My Little Town — Orlando, Florida

Pulse Orlando memorial

Photo courtesy of Donna Pisano

Conference, workshop, and vacation season had slowed blogging of late.  When it was over I had a number of things to post regarding interesting discussions and trends in the field of project management.  Then on my return to my adopted home town of Orlando, the singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed after performing a concert at the local music venue The Plaza Live–a beautiful young woman senselessly struck down by a cypher of a man.  Then, early on Sunday my wife and I woke to the news of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub.  Both venues are less than two miles from our home.

Writing about the more mundane issues of contract, technology, and earned value management just does not seem appropriate when the families of the 49 dead and 42 wounded are either mourning or anxiously hopeful so close by.

The impact on this community has been significant.  Orlando, as most cities, is a place of contradictions.  In the minds of tourists and those who come here for the amusement parks, it is all about Disney, Sea World, Universal, and all of the others.  This, however, is not Orlando.  Back when the parks were being planned and built they took advantage of the cheap land that was situated in the surrounding countryside of pine forest and played out orange groves.  Orlando happened to be the closest town of any significant size, and the local boosters were all too happy to accommodate, so Orlando became synonymous with the parks, which actually mostly lie near what used to be the hamlet of Kissimmee.

But Orlando and its people is more than that, but this is not a treacly homage.

My earliest encounter with Orlando came when I was a student at Stetson University, which is situated in DeLand, Florida, back in 1972.  Back then Orlando had the reputation of being a mostly white, Anglo-Protestant community that was largely racially and ethnically intolerant.  The “N” word was used freely.  African-American communities were walled off from the community at large by the construction of highways.  When a section of town became desirable, they were effectively disenfranchised from their land and homes through the coordination of real estate developers, local politicians, lawyers, and judges.  The orange groves and vegetable fields used migrant labor.  At first these were also African American, but Hispanic laborers also entered the picture back in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Edward R. Murrow documentary Harvest of Shame from 1960 chronicled the lives of migrant workers during this early period, a system that still lived on into the ’70s and early ’80s.  When the United Farm Workers union began to organize, the large orange and agricultural companies hired Pinkertons and Wackenhut men to break them up, often recruiting the more athletic students from the surrounding colleges like Stetson to do some of their dirty work.

For a New Jersey boy looking to make Florida home (this was before I decided to make the United States Navy my home) the old saw back then was there were two types of Yankees:  Yankees and Damned Yankees.  It was said that the difference was that the latter category wouldn’t go back home.  This was a traditional stance in Florida, which in its advertising from the days of Henry Flagler and his Florida East Coast Railway, and Henry Plant and his Plant System of railroads, steamboats, and steamships, beginning in the 1880s, sought to remake Florida from a hostile land of uninhabitable swamps, a hotbeds of the Confederacy and rampant racism, to a vacation playland, constructed to draw the new disposable income of a growing middle class from the urban and suburban communities from the north.  Thus was established the tradition of high profits for the rich developer and low pay for the workers.

But things have changed.

The introduction of air conditioning and the Civil Rights movement began transforming parts of the American south in the 1950s toward more emigration and diversity, at first confined to the coastal communities of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Tampa, but the pace and geographical reach of the change has accelerated.  Orlando has been part of that transformation.  I saw it through my parents, who resettled from New Jersey and called Orlando home for over 20 years.

Our community today is a bastion of tolerance and diversity in a state that still, all too often, is a sea of intolerance, bigotry, and privilege.  For those who come to the town of Orlando they are impressed with our modern urban downtown district, our world class healthcare facilities (which transformed themselves from places of mediocrity and exclusion), and our beautiful red-bricked road, oak tree lined historic neighborhoods of hanging Spanish moss containing pretty cottages and early vernacular homes.  For foodies, we have world-class chefs opening new restaurants.  We also have vibrant neighborhoods of new ethnic immigrants.  We have a Vietnamese neighborhood and Hispanic neighborhoods from multiple cultures: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and others.  We have beautiful parks and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.  We have world class musical venues, night clubs, and professional sports franchises.  We have havens for people who otherwise are shunned by the intolerant.

Most importantly, the overwhelming majority of my fellow Orlandoans are friendly and respectful.  It is a community that I have found doesn’t care a whit about one’s geographical, racial, or ethnic origins, their sexual orientation, or their religious beliefs.  It is not, however, utopia.  There are great chasms of class differences that reflect the larger society–the tradition of low pay and union busting continuing to this day.  There are frictions along the edges as the community as it accepts and incorporates new emigrants and cultural traditions.  We also still have overhanging racial problems borne of exploitation, neglect, and prejudice.

But on the whole, Orlando in the year 2016 is a good place to live and work, it addresses its shortcomings and embraces change while largely working to preserve what is good–and I have lived in communities across the country and traveled around the world against which to compare it.

What has impressed me most about the reaction of my adopted home is the outpouring of love and support to the victims and their families, and to the First Responders made up of local, state, and national law enforcement, but especially, of our medical professionals.  The community is shocked, but rather than anger and intolerance, they have responded by giving blood, donating food and other supplies, being a little kinder in their encounters with their neighbors, more courteous on the morning commute or in encounters on the sidewalk, and are coming to grips with actions that are both inexplicable and horrific.  More importantly, they are seeing the act at Pulse for what it is–a hate crime against our vibrant LGBTQ community and what it means to our town.

For just down the road, barely half an hour drive away, politicians in Florida communities have used the old scare tactics of pedophilia and rape against transgender bathroom usage and, as such, have cultivated an environment of intolerance and hostility to that community.  The Florida Attorney General fought tooth and nail against gay marriage, and is now having a hard time living up to her words and actions.  Now, thanks to that intolerance and bigotry, the partners of the victims–who are not recognized as such–cannot obtain information about their loved ones.  Gay men giving blood face discrimination based on the illogical fear of AIDS.

People are also recognizing that the widespread availability of powerful firearms meant for war and conflict will only guarantee that we’ll be mourning for other victims again.  It must stop.  It all must stop.

I am overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness for what has happened.  Sadness, love, and support is leading to thought.  Thought and reflection will lead to determined action.

The hate-filled speech coming from some quarters is not having much of an effect here.  Attributing the actions of a first generation American to his ethnic heritage is bigotry and we’ve had enough of that.  One need only substitute the heritage of that individual for the heritage of any other person who commits a crime to see the stupidity of the logic behind it.  There was a day when my own swarthy ancestors of Italian and Jewish origins were similarly tarred.  No group has a corner on integrity or wickedness.

Life does go on and in the near future I will write about the technical aspects of my discipline and my ideas to improve it.  But, for now, here is a document about my little town and life in it in the face of monstrous acts.