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Let Us Alone: Why Florida is the Perfect Place to Celebrate Independence Day


I don't like to travel on holidays – period. The long lines, overbooked flights with missed connections, jacked-up prices on everything from the tickets to the car rental, to the hotel; I say no thanks to all of it. Now sometimes such calamity can't be avoided, but it recently occurred to me that in the 12 years I've lived here, I've never left Florida on the 4th of July. Then I realized something else – I didn't need to. It's the perfect place to celebrate independence.

Now, before all of my out-of-state friends start reminding me that I pretty much make a living registering complaints about the Sunshine State, or start rattling off everything from the 2000 election to face-eating zombies in order to remind me why my job in doing that is not terribly difficult, I'll concede that we are undoubtedly in the running for the strangest place on the planet. Yet that's sort of my point.

The 4th of July celebrates our independence, ostensibly from the British throne, but it's really become a day for us to celebrate good old Americana, and here in Florida we've got that down to a science. That shouldn't be a surprise. On the day Florida became the 27th state in 1845, Governor William D. Moseley hoisted up a flag that was literally emblazoned with the motto, “Let us Alone.” It was intended to be our official state flag mind you, though Mosley eventually acquiesced when it caused a stir among the Republic.

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Keep in mind, that was up in Tallahassee, which is practically a border town. Much further south in the outlaw outpost known as Key West, they still fly their own flag for “The Conch Republic.” Islanders were so suspect of outsiders that some of them fought extending the ground water system, willing to stay on cisterns rather than give main-landers an incentive to start poking their noses around any more than was absolutely necessary.

In fact, Floridians prize their independence to such a degree that the average sunshine state marriage lasts just over 10 years. While our divorce rate is 8th in the nation, in terms of how many per 1,000 get divorced each year, the fact that so many people divorce elsewhere and then relocate to our state afterward, has left us with more “single/divorced” per capita than any other. 

Now this is obviously a lighter column meant to pay homage to my adopted home on the holiday. I realize that Florida has never been a bastion of progressive politics (though former Governor Reuben Askew is a first-ballot hall-of-famer in that department) and that not many books have been written about Florida's culture of inclusivity. It is indeed a state that was for far too long corruptly run by a network of almost exclusively white good-old-boys and carpetbaggers, many of whom were most noted for the sunshine that passed freely through the space between their ears.

Still, it may be the last remaining melting pot in the United States. Every state has a convergence of culture to be sure, but Florida has an unparallelled diversity of ethnicity – huge populations of Cubans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Haitians, Mexicans, eastern Europeans and people from Ohio assimilating into the same place. People speaking Spanish, French/Creole, Serbian, Portuguese and even that weird accent from the movie Fargo in a state with over a million active concealed carry permits – and we don't even have a murder rate in the top 10!

True, our greatest display of creativity is usually best demonstrated in the lengths we will go in order to make it more difficult for our black residents to vote, and we're easier on pill mills than sick, old cancer victims growing a little reefer to ease their pain. But even though same sex marriage is nowhere on the horizon, any one of us can cross the bridge into Palmetto tonight and watch the most openly-gay band in the history of our great nation in a free concert, just before the fireworks. Hey, it's Florida – we take our progress where we can get it. Happy Independence Day!

Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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