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Daniel Tilson: Florida 2014 – Days of Future Past

So you ask, how did Florida’s future fare in 2014?

And you say your friend is wondering what our 2015 prospects look like?

Glad you’re asking, because I was contemplating just such things while chasing my 9-year-old kid and her friend around the carnival at a local park today.

They’re great pals, classmates at our local public school. In between fending off their heated, repeated requests for a snow cone-popcorn-cotton candy lunch (we negotiated pizza-snow cone settlement), I couldn’t–– help consider (OK, worry about) what their Florida futures might hold in store.

Forgetting for a minute about Democrats, Republicans and partisan politics (whew), my first thoughts (OK…fears) were of environmental hazards and risks facing all our children growing up in Florida.

From undeniably climate change-driven sea level rise, coastal flooding, super storms and other weather extremes; to air, water and soil pollution; to energy monopolies fighting for underground fracking rights; to toxic coal ash dumping, and more…this was one scary, smoke-filled crystal ball I was peering into.

Then, through the haze, I imagined a maze. There were rundown or abandoned little public school buildings, classrooms jammed with children robotically taking tests, jittery teachers monitored by overhead video surveillance; and few if any smiles to be seen, anywhere.

Needless to say, I’m more than a little concerned about what the future holds for our Florida public school system. If the corporate-political-religious forces pushing vouchers and charters as “choice” continue to outmaneuver us parents and teachers, the days ahead look dark indeed.

Sad truth is, given the clear and present negative impact we’re already feeling thanks to climate change deniers, public school privatizers, political profiteers and the like, the crystal ball content swirling in my minds eye was as much “current conditions” report as premonition.

But…here’s the thing:

On the environmental and public education fronts, Florida’s future showed genuine promise in 2014, the promise of real progress that could come if we organize and unite across all dividing lines, work hard, and follow some successful blueprints.

With more than 75 percent of voters joining in on passage of Amendment 1 in November, we took a landmark step in the right direction on environmental protection…together.

In Collier County, citizens and commissioners were working together to deny future drilling permits to Texas-based Dan Hughes Co. after it was caught using a controversial underground “acid-injecting” process similar to fracking – without a permit, and perilously close to both the Florida Panther National Wildlife refuge and a large residential community.

At the statewide and local levels in 2015, we’ll have to redouble such efforts to make polluters, politicians, regulators and media do the right thing.

The same goes for prioritizing, improving and protecting our public schools.

Statewide, a dynamic “Opt Out Florida” movement gained steam in 2014. County school boards, parents, teachers and concerned citizens joined forces, fighting the explosion of mandatory high-stakes testing that makes millions for select corporations – and headaches for everybody else.

In conservative Marion County, a diverse, nonpartisan “Yes For Marion Schools” coalition convinced voters of the wisdom in passing a small increase in property taxes (imagine that!) to reduce class sizes, offer music, art and physical education and support library programs.

With profit-driven corporate wolves drooling over billions they can take and make from our schools and save by forsaking adequate environmental protection, the fight for our future will remain fierce.

But the more we learn from and build on lessons and victories of 2014, the brighter our prospects are for 2015, and beyond.

Happy New Year!

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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