. You can do that by personally encouraging everyone you know to sign our Motion to Amend. Please share the following link on social media and send an email asking everyone you know to sign: https://www.movetoamend.org/motion. You can also download the petition from the same link and circulate it everywhere you go.
Your leadership is needed to help Move to Amend and the inevitable larger democracy movement grow.