State of Affairs

DeSantis can’t stop progress: Get a sneak-peek at Florida’s safe space to learn

· Updated on October 20, 2023

When Florida Governor and now Republican presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis, signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law in March 2022, it seemed like a bleak time for Florida. Indeed, things in Florida have gone from bad to worse since then. Bills have been pushed in the state that directly target trans youths and even adult trans healthcare, and there are travel advisories marking Florida a no-travel state for trans people. This doesn’t even touch on the book bans or the removal of African American and Gender Studies courses in Florida schools.

However, among all of this, there is a bright ray of hope. Zander Moricz rose to prominence first as the youngest plaintiff against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and then for the viral video of his defiant graduation speech that had to avoid the school’s attempts at censorship. Channeling the national attention into action, Moricz has used his role as Executive Director of the Social Equity Through Education (SEE) Alliance to push back against DeSantis, the Sarasota County School Board, and wider attempts to limit Florida schools’ education about crucial issues. The group were responsible for the April 2023 protest “Walkout 2 Learn” and the latest step in this fight comes in the form of the very first SEE Space in Sarasota.

The SEE Alliance has worked behind the scenes and online for some time, but the SEE Space will be the first physical location where they can provide on the ground support for those who need it most. The SEE Space is breaking new ground as an Action-Based Collaborative (ABC) helping Florida’s marginalized groups by providing access to infrastructure, resources, and technology.

SEE Space Sarasota will serve as a safe space for young people to learn about themselves, their communities, and how to create the Florida they want to see. [It] has been designed by and for Sarasota County students. It’s the first place in our community, and in Florida, where young people will be given the resources and infrastructure to lead community projects of their own conception.

Julie Forestier, SEE Space Coordinator

The SEE Alliance are hosting a sneak peek of the new SEE Space on October 19 at 5PM, and the official grand opening will take place at the start of 2024. Of course, not everyone is in easy traveling distance of the Sarasota SEE Space. INTO has partnered with the SEE Alliance to provide a digital sneak peek of the space, and we hope that it can inspire support for this crucial organization and inspiration for other similar projects around the United States as the political landscape continues to be a dangerous space for already marginalized groups.

The October sneak peek welcomes special guests, Zander Moricz as SEE’s Executive Director, Julie Forestier as the SEE Space Coordinator, Tom Edwards as a member of the Sarasota County School Board, and Sebastian Martinez, the founder of Sarasota Youth Association. This figures represent the importance of this space to the community, and their statements about the space enforce just why it is needed.

Zander Moricz, Executive Director of SEE

Many Gen-Z Floridians (myself included) have only been politically-aware long enough to follow the leadership of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, which means that many of us have been marginalized and disaffected by our political system since the moment we became aware of it. SEE Space Sarasota is a political sanctuary for young people who are discouraged, angry, hopeless, or hurting to come to transform their experience into one of power.

The space is being built by high school and college students bonding over what they need, and what they wish they’d had in their lives sooner, and it’s been a hopeful, joyful, powerful, cathartic process.

Julie Forestier, SEE Space Coordinator

My background is in community and political organizing, and I got my start as a student organizer in college years ago. As someone with extensive training and experience in what it takes to organize for change, I am overwhelmingly impressed by our founder, Zander Moricz and his ability to intuitively envision what it will take to create the world we want to see. The entire team Zander has put together is inspiring, and it really is such a great honor to be on this team.

As a community organizer, I know that relationship building is the antidote to disempowered isolation. I’ve been talking a lot this year about needing a place where we can go in Sarasota to move away from that disempowered isolation and towards empowered connection.

I am incredibly grateful for the divine alignment of Zander’s vision with my own. There is such an incredible need for a civic engagement and activation center in Sarasota, which is what the SEE Space will provide. It will be a place of community building, where people will come together to fight for justice. It will be a place of love, hope and acceptance. It will be a place where people feel supported and nourished. And it will be THE place where this movement that has been building here takes root.

Tom Edwards, Sarasota County School Board Member

The SEE Space is the first of its kind here in Sarasota. As a School Board member that visits schools regularly, I know how frustrated our students are with the culture wars, the white-washing of their curriculum and censorship via book banning. This safe space is where they find the resources for fixing public education and creating a significantly freer Florida.

Sebastian Martinez, Founder of Sarasota Youth Association

When I was 15 years old, I and a couple classmates started noticing a lot of issues in our school – lack of textbooks, outdated technology, and really inefficient use of resources and we wanted to work to fix it. We tried to work with the admin but nothing really came of it. One day we decided to tune into a school board meeting online, during which we heard some of the most vile rhetoric being espoused by so-called ‘concerned parents of Sarasota’ – many members who later went on to join an organization called Mom’s for Liberty.

We then decided to start attending these school board meetings and meeting with students from our school and across the district before the meetings. After a while, the so-called ‘concerned parents’ started harassing and intimidating the students they were supposed to be speaking for.

After a while, it’s draining, it’s exhausting, and it’s isolating. I was so lucky to meet an amazing group of parents who had my back at Support Our Schools – but not everybody gets that. Now, because of the SEE Space and the amazing work of this entire team – youth advocates in Sarasota won’t have to worry about their safety, youth advocates won’t feel alone. The SEE Space will provide a safe space to meet, a place to network, organize, and work together with other organizers to begin doing some really amazing work to help empower marginalized young people and members of our community.

Because of SEE and this Space, I am confident that no amount of heckling, intimidation, discouragement, or threats will stop our young people from fighting for their future, their education, and their right to live. The SEE Space will provide the infrastructure and framework to do the important, necessary, and laborious work to fuel our fight, to get into as representative John Lewis said ‘Good Trouble.’

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