Dave Rogers for Florida 17

Systemic Inequality

When I decided to enter this race, my three main issues were going to be climate change, sea level rise and development. Systemic inequality wasn’t on my radar. I filed my Notice of Intent on May 13th. George Floyd was killed on May 25th.

A lot has changed since then.

I’m a sixty-three year old, white male, born in the USA. I live in a county that’s 88% white, and has the highest income level of any county in the state. Between my Social Security and my Navy retirement check, I make about $70K a year. That’s right about the median income level of St Johns County. Coincidentally, it’s also right about the income level that sociologists say affords maximum happiness. That is, more money wouldn’t necessarily make me any happier. And I think that pretty much describes most of the people in St Johns County. For the most part, we’re pretty happy with the status quo. About the only time you see people get upset is when someone tries to build a gas station where the neighbors don’t want it, or someone tries to put a development right in GMTNERR.

As has become clear to me of late, that is the essence of "privilege." Although I can honestly state that my life has not been without significant challenges, setbacks, disappointments and sacrifices, none of them have been because the game was rigged against me. Quite the opposite. The game was rigged for me, against a lot of other people.

Now, I’m not oblivious. I’ve been aware of this, at some level, for quite a long time. At least since I retired from the Navy and began working in civilian life. Although there have been, and remain, systemic inequities in the Navy, for the most part it felt to me as though we were making a conscientious effort to address them. That didn’t seem to the be case when I was working as a civilian, especially with regard to women and people of color, and especially women of color.

One of the women that worked in the same office with me was a black woman, government employee, who had recently transferred to Mayport from California. Although she was well respected for her expertise within her home office, she was still a black woman in northeast Florida in an office that was overwhelmingly middle-aged, white males. And I saw how she was treated, first hand.

We became friends, and we’d take long walks at lunch. We’d talk, and I learned a great deal listening to her. I guess you could say she’s my "one black friend." (Well, I have two, actually. Though I see both of them very seldom. So go figure.) Was I her "ally?" If I was, I wasn’t much of one. I never spoke up for her. I wasn’t "anti-racist." I think it’s true, my silence was complicity, even though some of it was spent in listening to her.

So, here we are today. I couldn’t proceed in this campaign, such as it is, and not acknowledge that one of the great issues we must address for our children and grandchildren is systemic inequality, wherever it exists. It’s not enough to lend a "sympathetic ear," we must make change. And since white males still seem to wield most of the power, the anxieties of other white males notwithstanding, it’s incumbent on us to make that change.

Whether it’s race, gender or income inequality, we have an obligation to eliminate the barriers baked into our systems of justice, health, administration and finance that allow people to be marginalized, that are designed to keep them marginalized, to preserve the status quo for the privileged.

I think it’s equally as important as addressing climate change and sea level rise. More important than uncontrolled development. And that’s what I’ll be working on as your representative.

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