Shortly after Key West’s peaceful George Floyd demonstration this past Monday, a video made the rounds on social media of a pudgy, definitely angry, white man on a wobbly bike shouting “white lives matter” and obscenities and flipping the bird. The boomer-aged man was identified as an out-of-town timeshare owner. Pedaling on Duval on June 1, he was clearly furious at the folks who were part of the march and particularly so at the Hispanic woman who shot the video.
He was, clearly, a not-from-here, self-anointed agitator.
(An aside: Why come to Key West if you’re offended by the people who live here, our diversity and our culture? It’s not like we are some secret cult. You don’t need to agree with Key West — heck, we rarely agree on anything except that we love our home — but one ought not be surprised by us.)
The juxtaposition between the peaceful march and the angry man is a wake-up call. Key West cannot take for granted that its “you do you; I’ll do me,” libertarian culture can withstand the dissonance that roils the mainland. Flash-point anger — justified and unjustified — lies just below the surface and given the right spark can flame even in Key West where we long ago learned to live with, if not agree with, a plethora of differences.
As our visitors come back, as locals return to work and as we figure out this new Covid-19-social-justice world we’re shaping, I suspect our tempers will be tested. We’ve argued among ourselves for months about whether to open the Keys to visitors or keep the road blocks in place. We’ve disagreed on cruise ships and masks; on social distancing and open-or-closed beaches. We’ve profiled our neighbors and turned in second-home owners. Our patience is frayed; there’s disagreement even among like-minded friends.
Perhaps Key West will cobble together an accommodation of diverse points of view that allows it to dodge the worst of what occurs on the mainland. That’s what happened at the outbreak of the Civil War, when Key West’s Southern-leaning majority found itself decidedly governed by the Union military. Key West’s deciders did what Key West’s deciders have always done: They said you do you; we’ll do us — and everyone will do business profitably.
Our collective pragmatism might just be the key to keeping our island peace.
But, there’s something else happening that is more likely to shape our long-term future. Our young ones are taking charge.
As I watch the George Floyd protests in Key West and across the U.S. — and there are far more peaceful ones, like in Key West, than the headlines you’re following — I am struck by the people in the photos.
The protesters are a magnificent collection of young ones with strong diversity of gender, race and ethnicity. Why does that matter? Because it is the second major and visible signal that the leading edge of the Millennial generation and their GenX siblings are taking their places as leaders. And, as they do, replacing the aging boomers, the world begins to right itself. It will take a decade to fully make the transition, but it has started and that is good.
History will remember the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, as the coming-to-power of Xers and Millennials. Though there were aging baby boomers aplenty in the crowds and at the microphones, the marches around the world saw these elders stepping aside to open the way for younger women. Most of the news coverage missed that, focused so much were they on the conflict politics.
With the George Floyd demonstrations, they took the second step.
When these two generations fully take charge, they will combine the Xers’ “just do it” pragmatism with the Millennials’ hopefulness and belief in doing what’s right for the group. The melding of those markers will replace the boomers’ 75-year-run of rigid, righteous, reactionary individualism. (OK, boomers, because I know you’ll remind me of this: Yes, you marched in the ’60s for social justice and equality; good on you.)
As we re-imagine Key West, as we build our new paths, their younger, diverse, pragmatic and hopeful voices must be the ones at the table. They must be the ones who shape their island. I trust them to do the right thing.