I didn’t plan on writing two blogs in two days completely from scratch, but the news calls for it.
Yesterday, around this time, I was cramming on another blog and then dragged out even though I couldn’t care less about St. Valentine’s Day. Despite personal protests as long as I can remember, it’s not my holiday. That’s why I didn’t find out about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland until today.
Notice I wrote Parkland, rather than adding Florida, because I grew up down there, and have family and friends nearby, so I consider the deadly mayhem a local news story on several levels.
Parkland’s website calls it “a tranquil city nestled in a serene, wooded environment in Northwest (sic) Broward County, Florida,” which means in the outskirts rather than an urban environment — too close to Douglas’ beloved Everglades National Park, if you ask me.
I’m disgusted for all the same reasons you are. There’s no need to explain the obvious.
This is also a disgrace to Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ name. She was known most throughout her long life as an environmentalist — which by “nature” has to do with life — first getting involved in the Everglades way back in the 1920s. She promoted responsible urban planning when Miami saw a population boom of 100,000 people in the decade.
Then, according to Wikipedia,
“By the 1960s, the Everglades were in imminent danger of disappearing forever because of gross mismanagement in the name of progress and real estate and agricultural development. Encouraged to get involved by the leaders of environmental groups, in 1969 — at the age of 79 — Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades to protest the construction of a jetport in the Big Cypress portion of the Everglades. She justified her involvement saying, ‘It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment. It’s an extended form of housekeeping.'”
Unfortunately for so many people in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, suburban sprawl has taken its toll. This isn’t like areas around other cities because it’s obvious from maps, including those in this article, you can’t build east. There’s the Atlantic Ocean. You also can’t build too far south. There’s Biscayne Bay and the Florida Straits, if you don’t hit the Everglades first.
But builders and sugar farmers try to make their livings further and further west. They keep fighting to move Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary back, and commissioners keep approving, affecting the Everglades and its rural and natural resource protection areas.
Douglas wasn’t just about the environment. She also supported the ACLU, Equal Rights Amendment and mental health support, due to her mother’s deterioration.
She served as a as a society columnist — writing about tea parties and society events, starting in 1915 — since her father, Frank Stoneman, was the first publisher of the paper that became The Miami Herald. From 1920 to 1990, Douglas published 109 fiction articles and stories.
Douglas was best known for her 1947 call to arms, The Everglades: River of Grass, which she began simply, ”There are no other Everglades in the world.”
According to The New York Times, her now-famous phrase
“‘river of grass’ caught the public imagination but it was also a reference to the fact that the Everglades is really a vast, slow-moving stream of shallow water and saw grass that covers much of the final 100 miles of South Florida.”
Of the people of South Florida, The Times reported she said,
“They could not get it through their heads that they had produced some of the worst conditions themselves, by their lack of cooperation, their selfishness, their mutual distrust and their willful refusal to consider the truth of the whole situation.”
She added that unless people acted more responsibly, ”overdrainage will go on” and ”the soil will shrink and burn and be wasted and destroyed, in a continuing ruin.”
The next week, The Times reported,
“Once an area of more than 4,000 square miles, the Everglades has shrunk to less than half its original size, the result of overdrainage, urban sprawl and pollution from government-supported sugar cane and dairy farming. Many think its long-range future is still tenuous.”
(The article has much more on government attempts to buy land, how the sugar farmers blamed the government for the Everglades’ problems, sugar farmers convincing Florida voters to reject a penny-a-pound tax on sugar, other attempts to restore the Everglades’ natural water flow — and much more on Douglas’ life, short marriage and accomplishments.)
Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles explained her impact, saying,
“Marjory was the first voice to really wake a lot of us up to what we were doing to our quality of life. She was not just a pioneer of the environmental movement, she was a prophet, calling out to us to save the environment for our children and our grandchildren.”
In 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Chicago Tribune wrote she “was thrilled when President Clinton called and invited her to the White House” for the nation’s highest civilian honor.
On April 22, 2015, while giving an Earth Day speech in the Everglades, President Obama announced that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had designated her house in the Coconut Grove section of Miami — built in 1924, and where she wrote all of her major books and stories — a National Historic Landmark.
It’s now owned by the state of Florida and a park ranger lives there to maintain it from the disrepair it had suffered from as early as the 1926 Miami Hurricane and also an infestation of bees.
One tidbit from PBS: Marjory Stoneman Douglas didn’t like to go out in the buggy Everglades!
It’s hard for me to believe the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary School in Miami-Dade County weren’t even born when she was alive. Both schools opened in 1990. Douglas was still alive. I wonder what she thought about the schools’ openings and more specifically, their locations.
I look at the maps and consider both locations suburban sprawl, since the schools had to be built as late as 1990, and that meant families moving into places nobody hadn’t been living before.
One would think Douglas would’ve been against that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find details on Douglas’ reaction to schools bearing her name being built in such places. I’d really like to know.
However, The New York Times wrote, “In 1990, on her 100th birthday, when she was blind and frail, she continued to speak out against those who plundered the Everglades.”
Honored at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden,which she fought for in the 1930s and called “one of the greatest achievements for the entire area.”
But look at where we’re talking about: a place that’ll probably be underwater sooner rather than later, due to global warming, at the rate we’re going.
In 2003, the Miami Herald reported,
“In 1990, the (Miami-Dade County School) board hired Roma Construction to build Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary. The project was 390 days late, and Roma forfeited $45,000 for pulling out before the work was complete. Just four years later, the board rehired the company to build Paul Bell Middle”…
School, but that was also a disaster.
This evening, the same paper reported,
“Two South Florida Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio, who received millions of dollars in political help from the National Rifle Association, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the single largest recipient of direct NRA campaign cash among Floridians in the House of Representatives since 1998, said gun control legislation won’t stop mass shootings.”
R.I.P. to Marjory Stoneman Douglas and also yesterday’s victims. Unfortunately, I don’t see progress in solving South Florida’s, or the country’s, problems.