Here's a great story that started out as political activism, turned into philosophy and humor, and then expanded into a whole host of annual events that support a community and raise money for children in the foster care system.
The date of that first step was April 23, 1982. A U.S. Border Patrol Blockade had been set up on highway U.S. 1, in front of the Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, FL – at the only highway entrance into and out of the chain of American Caribbean islands called the Florida Keys. Vehicles were being stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants. Keys residents were also stopped, and had to prove their U.S. Citizenship in order to drive onto the FL mainland. The Key West City Council had repeatedly complained that this action, effectively setting the southern border of the U.S. some 120 miles to their north, significantly disrupted the tourism industry – a major economic engine in the Keys.
A lawsuit was filed in federal court in Miami seeking an injunction against the blockade and searches, but it was not granted.
In response, when then Mayor Dennis Wardlow left the federal court house he stopped on the steps and to all the media assembled there declared that "Tomorrow at noon the Florida Keys will secede from the Union!"
Thereafter, Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister. From the courthouse steps, war was declared against the U.S. by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform. After one minute of rebellion, Wardlow then surrendered to him, and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief.
Not surprisingly, the aid also wasn't granted.
Florida Keys residents are known as Conchs, so the action created the "Conch Republic." The blockade was lifted shortly thereafter, but the sovereign nation of the Conch Republic continues to this day – which you'll witness by the welcome sign you'll see on the Key West International Airport Terminal if you ever fly in for a visit. Keys residents are both American and Conch Republic citizens (and many have their own separately issued Conch Republic passport. See more on the official history here.)
The formation of the Conch Republic was an effort to address conflict with a large dose of levity. Their rallying cry is "We Seceeded Where Others Failed!"
What Great Things Followed From There
That was only the beginning. There was never even a response to the declaration of succession, so the Conch Republic continued to develop. It does not believe in taxes – when money is needed, they throw a party instead. The official foreign policy statement is:
"The Mitigation of World Tension through the Exercise of Humor"
Considering itself "the world's first Fifth World country," the Conch Republic exists as a "State of Mind", aspiring only " to bring more Warmth, Humor and Respect to a planet we find in sore need of all three."
Now directed by Secretary General, The Honorable Sir Peter Anderson, the Conch Republic annually celebrates its independence in April with 10 days of amazing events, including the World's Longest Parade from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and a re-enactment of the original rebellion (fun times, all). 2012 marks the 30th year of the Independence Celebration.
And the sovereign nation has an important humanitarian mission.
Each year, one of the Independence Celebration events is the "Conch Republic Royal Investiture". Anyone wishing to participate can declare their candidacy to join the Conch Republic Royal Family in any capacity desired – and all imaginable ranks and positions are allowed (except for King). Candidates raise money for the Conch Republic Foster Children's Fund, which is managed and distributed by Wesley House Family Services.
Anyone raising $50 or more earns their royal title. Three special 'Royal Conch' prizes will go to the candidates obtaining the largest royal fortunes. Since multiple candidates vie for the title of Queen of the Conch Republic, the one earning the most votes is crowned, and the others are deemed "Queen(s) in Waiting." (Votes are contributed in the form of dollars – one per vote – and everyone is encouraged to vote early and often!)
Every penny raised goes toward a foster child's needs, to make them feel special, to help siblings stay together and to help provide support for their families.
On April 23, 1982, no one could have predicted that the political activism undertaken seriously but with creativity, commitment and a spirit of lightness and humor would turn into the cascading series of events, programs, activities, structures and contributions that have evolved. In that short time, things have been designed, defined and set up in ways that allow them to continue – and continue to evolve. Many of the people originally involved are still involved, and they have attracted others who can carry it all forward in true legacy fashion.
What sort of important mission does this story inspire you to act on? Where can you insert more mirth or joy into the world to benefit a community you care about? What is one step you can take forward toward it?
Explore your ideas with someone who has done it, and can help you accelerate your progress toward that goal – schedule a complimentary Discovery Session with me. Get on the schedule here! I'd love to talk with you about it.
(Images courtesy http://conchrepublic.com)