Now in its fourth year, the O, Miami Poetry festival takes over the city for the month of April with a variety of events and programs aimed at bringing poetry to every person in Miami-Dade County. Several weeks ago, the festival asked me to participate in this year’s program in some way. I decided to turn my column into a rogue O, Miami contribution.
This year, the festival is facilitating Cease and Exist, a project that invites community members to send a “cease and exist” letter to anyone of their choosing from the fictitious law firm of William, Carlos & Williams. These letters let the writers air their grievances with another person’s actions in the hopes that the recipient will “curb behavior that could potentially lead to poetic unproductivity and/or an unfulfilling existence.”
I have chosen to write a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Despite having won election twice, the governor remains unusually unpopular, particularly among young voters, in large part because he fails miserably at communicating to the public.
While Scott strings together sentences using words found in the English vocabulary, he speaks largely in talking points and linguistic evasions, making the bulk of what he says opaque and meaningless.
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While many politicians are guilty of this, Scott is among the most egregious offenders.
He often fails to answer questions directly (unsurprising coming from someone who famously pleaded the fifth 75 times in one trial).
When he does speak, he appears to lack any semblance of emotion except when expressing agitation and dismissiveness.
Moreover, his tone turns off young voters who have become incredibly disenchanted by the political semantics in which elected officials like Scott have become fluent. He apparently doesn’t see the need to speak our language in large part because his elections fall during congressional midterms, which attract older voters.
Politicians who excel at communicating are often revered because their messages, like poetry, often touch on universal truths and resonate with people of differing opinions and backgrounds. One may not agree with the politics behind effective political speakers like Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama, but their best speeches soar so high that it’s hard for even their most strident opponents not to be swept away.
One does not have to be an exceptional communicator to be an effective leader, although, undoubtedly, it helps. But Scott’s inability to speak with any directness or enthusiasm reinforces why so many Floridians have little faith in their government. If the governor can’t be straightforward and sincere when he speaks about his job, why should his constituents care about what he says?
I am presenting a version of the letter that was sent to the governor’s office in Tallahassee. He will be the lucky first recipient of a Cease and Exist letter. To learn more about the project and to send your own letter to someone, go to www.omiami.org/projects. Submissions will be accepted until April 21.