In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, a lot of people from outside Florida blamed Florida. We’ve had commentators complaining that Florida is the worst and the rest of the country would be better off without that uvula-shaped state. Some clever people posted on their Facebook pages an old YouTube clip of Bugs Bunny sawing along the state line and pushing us out to sea.
OK folks. Let’s play the It’s a Wonderful Life game and see what you lose if Florida doesn’t exist.
1. Computers. The genius who invented the first computer, John Atanasoff, grew up in Florida. He began tinkering with his dad’s slide rule at age 9, graduated high school in only two years and then earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida.
2. Air conditioning. Dr. John Gorrie became so concerned about his yellow fever patients sweltering in the Apalachicola heat that he invented a way to cool their homes and later received the first U.S. patent for a mechanical refrigeration unit in 1851.
3. The music of Ray Charles. Sure he had Georgia on his mind, but the fact is Brother Ray grew up in Florida and learned to play the piano (and the saxophone, clarinet, organ, and trumpet) at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.
4. The Endangered Species Act. The law was co-written and pushed into law by Nathaniel Reed, a Nixon Administration Interior Department official who learned to appreciate nature while growing up on Florida’s Jupiter Island.
5. Public defenders. Clarence Gideon wanted a lawyer to defend him on a breaking and entering charge, but a Florida judge said he didn’t have the authority to appoint one. Gideon took his handwritten complaint about that all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the right to counsel is guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.
6. The Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. Florida has spawned a lot of great writers—John D. MacDonald and Connie May Fowler, to name a couple—but none as influential as Donald J. Sobel, the Miamian who created a Sherlock in sneakers solving crimes in Idaville, an idealized Florida beach town. Sobel’s books about the pint-sized Poirot have been translated into more than a dozen languages and sold 50 million copies worldwide.
7. National Wildlife Refuges. The first one, at Florida’s Pelican Island, was created in 1903 by President Teddy Roosevelt at the urging of Paul Kroegel, an Audubon Society game warden who wanted to protect the pelicans from armed tourists. There are now more than 560 refuges from the Caribbean to the Pacific, providing habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and 1,000 species of fish.
8. The most determined voters in America. In the last presidential election, some Floridians stood in line for up to seven hours to vote. Seven hours! Teenage girls won’t stand in line that long for a ticket to see Justin Bieber!
9. A lot of very passionate people working for change. How passionate? A crowd of 60 student activists have occupied Gov. Rick Scott’s office in Tallahassee to demand a repeal of the “stand your ground” law that jurors have said was crucial to the acquittal of Zimmerman. So far their sit-in has been going on for three days—even though Scott has avoided them by finding things to do out of town. [Update, July 19: Shortly after the Tampa Bay Times posted a story accusing Scott of dodging the protesters, he flew back to Tallahassee and held a late-night meeting with their leaders—but rejected their demands. They have vowed to continue the protest until lawmakers agree to a special session to repeal the law.]